Music Reviews

Israel Nash on the way to excellence with Rain Plans

By Eric London, 25 November 2014

The musician has broken through with his third album, which combines late-1960s rock influences with the plaintive drawl of the Southwestern country desperado.

Atlanta Symphony musicians agree to concessions after nine-week lockout

By Fred Mazelis, 13 November 2014

The latest contract follows a pattern across the US, but there is also growing anger at the corporate stranglehold on culture.

The Gold Mine by Kelsey Waldon: Life, more or less

By Dylan Lubao, 16 October 2014

Kelsey Waldon sets out to tell small-town stories in her debut album.

New Met Opera contract sets precedent for further givebacks

By Fred Mazelis, 20 August 2014

An all-night bargaining session produced a four-year deal based on “equality of sacrifice.”

Sage Francis’s Copper Gone: A critic, but frustrated

By Nick Barrickman, 6 August 2014

Francis is best known for his passionate vocal performances and thought-provoking lyrics that express understandable anger at the conditions of modern society.

The Passenger depicts the Holocaust and its aftermath in opera form

By Fred Mazelis, 25 July 2014

This “lost opera,” written in the late 1960s, deserves a permanent place in the repertoire.

Interesting music in 2014 so far

By our reporters, 12 July 2014

World Socialist Web Site music reviewers pick some of the more interesting albums or songs released in the first half of 2014.

The career of popular songwriter Gerry Goffin (1939-2014)

By Hiram Lee, 7 July 2014

Lyricist Gerry Goffin passed away in June at the age of 75. Together with composer Carole King, he wrote many of the better known pop hits of the 1960s.

… And Then You Shoot Your Cousin: The Roots satirize the hip hop world

By Nick Barrickman, 30 June 2014

Formed in 1987 in Philadelphia, The Roots have produced some of the more interesting and oppositional music in hip hop.

Hip hop group Wu-Tang Clan to release “secret” album to highest-paying bidder

By Nick Barrickman and David Walsh, 26 June 2014

The notion that the official hip hop world represents anything “subversive” or “oppositional” is laughable and should be put to rest, once and for all.

Classic jazz from Detroit’s Royal Garden Trio

By Hiram Lee, 16 June 2014

The Detroit-based Royal Garden Trio perform classic jazz and popular songs from the 1920s and 1930s. Their work deserves a larger audience.

Beyoncé, the new album

By Matthew Brennan, 14 June 2014

Though not a huge deviation, Beyoncé is musically a bit more experimental than her previous albums.

Satchmo at the Waldorf in New York: The life and times of jazz great Louis Armstrong

By Fred Mazelis, 12 June 2014

A one-man show in New York reveals something of the man behind the myth about an iconic figure in jazz history

Sun Kil Moon’s Benji: Life and death (mostly death) in small-town Ohio

By Zac Corrigan, 27 May 2014

The latest album from Mark Kozelek, who records as Sun Kil Moon, concerns the often tragic lives of the singer’s friends and family members.

Pharrell Williams’ Girl troubles

By Hiram Lee, 24 May 2014

Following last year’s successful collaboration with Daft Punk, producer and performer Pharrell Williams has returned with Girl, a hit album of his own.

Atmosphere’s Southsiders: New studio album by the Minneapolis hip hop group

By Nick Barrickman, 22 May 2014

The group consists of rapper Slug (Sean Daley, born 1972) and producer Ant (Anthony Davis)

“We won’t let anybody fool us”: Tune-Yards’ Nikki Nack

By Hiram Lee, 17 May 2014

Indie-pop band Tune-Yards has returned with a strong follow-up to its 2011 release Whokill.

Vibrate: How good is the best of singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright?

By Hiram Lee, 13 May 2014

American singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright has returned with a new best-of collection.

Out Among the Stars, a “new” album from Johnny Cash

By Hiram Lee, 7 May 2014

Out Among the Stars collects material recorded by country music legend Johnny Cash in the early 1980s and never before released to the public.

New York City radio drive collects 2,500 musical instruments for public school students

By Fred Mazelis, 14 April 2014

The used instruments were accumulated in a ten-day drive conducted by classical station WQXR that ended on April 7.

A concert of twentieth century masterworks by Britten, Bartók and Shostakovich

By Fred Mazelis, 11 April 2014

The program performed April 2 by the New York Philharmonic was a powerful demonstration of the heights reached by classical music in the first half of the last century.

