Music Reviews

Young Euro Classic: International music festival in shadow of European Union crisis

By Verena Nees, 19 September 2016

The summer music festival was held in Berlin for the seventeenth time and attracted an audience of 26,000 to the Berlin concert hall at the Gendarmenmarkt.

Toots Thielemans: 1922-2016

“That little space between a smile and a tear”

By James Brewer, 25 August 2016

The Belgian-born multi-instrumental jazz musician became widely known for his virtuosic harmonica playing.

Musician-singer M.I.A dropped from Afropunk festival for criticizing Black Lives Matter

By David Walsh and Zac Corrigan, 18 July 2016

M.I.A. has every right to criticize Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar, who travel in privileged circles around the Obamas and other leading Democratic Party figures.

A tribute to German Sinto musician Häns’che Weiss

By Bernd Reinhardt, 16 July 2016

In addition to a remarkable command of his instrument, guitarist Häns’che Weiss was distinguished by his thrilling musicality.

Bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley dead at 89

By Hiram Lee, 6 July 2016

Ralph Stanley led one of the most remarkable groups in Bluegrass music and was among the genre’s greatest banjo players and singers.

Anohni speaks on war, inequality and Obama

By George Marlowe, 6 June 2016

The World Socialist Web Site spoke to Anohni about her new album.

Anohni’s Hopelessness: A protest against war, drone bombings and more

“If I killed your mother with a drone bomb, how would you feel?”—Crisis

By Zac Corrigan, 6 June 2016

Anohni is the British-born, American transgender singer formerly known as Antony Hegarty who released five albums under the name Antony and the Johnsons.

Prince (1958-2016)

By Hiram Lee, 27 April 2016

While music icon Prince, who died April 21 at the age of 57, was among the more electrifying performers of his generation, his work could be terribly uneven.

A concert of relative rarities by American composer Aaron Copland

By Fred Mazelis, 23 April 2016

Copland’s jazz-influenced Piano Concerto deserves a higher profile in the orchestral repertoire.

The Hope Six Demolition Project: PJ Harvey takes on war and global poverty

By Matthew MacEgan, 22 April 2016

Harvey’s new album is the product of the artist’s investigation into the poverty and devastation being inflicted on different parts of the globe.

Born to Be Blue and Miles Ahead: Why so much fiction when life is fascinating enough?

By John Andrews, 7 April 2016

Films based on the lives and personas of post-World War II jazz musicians Chet Baker and Miles Davis have been released recently.

Rapper Phife Dawg from A Tribe Called Quest dead at 45

By Hiram Lee, 29 March 2016

The members of A Tribe Called Quest were more relatable than the superstar rappers who came before them and more sensitive and intelligent than the lyricists of then-emerging gangster rap.

Ten years since the death of hip hop artist James “J Dilla” Yancey

By Nick Barrickman, 21 March 2016

A talented musician, Yancey is considered by many to have been among the greatest of all hip hop producers.

Beatles producer George Martin dies at 90

By Hiram Lee, 15 March 2016

Legendary music producer George Martin, who supervised almost all of the Beatles’ recordings, died on March 8.

Jazz album: Crisis by Amir ElSaffar and the Two Rivers Ensemble

By Jeff Lusanne, 22 January 2016

An album fusing Western jazz traditions and traditional Arab music preserves an endangered Iraqi art form and creates a new sound.

The year in popular music

30 December 2015

World Socialist Web Site music writers pick their favorite recordings of 2015.

An interview with performer, educator and archivist of the Great American Songbook, Michael Feinstein

By Barry Grey, 23 December 2015

“I feel that this body of work is timeless, because it has a level of craft, inspiration and quality that transcends the era in which it was created.”

Red Pill’s Look What This World Did To Us: The “everyman mentality,” its strengths and weaknesses

By Nick Barrickman, 20 November 2015

Look What This World Did To Us (April 2015, Mello Music Group) is the third full-length studio album from Detroit-area rapper/producer Red Pill (born Chris Orrick, 1987).

