So I find myself looking for great moments. Weep Themselves to Sleep has one of the best: a guitar solo by White that’s actually a pair of them, one in each channel, itchy and needling, fighting one another. And his version of Little Willie John’s I’m Shakin the record’s only cover, is one long great moment: overdriven, exacting, uptight, unnatural.
— BEN RATLIFF, NY Times News Service
THE BODY WINS
Sarah Jaffe doesn’t get specific about back stories in the songs on The Body Wins, her second album, but one thing is clear: They’re not placid.
Jaffe, a songwriter from Denton, Texas, was mostly folky and straightforward on her 2010 debut album, Suburban Nature, singing about longing, pain, falling apart and surviving despite herself. This time the lyrics are splintered, though they still hint at bitter aftermaths of romance and addiction. “There’s always a point, a point of no return/Always something to give up, always something to learn,” she sings in Mannequin Woman, which plugs along, dark but poppy, like Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams.
Her voice holds a wounded determination. It’s full of scrapes and quavers, and capable of both Fiona Apple’s acidity and Feist’s suppleness (though sometimes she’s overly close to Feist).
For this album, Jaffe largely set aside her guitar. Her new songs can turn orchestral, head for big (but troubled) choruses or blast into rock as she does in Talk, which piles buzz-bomb electric guitars onto a sparse electro beat. She and her producer, John Congleton, come up with barbed pop structures like The Body Wins, a tango-like rocker with muscular brass and shards of dissonance, and Glorified High, which uses blotchy distortion for its beat and bass line on the way to an accusatory, mock-triumphal chorus.
She shows a quieter side, too, but without getting conventionally folky. There are somber piano marches, like The Way Sound Leaves a Room; a string section backs her in Foggy Field, as she gently sings, “Sometimes second chances haunt me.” In Fangs, an arrangement with clarinets and saxophone hints at the warmth of the Band, and Jaffe overdubs herself into a choir. But she’s singing, “Water to wine/She’s got fangs like mine.” There’s no unmixed sweetness on this album, only partly healed scars.
— JON PARELES, NY Times News Service
SEEDS FROM THE UNDERGROUND
The alto and soprano saxophonist Kenny Garrett acknowledges many sources of inspiration on his engagingly robust new album, Seeds From the Underground. Most of the acknowledgments are fairly obvious: a postbop workout called J. Mac is for the saxophonist Jackie McLean, and an urgent waltz called Haynes Here is for the drummer Roy Haynes. Detroit is a tribute to Garrett’s hometown; Welcome Earth Song concerns his home planet.
There’s a sincere motive behind all this naming. Garrett, 51, seems eager to attest to the influences, both personal and environmental, that made him the artist he is. More, then: Du-Wo-Mo, is for Duke Ellington, Woody Shaw and Thelonious Monk; Wiggins refers to an old band teacher. But what about his former mentor, Miles Davis? Or his lodestar, John Coltrane? He’s made each one the focus of a previous album, which would seem to suffice.