Drive-by Truckers release new album, English Oceans

By Eric London, 10 March 2014

The Southern alternative-country group has set high standards after 18 years of making music—but they have not outdone themselves on their newest release.

American folksinger Pete Seeger dead, at 94

By David Walsh, 30 January 2014

In a career that lasted almost three quarters of a century, Seeger wrote, co-wrote or was identified with a number of the most popular folk or protest songs of the second half of the twentieth century.

Frank Wess, Chico Hamilton, Yusef Lateef: A tribute to three important jazz musicians

By D. Lencho, 8 January 2014

These great, although lesser-known figures in jazz, who died in the last few months of 2013, left a legacy of beautiful music.

An appreciation of Phil Everly and the Everly Brothers

By Hiram Lee, 7 January 2014

Singer Phil Everly, one half of the early Rock ‘n’ Roll duo The Everly Brothers, has died at the age of 74.

The year in music: Favorite recordings of 2013

By our reporters, 27 December 2013

World Socialist Web Site music writers pick their favorite pop and jazz recordings of 2013.

MIA’s new album Matangi

By Zac Corrigan, 24 December 2013

A refugee of the Sri-Lankan civil war, MIA makes pop music that shows an awareness of and sensitivity to the lives of impoverished victims of imperialism around the world.

New Ocean from musician Jake Bellows

By Juan Verala Luz and Toby Reese, 19 November 2013

Jake Bellows’ debut solo project New Ocean is an artist’s attempt to understand who he is and why he writes music.

Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP 2: Unfortunately, a return to more of the same

By Nick Barrickman, 15 November 2013

The Marshall Mathers LP 2 is the eighth full-length studio solo album from American rap artist Eminem.

Avery County, I’m Bound to You by Barton Carroll: Coming to terms with one’s roots

By Dylan Lubao, 14 November 2013

In his latest album, folk musician Barton Carroll paints a picture of small-town Appalachia and its musical influence on him.

American musician, performer Lou Reed dead at 71

By Hiram Lee, 29 October 2013

Lou Reed, founder of the influential rock band The Velvet Underground, has died at the age of 71.

Wealth and status under fire: Lorde’s Pure Heroine

By Ed Hightower, 25 October 2013

Sixteen-year-old New Zealand pop singer Lorde places themes of social inequality front and center on her debut album Pure Heroine.

The bicentennial of Giuseppe Verdi

By Fred Mazelis, 10 October 2013

It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of this iconic figure. Opera—certainly Italian opera—cannot be spoken of without mentioning Verdi’s name.

War, fascism and the fate of music in the 20th century

By Fred Mazelis, 25 September 2013

An important new book explores the period of musical history brought to an end by fascist barbarism.

Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action—the new album from Franz Ferdinand

By Hiram Lee, 6 September 2013

Glasgow-based rock band Franz Ferdinand have returned with their first album in four years.

Bobby “Blue” Bland (1930-2013): An appreciation

By Hiram Lee, 27 August 2013

Rhythm and blues great Bobby “Blue” Bland, whose hits included “Cry, Cry, Cry” and “Turn on Your Lovelight,” died this summer at the age of 83.

Heaven Shall Burn’s Veto: Politicised heavy metal

By Ben Trent, 12 August 2013

The metalcore band Heaven Shall Burn, from Saalfeld in eastern Germany, released their seventh studio album in April of this year, simply entitled Veto.

Songwriter PJ Harvey releases song protesting treatment of Guantánamo Bay hunger striker

By Khara Sikhan, 10 August 2013

”Shaker Aamer” is the latest song by British singer/songwriter PJ Harvey, titled for the name of a prisoner held in Guantánamo Bay since 2002.

Kanye West’s Yeezus: Blocking out the rest of the world

By Nick Barrickman and Zac Corrigan, 19 July 2013

Yeezus is Kanye West’s sixth major label album and the artist’s fifth album to debut at number one on Billboard charts in the US.

The Ash & Clay by the Milk Carton Kids: Reflections on a country in disrepair

By Dylan Lubao, 8 July 2013

In The Ash & Clay, the Milk Carton Kids—Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan—examine an America at the crossroads.

Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories

By Zac Corrigan, 8 June 2013

French duo Daft Punk—Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo (born 1974) and Thomas Bangalter (born 1975)—have returned with their first full-length album since Human After All (2005).

