So the big music release for the week (of February 2nd) was Justin Timberlake’s “Man of the Woods”. We’re skipping over it for a few reasons. First, we just listened to the single SAY SOMETHING as a “Gotta Try This” last episode. Second, everybody* just heard him perform the halftime show at the Super Bowl. (*by “everybody”, I’m exaggerating for effect apparently numbers were down for this year’s Super Bowl). JT also has a tendency to take things metaphorically (and blatantly) to places that lead to less than comfortable conversations.

Okay, moving past that. There is still some fun and intriguing music to discuss. Normally, I try to span multiple genres, but this week, it also feels like I’m spanning generations with these selections, which all released on the 2nd. (It will make sense soon). To finish off, we’ll take a listen to a new single from a modern pop duo that will probably get you excited about the prospect of a new album, though I don’t see any specifics on the books just yet. Let’s get to this.

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Album 1: Whatever It Takes, by The James Hunter Six (2/2/2018)

Though they hail from England and record in the 2010s, it certainly feels like someone turned the donkey wheel, moved the island, and reset the order of time. (Sorry, I’ve been re-watching LOST). Regardless, the James Hunter Six is another of a growing lineup of throwback artists that could easily fit right in on the Motown label of the early 1950s. I’m liking this trend, so let’s see how the album unfolds.

At the start of the first song, I DON’T WANNA BE WITHOUT YOU, my first spontaneous thought takes me to the dance floor of the Muppet Show. This reminds me of the background music and I expect to hear random puns and one-liners at any moment. Aside from that, this is a really nice sound. We’ve got some saxophones, an organ, and a salsa rhythm underscoring a soothing vocal. This is so nice. I’ll do WHATEVER IT TAKES to keep listening to this album. (There’s one of those puns). This is such a blast from the past. I’m envisioning Sam Cooke and I’m just enjoying it so much. The third song is, I GOT EYES, and the tempo picks up a bit, giving it more of a late 50s/early 60s feel. A little more hectic and more James Brown than Sam Cooke. I liked the first two better, but this album is a nice departure from the norm.

BONUS: No, the bonus song is not a cover of the Hanson classic. That was MMMBop – this is MM-HMM and it returns us to the feel of the first track. So soothing.

Album 2: Walk Between Worlds, by Simple Minds (2/2/2018)

While we’re feeling nostalgic, here’s one for my generation. When you hear the name, “Simple Minds”, it may not ring any immediate bells, but there’s no doubt in my mind that you have heard their iconic single from 1985. It was featured in THE BREAKFAST CLUB and they practically begged you not to forget it or them. Hard to believe that they are still recording albums after all these years and I still only know that one song. Maybe this album will change that.

Kicking things off is MAGIC, which immediately brings in elements of the 80s – synth, electronics, and an echo track. There’s a nice throbbing beat going on and it builds up to a big chorus. This is fun, too… in a different way. There’s a bit of modernity thrown over the top here to keep it from feeling too dated, but it’s definitely playing to their fan base and that sentimental journey one would expect. Next up, SUMMER, and wouldn’t it be nice if that’s how seasons worked? This opens with a good 30-seconds of intro and then the vocal immediately reminds you of their big hit song. There are also hints of U2 and INXS (which is basically U2 minus the pretense). UTOPIA is the third song and it’s as if they are performing it a great distance from any microphone. It is strangely mesmerizing in a way.

BONUS: The fourth track, should we need it is called THE SIGNAL AND THE NOISE. I actually watched a video of someone breaking ice on a trampoline in slow motion as this song began to play and it synced up surprisingly well. Anyway, I like the sentiment here – experience the world for real instead of through digital distractions. Nice full, dancey soundtrack.

Album 3: One Drop of Truth, by The Wood Brothers (2/2/2018)

The Wood Brothers come highly endorsed by Paste magazine, which is usually more than enough of an excuse for me to ignore them, but there was something about them that caught my attention. Maybe it was the upright bass in the promo picture. Whatever it was, I’m giving them a shot and I have a good feeling about this. This is their 6th album. Yikes. Talk about out of the loop.

This group has a quirkiness to it and it sounds almost like… well, hang on for a sec. The first song is called RIVER TAKES THE TOWN and it talks about a flood. There’s a down home feel to the music – nice bassline and kind of an unhinged acoustic. So there are moments when this guy sounds like a combination of Jon Foreman (Switchfoot), Marc Martel (downhere), and someone I can’t quite put my finger on (maybe Ben Folds?). HAPPINESS JONES visits something from maybe the 70s. I love the organ touches and the rhythms are just plain infectious. Two minutes in, they open up for a nice guitar solo. LAUGHIN’ OR CRYING is the song that initially sold me and it was totally the opening line. I mean, who else sings about the good luck brought on by watching crows kissing under a rainbow? NOBODY, that’s who. Again, for me, this is a compelling combination of vocals, rhythms, and instrumentation that grabs and holds my attention.

BONUS: This may win and, STRANGE AS IT SEEMS, this would be the fourth song. I would characterize this as a modern folk rock album if I had to offer a simple explanation. This has a lot of nice strings providing an ominous soundtrack to it.

TUNE DU JOUR: HIGH ENOUGH, by The Gray Havens (ft. Propaganda)
The Gray Havens is a husband and wife duo that we covered on NMD about two years ago, thoroughly enjoying their singer/songwriter qualities, pop sensibilities, and rhythmic prowess. They are back with a new single and the promise of an album sometime later this year. The addition of Propaganda makes it worth checking out now. In case you missed modern day production and stylings after the previous three albums, this song will bring you back to present day.

peace… love… bdg…