SUSANA BACA, “Palabres Urgentes”
(Real World): 4
At 77, the Afro-Peruvian diva’s earned her legend not only as an elegant, Latin Grammy-winning vocalist and composer, but also as a musicologist, author, teacher, and (in 2011) Peru’s first Black minister of culture. Her return to the studio with “Urgent Truths” is most welcome, and not just because she and her producer, Snarky Puppy’s Michael League, spice the set with salsa (Tite Curet Alonso’s “Sorongo”) and tango (Pedro Laurenz’s “Miloga de Mis Amores”). Baca follows Chabuca Granda’s “La Herida Oscura,” a tribute to 18th-century independence leader (and indigenous martyr) Micaela Bastidas, with eloquently phrased songs calling for freedom, equality and love — endangered virtues dearly needed now.
NOAH GUNDERSEN, “A Pillar of Salt”
(Cooking Vinyl): 4
Since his teens, Gundersen’s built a compelling body of work distinguished by sonic contrasts, cathartic melodies, and quietly explosive turns of phrase. His fifth solo album delivers on all fronts with a magnetic rhythmic pulse and vibey atmosphere that suits his farewell to Seattle; gentrification and COVID-19 pushed him out of town. He laments that loss on the paradoxically beautiful “Sleepless in Seattle”: “Every bar in this city reminds me of somebody now/ If I get drunk at 12th and Union/ Whose street will I go wandering down?” Other highlights include “Atlantis,” an earthy yet ethereal duet with Phoebe Bridgers, and the gut-punching “Exit Signs” (“The pin in the hand grenade/ Has been calling out my name like a jealous wife/ All my life/ … I still believe in love/ That just might be good enough”).
BEDOUINE, “Waysides” (Orchard):3
LA-based singer-songwriter and acoustic guitarist Azniv Korkejian finds strength in nature and art that have traditionally endured. On her third album, images of water are mirrored by gently rippling melodies — a compositional hallmark — during the lulling “I Don’t Need the Light” (“Moonlight still shines … each shimmer’s the skin of the water”) and lead single “The Wave,” which mourns a friend’s premature death. “Sonnet 104” sways with gauzy harmonies in a vaguely baroque arrangement, while the lightly upbeat “The Solitude” and a nostalgic reading of Fleetwood Mac’s “Songbird” provide pop bookends. Listeners needing drama, search elsewhere. Those with patient ears may feel rewarded by Korkejian’s sophisticated fretwork and graceful inner world.
KEVIN MORBY, A Night at the Little Los Angeles
(Dead Oceans): 3
Last year’s “Sundowner” was a quiet chronicle of discovery and adaptation, rooted in four-track solo demos Morby made after relocating from LA back to Kansas. “A Night at the Little Los Angeles” gathers those demos (swapping out “Jamie” for the conversational “U.S. Mail”) to document one artist’s solitary creative process. Differences may seem subtle, but altering the track sequence and leaving intact original pauses, exclamations, extended instrumentals and incomplete arrangements takes us back to when neither the songs nor Morby’s life situation — nor that of listeners — were on sure footing. It still resonates.
MIKO MARKS & THE RESURRECTORS,
“Race Records” (Redtone): 4
This year is turning into a banner one for Marks: the March release of her first album in 12 years (“Our Country”) presaged a powerhouse vocal appearance on Fantastic Negrito’s “Rolling Through California,” and now this well-timed covers EP exposes the artificiality of early 20th century borders erected between “hillbilly” and “race” music. Marks earned a fan base in Nashville in the mid-2000s despite industry gatekeepers shunning Black women singing country; here, ably supported by her label’s house band, the Oakland-based artist continues to organically meld country, soul, bluegrass, gospel and rock while revitalizing classics by Creedence Clearwater Revival, Flatt & Scruggs, Stephen Foster and Willie Nelson with gutsy style and interpretive finesse.
TOMI, “Sweet, Sweet Honey” (In Between): 3
When a long-term relationship died during the pandemic shutdown, LA-based artist Pam Autuori retreated to her childhood Connecticut home, composing and producing this five-track EP while questioning identity and relationship. “What does forgiveness look like/ A single flower poking through a chainlink wire?” (from “Lemon Tree”). “If I Wasn’t Yours, Who Was I?” she moans as metallic beats slam down like condemnation. The music’s vulnerability rebukes the dance-pop slickness of previous EPs as she cauterizes psychic wounds with honesty and sinuous, guitar-spun pop melodies. At Hotel Café in Hollywood Saturday, Oct. 9.
PETITE AMIE, “Petite Amie” (Park the Van): 3½
Little Jesus bassist Carlos Medina leads this side project, also based in Mexico City, into more psychedelic realms on this debut album. They’ve been teasing its release for most of the year, issuing half of the songs as singles. Medina hands off bass duties to Santiago Fernández and joins Jacobo Velazquez in a harmonic twin-guitar approach behind the diaphanous vocals of Isabel Dosal and Aline Terrein. Washed in synths and reverb, fortified by electronic beats and balmy pop hooks, the effect conjured during tracks such as “Refugio,” “El Delirio” and “Interludio” is of a dream floating above riptides of anxiety.
JEREMY PINNELL, “Goodbye L.A.” (SofaBurn): 3½
Opening with scruffy roadhouse rocker “Big Ol’ Good,” the hard-touring country veteran tries to explain why he keeps making music in defiance of the “beating” to his “shaky knees, sweating hands”; the tempting groove promises to fill dance floors. That sets an upbeat tone for a solidly written and performed set whose gritty worldview’s shaped by past bouts with addiction and homelessness. Producer Jonathan Tyler encourages Pinnell to lean into his soulful belting and melodic hooks, and cranks up electric guitars and pedal steel for Bakersfield-style standouts “Night Time Eagle,” “Never Thought of No One,” the cheery title track and “Doing My Best.” RIYL Kendall Marvel, Sam Morrow, Waylon Jennings.