Ray Manzarek, a founding member of The Doors, dead at 74

By Hiram Lee, 25 May 2013

Ray Manzarek, keyboardist of the 1960s rock band The Doors, died May 20 at the age of 74.

Tyler, the Creator’s Wolf: Hiding from reality behind a mask of cynicism

By Nick Barrickman, 2 May 2013

Wolf is Tyler, The Creator’s third studio album, released on Sony Music Entertainment in April this year.

Country music legend George Jones dead at 81

By Hiram Lee, 29 April 2013

Legendary country singer George Jones died in Nashville on April 26. A remarkable performer, Jones was a significant figure in American popular music during the second half of the 20th century.

SXSW Music Festival 2013—Part 2

By Zac Corrigan, 16 April 2013

South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas has grown from a local independent music showcase into one of the largest music festivals in the world. This is the second article on the 2013 festival.

Remembering Cleotha Staples and the Staple Singers

By Hiram Lee, 10 April 2013

Singer Cleotha Staples of the popular gospel, folk and R&B group the Staple Singers, died recently at the age of 78.

SXSW Music Festival 2013—Part 1

By Zac Corrigan, 9 April 2013

South by Southwest in Austin, Texas has grown from a local independent music showcase attracting some 700 registered attendees in 1987 into one of the largest music festivals in the world.

Fat Jon’s Rapture Kontrolle— Hip hop with an emotional content

By Nick Barrickman, 25 March 2013

Rapture Kontrolle is the eighth studio instrumental album by hip hop/electronic producer/song writer Fat Jon the Ample Soul Physician (born John Marshall in 1969), released in 2012 on Ample Soul Recordings, under the alias Maurice Galactica.

Detroit techno artist Robert Hood’s Motor: Nighttime World Volume 3

By Zac Corrigan, 9 March 2013

The latest album from Robert Hood is a collection of a dozen instrumental renderings of the decline of the artist’s hometown.

Van Cliburn, US pianist who achieved fame at Moscow competition, dead at 78

By Fred Mazelis, 2 March 2013

A musician who became world-famous more than half a century ago, Van Cliburn had a career that was noteworthy, even if he never achieved the potential that seemed possible in his youth.

The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra at New York’s Carnegie Hall

By Fred Mazelis, 28 February 2013

The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra is an ensemble that brings together Palestinian and Israeli musicians in concert halls around the globe.

Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange

By Matthew Brennan, 23 February 2013

Channel Orange, the debut from Frank Ocean, was one of the more intriguing albums released in 2012.

Donald Byrd, extraordinary jazz trumpeter, dies at 80

By John Andrews, 11 February 2013

Donald Byrd, a trumpet master associated with the post-bebop jazz that emerged in New York City during the 1950s and 1960s, died last week at the age of 80.

Girl on Fire—Alicia Keys closes her eyes to the world

By Hiram Lee, 6 February 2013

The latest album by the popular R&B singer.

Favorite music of 2012

By Matthew Brennan and Hiram Lee, 29 December 2012

World Socialist Web Site music writers pick their favorite pop and jazz releases of 2012.

Ravi Shankar, acclaimed Indian musician, dies at 92

By Kapila Fernando, K. Ratnayake and Peter Symonds, 20 December 2012

What was unique about Ravi Shankar was the breadth of his interests, willingness to experiment and passion for making classical Indian music available to the world.

Death Grips’ No Love Deep Web: A terminally destructive message

By Zac Corrigan, 13 December 2012

Death Grips are a trio from Sacramento, California, composed of vocalist MC Ride (Stefan Burnett), percussionist Zach Hill and producer Andy “Flatlander” Morin.

Jazz musician Dave Brubeck dies at 91

By Hiram Lee, 10 December 2012

A significant figure in postwar American culture, Brubeck’s classic 1959 album Time Out sold a million copies, the first jazz album to hold that distinction.

Elliott Carter (1908-2012) and the crisis of contemporary music

By Fred Mazelis, 6 December 2012

American composer Elliott Carter reflected the trajectory of Western classical music in the past century.

Nirvana’s Nevermind re-issued by Sony/Universal

Assessing an American pop icon

By Nick Barrickman, 5 December 2012

In late 2011, a re-mastered edition of the seminal album Nevermind by pop-punk band Nirvana was released, marking the work’s 20th anniversary.

