January 29, 2020

James Blunt – Once Upon a Mind – Atlantic

By Kristi Kates | Jan. 4, 2020

Still fighting his meme-worthy “You’re Beautiful” reputation, Blunt has spent the past several years continuing his growth as a songwriter, and with this album, at last, it’s clear he deserves another listen. He tried some electronica components on his last album, to medium effect, but with this one he returns to basics: pop-rock songs with candid lyrics and poignant performances. Ballads “Monsters” and “The Greatest” are just two of the more downtempo highlights, while the more poppy “5 Miles” keeps things radio-friendly. ** ½

Beck – Hyperspace – Capitol
Teaming up with Pharrell Williams for his 14th album, Beck is back in solid yet contrasting form. While his prior efforts literally burst with quirkiness, hard stops, bizarre instrumentation, and Beck’s distinctive and unlikely combo of indolence and sharpness, this one leans more on the melodic, calmer side of his sound — more pop, yet more solitary and subdued. Standouts include the lovely “Stratosphere” (with backing vocals from Chris Martin of Coldplay), the ’80s-inspired outer space feel of “Uneventful Days,” and the unusual harmonies of “See Through.” ***

Anna Nalick – The Blackest Crow – Chesky Records
Nalick’s biggest hit to date — 2004’s “Breathe (2am)” — gained her some deserved traction in the pop world, but failed to get her much recognition past that point. This album — a tribute to several different eras of music, all recorded in one day in an old church in Brooklyn — might turn that around. Nalick once again showcases her alluring vocals (with a backing back) on tunes from the ’40s (“I’ll Be Seeing You”), ’60s (“Waterloo Sunset,” “My Back Pages”), ’90s (“Right Here, Right Now”), and more. It’s a unique tracklist and approach that works well for her. ** ½

Mika – My Name is Michael Holbrook - Republic
You probably first heard of Mika through American Idol. He wasn’t on the show, but Josiah Leming was, and Leming covered Mika’s single “Grace Kelly,” which boosted that song tremendously. Now Mike is back with this set, which opens with the disarmingly plain pledge of love that is “Tiny Love.” As the set unfolds, it showcases the rest of Mika’s ability to craft stadium-ready pop that still takes a few listens to reveal what’s underneath the surface, as on “Platform Ballerinas” and the emotional “Paloma.” ** ½


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