Album reviews: Lynda Dawn, Lindstrøm, Babe Rainbow, Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors, and Brittany Howard

Brittany Howard's solo record, "Jaime," is our critic's favorite this week. Publicity photo Brittany Howard’s solo record, “Jaime,” is our critic’s favorite this week. Publicity photo

Lynda Dawn

At First Light (Akashik)

The first sounds on Lynda Dawn’s debut EP—a fat keyboard bass line and synthetic handclaps and claves —come straight from the ’80s glory days of electrosoul. And as it turns out, so do all the other sounds, including the U.K. singer’s sultry, gospel-tinged vocals. On At First Light Dawn plays it straight for 20 minutes of unrepentant quiet storm smoothness, and if nothing jumps out as a radio single or a world-beating hook, there’s also nary an unpleasurable moment. (Well, the breakdown in “Theme for Cha-Cha” suggests Return to Forever interpreting the “Price is Right” theme song—but that actually kinda sounds good too, right?) [8.3]

 

Lindstrøm

On a Clear Day I Can See You Forever (Smalltown Supersound)

Meantime, Lindstrøm points back to early-’70s electronic experimentation with the inspired On a Clear Day, as the prolific Norwegian producer ditches laptops for vintage synths on four extended instrumental tracks that are less dancefloor and more chill-out room. “Really Deep Snow” could be an outtake from Tangerine Dream’s hallucinogenic masterpiece Phaedra, and even if Lindstrøm’s compositions and improvisations don’t dissolve your ego, they’ll still feed your head. [7.7]

 

Babe Rainbow

Today (30th Century)

The hirsute surfer boys from Australia kick out more breezy jams on their third diverse, companionable album in three years. Today features the fetching acoustic guitar ditty “Butter” and the Donovan-does-tropicália “Morning Song,” and gets juicy with the shaggy Fela Kuti homage “Electrocuted” and “The Wedge,” which rides billowing easy-jazz piano chords into a chopped and screwed spoken section that’s like some impossibly friendly Butthole Surfers track. The nature boys do stumble, notably on the elegiac but torpid closer “For Your Eyes Only” (not a cover), but overall, Today goes lightly and sweetly. [7.6]

 

Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors

Dragons (Thirty Tigers)

Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors are on a mission: help some white people forget their problems. Dragons leads off with “Family,” and if there’s fleeting wryness (“Going on vacation / on the credit card”), there’s a lot of Family Circus imagery too—laughing in the rain, kicking off shoes to dance—all chanted over an overproduced mutant square dance/Irish jig. It’s facile, it’s corny, and yikes, it’s a high point. “End of the World” matches horrible pop schmaltz to its fatuous message: It’s the end of the world, so smoke, drink, party. There’s yet more benighted pap—Holcomb puts rich and poor in the same boat to let them know “You Want What You Can’t Have,” and offers “you got this!” bromides on the title track, which, by the way, is literally “The Gambler” slowed down with different lyrics. Know when to run, y’all. [4.9]

 

Brittany Howard

Jaime (ATO)

Alabama Shakes presented so coherently as a band that it almost obscured lead singer Brittany Howard’s singular talent (as did Howard’s throwaway spin-off group Thunderbitch, for different reasons). But with Jaime, Howard doesn’t just throw down the gauntlet, she slaps your face silly with it, and basically puts her own face on a mural next to D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, Prince, and even Nina Simone. And her band admirably keeps up—but hey, her band is Robert Glasper on keys, Shakes bassist Zac Cockrell, and jazz luminary Nate Smith (a VCU grad!) on drums. If there’s a head-scratching element of Jaime, it’s Howard’s predilection for concussive production, which would obliterate weaker tunes and voices. But Howard’s voice is a shelter in the storm, and on delicate numbers like “Stay High” and “Short and Sweet,” she’s a revelation. [8.7]

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