Oddisee’s Traveling Man: Globalized society through the lens of a hip hop artist

By Nick Barrickman, 7 November 2012

Traveling Man is a collage of 24 instrumental compositions created by the artist while he stayed in the given locales—mainly large metropolitan areas around the world.

Antibalas: War, social crisis meet intricate musicianship

By Jeff Lusanne, 16 October 2012

A new, self-titled album by Brooklyn-based afrobeat band Antibalas offers a welcome blend of exciting, skilled musicianship and socially critical lyricism.

Singer Nick Lowe in Louisville, Kentucky

By Hiram Lee, 1 October 2012

British singer-songwriter Nick Lowe performed in Louisville, Kentucky, last week, the fifth stop on a fall tour of the United States.

The enigma of Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony

By Verena Nees, 12 September 2012

A memorable concert took place 70 years ago when Dmitri Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony was performed in the city of Leningrad, which had been besieged by German troops for more than a year.

Music review: Replica from Oneohtrix Point Never and James Ferraro’s Far Side Virtual

By Zac Corrigan, 4 September 2012

Oneohtrix Point Never’s Replica and Far Side Virtual from James Ferraro have much in common: both albums were released in the autumn of 2011 by prolific experimental musicians from New York.

100 years since singer Woody Guthrie’s birth

By Clement Daly, 28 August 2012

This year marks 100 years since the birth of American folk singer Woody Guthrie. The anniversary has become the occasion for commemorations and conferences held throughout the US, as well as the opening of a new museum and archive.

Searching for Sugar Man: Detroit musician connects with mass audience in South Africa

By James Brewer, 27 August 2012

An amazing story documents the popularity of the music of Sixto Rodriguez in South Africa, music virtually unknown in the US.

Kitty Wells, “Queen of Country Music” (1919-2012)

By Hiram Lee, 23 July 2012

Country music icon Kitty Wells died July 16 at her home in Nashville, Tennessee.

Delaware Symphony Orchestra suspends 2012-2013 season

By Fred Mazelis, 15 June 2012

The Delaware Symphony Orchestra is the latest musical institution to announce that financial problems have forced drastic cutbacks.

Guitar and folk music great Doc Watson dead at 89

By Hiram Lee, 8 June 2012

Legendary guitarist and folk singer Doc Watson died May 29 in North Carolina.

Donald “Duck” Dunn, legendary bass player, dead at 70

By James Brewer, 26 May 2012

Booker T. and the M.G.’s bass player Donald “Duck” Dunn, died suddenly while on tour in Tokyo on May 13.

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, one of the great vocal artists of the 20th century, dies at 86

By Dorian Griscom, 25 May 2012

The German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was renowned for his interpretations of Schubert, Schumann and Brahms songs, but his repertoire included opera and oratorio as well.

Levon Helm, the distinctive voice of The Band, dies at 71

By James Brewer, 23 April 2012

After 14-year bout with cancer, Levon Helm, the drummer and singer of The Band, dies in New York.

Bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs dies at 88

By Hiram Lee, 31 March 2012

Earl Scruggs, a pioneering figure in Bluegrass music and an innovator on the 5-string Banjo, has died at the age of 88.

Ani DiFranco's “¿Which Side Are You On?”: a “radical” artist openly embraces Obama and the Democrats

By Jeff Lusanne, 15 March 2012

“¿Which Side Are You On?” by independent American folk artist Ani DiFranco, is an album that raises significant issues facing artists today—above all, how to view society critically.

An honest band for difficult times: Shaving by Chewing on Tinfoil

By Aidan Claire, 1 March 2012

Chewing on Tinfoil is a five-piece punk and ska band from Dublin.

The death of Whitney Houston

By Hiram Lee, 13 February 2012

American popular singer Whitney Houston has died in Los Angeles at the age of 48.

Composer Gustav Mahler: A centennial appreciation

By Dorian Griscom, 31 January 2012

Gustav Mahler is among the most widely listened to of classical composers. Last year, which marked the 100th anniversary of his death, witnessed concerts, new recordings, lectures and exhibitions celebrating his life and music.

“Sing like your life depends on it”: Etta James—1938-2012

By Paul Bond, 26 January 2012

Etta James had an instantly recognisable voice, sinuous, tender and harsh in equal measure. She died a few days short of her 74th birthday.