Mose Allison—American Legend: Mose’s live music finally leaves the room

By James Brewer, 18 November 2015

Recorded at a series of shows in Northern California in 2006, this live CD epitomizes Allison at his best.

New Orleans songwriter, musician Allen Toussaint dead at 77

By Hiram Lee, 12 November 2015

On tour at the time of his death, Toussaint suffered a heart attack following a performance at the Teatro Lara in Madrid, Spain.

Kamasi Washington’s The Epic: A bold statement in jazz

By Jeff Lusanne, 17 September 2015

The Epic is a striking new work in jazz that successfully incorporates many influences into a unique new big band sound, and provides an engaging concert experience.

Woman: The confessions of R&B singer Jill Scott

By Hiram Lee, 9 September 2015

The latest album from the neo-soul singer is an interesting but uneven effort.

Young Euro Classic: A music festival in Berlin opposing war and nationalism

By Verena Nees, 31 August 2015

The annual Young Euro Classic youth orchestra festival recently concluded with a memorable performance in the Berlin Concert Hall.

Straight Outta Compton: an uncritical picture of the rise of American “gangster rap”

By Nick Barrickman, 25 August 2015

Straight Outta Compton is a hip hop biopic focusing on the rise to prominence of the influential hip hop group N.W.A. in the late 1980s.

The Good Fight: the latest from Washington DC-based hip hop artist Oddisee

By Nick Barrickman, 21 August 2015

While avoiding many of the more overt expressions of self-absorption, many of the Oddisee’s attempts to reflect reality remain purely on an individual and superficial plane.

Amy, a documentary film about the British singer Amy Winehouse

By Joanne Laurier, 12 August 2015

Asif Kapadia’s documentary is a straightforward and compelling account of the performer’s life starting at the age of fourteen.

Chris Squire, founding member of Yes, dead at 67

By Kevin Reed, 30 July 2015

The British-born bass player, song writer and vocalist for the progressive rock band Yes, died on June 27 at his home in Phoenix, Arizona. He was 67.

What Happened, Miss Simone?: The life of African-American singer, pianist and civil rights activist Nina Simone

By Helen Hayes and Fred Mazelis, 22 July 2015

Simone did not so much move between different genres—jazz, gospel, blues and folk—as combine them into her own unique and powerful style.

Strange Fruit by Kenan Malik: A polemic against racism and identity politics

By Nancy Hanover, 29 June 2015

The WSWS is reposting a 2010 review of Strange Fruit, a book by British journalist and scientist Kenan Malik, who penned a thoughtful look on the complex biological, social and historical issues involved in the notion of race and racism.

To Pimp a Butterfly from rapper Kendrick Lamar

By Nick Barrickman, 1 June 2015

Despite the album’s billing as socially ­conscious “political rap” by certain critics, the focus of To Pimp ... is largely on the rapper himself and his personal experiences in the music world.

Blues musician B.B. King, 1925-2015

By James Brewer, 18 May 2015

The iconic American blues artist died May 15 at 89, after dozens of albums and decades of intensive touring.

“Cultural appropriation,” “white privilege” and the attacks on rapper Iggy Azalea

By Nick Barrickman and David Walsh, 20 February 2015

In recent months, the hip hop music industry has witnessed a controversy surrounding the commercial success of Australian-born rapper Iggy Azalea.

Singer Joe Cocker: 1944-2014

By James Brewer, 3 January 2015

The iconic British rock performer died on December 22 of lung cancer at the age of 70.

The year in music: Favorite recordings of 2014

By our reporters, 31 December 2014

World Socialist Web Site music writers pick their favorite pop and jazz recordings of 2014.

New albums from saxophonists Dayna Stephens and Walter Smith III

By Hiram Lee, 27 December 2014

The music of saxophonists Stephens and Smith reveals some of the strengths and weaknesses in contemporary jazz.

Run the Jewels 2 from rappers Killer Mike and El-P

By Nick Barrickman, 10 December 2014

Run the Jewels 2 is the second full-length studio effort from the hip hop duo Run the Jewels, consisting of rapper Killer Mike and rapper-producer El-P.

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.