Johnny Otis, R&B’s renaissance man, dies at 90

By Hiram Lee, 24 January 2012

Influential R&B musician Johnny Otis, best-known for the hit dance record “Willie and the Hand Jive” died January 17 at the age of 90.

A look at 3 Cohens’ Family album

By Hiram Lee, 20 January 2012

Jazz group 3 Cohens have returned with Family, the third album to feature this ensemble of sibling musicians since their debut in 2004.

Blues guitarist Hubert Sumlin (1931-2011): “Feel the soul and the pain”

By Paul Bond, 5 January 2012

The longtime sideman for Chicago blues great Howlin’ Wolf, Hubert Sumlin, died last month at the age of 80.

Pop and rock music in 2011

By Matthew Brennan and Hiram Lee, 31 December 2011

The past year produced few meaningful efforts in the field of pop and rock music. Only a handful of works stand out.

Favorite jazz recordings of 2011

By Hiram Lee, 31 December 2011

Some of the more interesting jazz albums of 2011.

Jazz drummer Paul Motian (1931-2011)

By Hiram Lee, 28 December 2011

Jazz drummer Paul Motian, a member of the classic Bill Evans Trio of the early 1960s, died recently at the age of 80.

Bad as Me—a new album from Tom Waits

By Hiram Lee, 7 December 2011

American singer-songwriter Tom Waits has returned with his first album of new material since 2004’s Real Gone.

Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers—reconsidering a hip hop “classic”

By Nikolai Barrickman, 20 September 2011

Wu-Tang Clan’s debut album, widely considered a hip hop classic, is a landmark in both the development and the decline of the genre.

Gene McDaniels, soul singer and songwriter, dead at 76

By Hiram Lee, 30 August 2011

Soul singer and songwriter Gene McDaniels, composer of “Compared to What” and other protest songs, died July 29 at the age of 76.

Randy Newman at the Sydney Opera House: an evening with a unique musical story-teller

By Richard Phillips, 25 August 2011

Randy Newman, who began his career in the late 1950s, still continues to write and perform his ironic vignettes, political satires and poignant love songs.

Born This Way and the Lady Gaga phenomenon

By Hiram Lee, 27 July 2011

Pop singer and media sensation Lady Gaga has returned with her third album, Born This Way.

The death of saxophonist Clarence Clemons

By Hiram Lee, 22 June 2011

Clarence Clemons was the longtime saxophonist for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

Best known for “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”

Musician and poet Gil Scott-Heron dead at 62

By Matthew Brennan, 11 June 2011

Gil Scott-Heron, the African-American poet and musician best known for his song “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” died May 27 at the age of 62.

Folksinger Hazel Dickens dies at 75

By Hiram Lee, 9 May 2011

Folksinger Hazel Dickens, who often sang about the struggles of coal miners in Appalachia, died April 22 in Washington, D.C.

The Juilliard Orchestra performs Mahler’s Ninth Symphony in New York City

By Fred Mazelis, 7 May 2011

A recent performance of Gustav Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, his last completed work in that form, highlighted the role of the Juilliard School in New York City’s classical music scene.

Rock band White Stripes breaks up: a look back

By Hiram Lee, 2 April 2011

After more than a decade together, the members of the rock band White Stripes have announced their break-up.

Country singer Charlie Louvin dead at 83

By Hiram Lee, 1 February 2011

Country singer Charlie Louvin, one half of the influential duo The Louvin Brothers, died on January 26 at the age of 83.

How I Got Over, the new album from The Roots

By Nikolai Barrickman and Hiram Lee, 19 January 2011

How I Got Over is the latest album from veteran hip hop group The Roots.

Don Van Vliet—“Captain Beefheart” (1941-2010): Avant-garde musician and painter

By Kevin Martinez, 12 January 2011

Of all the musical acts that came out of America and Britain in the late 1960s and early 1970s, none were more surreal and musically ambitious than Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band.

An interview with jazz and blues singer Mose Allison

By James Brewer, 29 December 2010

Renowned blues musician Mose Allison recently spoke to WSWS reporter James Brewer about his career and his music.

Connected, a 2004 collaboration between Dutch and US hip-hop musicians

By Nikolai Barrickman, 15 December 2010

A review of Connected, from hip-hop group The Foreign Exchange, an album regarded by many as an alternative rap “classic.”