TARCHIE SHEPP & JASON MORAN, Let My People Go (Archieball): 3½
Shepp chooses his moments well. Five minutes pass as the veteran avant-garde saxophonist mournfully sounds the melody of “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” against jazz pianist Moran’s ruminative harmonics; not until the 5:17 mark does Shepp’s leathery voice take up the blues spiritual’s weary lyric. Such unrushed, spacious arrangements foster instrumental conversations that dispense with inconsequential frills. The expressive humanity of “Isfahan” and “Go Down Moses” are similarly affecting. “Lush Life” is comparatively unfocused, but a live exploration of “Round Midnight” delivers a graceful coda to an unexpectedly deep, satisfying exchange.
ARLO PARKS, Collapsed in Sunbeams (Transgressive): 4
The 20-year-old Londoner, who counts Billie Eilish and Michelle Obama among her fans, opens with a spoken affirmation of purpose (“Stretched out open to beauty however brief or violent”) before moving on to strike an uplifting balance between pop hooks, soul grooves, funk and hip-hop beats. The airy sweetness of her vocal tone belies the lowering realities of depression, addiction and doomed romance informing tracks such as “Hurt,” the empathetic “Hope” and “Bluish.” “I’d lick the grief right off your lips/ You do your eyes like Robert Smith/ Sometimes it seems like you won’t survive this,” she coos during “Black Dog,” but from that vulnerability she excavates strength.
AARON LEE TASJAN, Tasjan Tasjan Tasjan (New West):4
Melodic patterns and pop hooks tug insistently at the ear throughout the Nashville tunesmith’s fourth solo album. The spacey bounce of “Cartoon Music” springs into the psychedelic slide and rock ‘n’ roll confessions of “Feminine Walk,” while “Computer of Love” rides Tasjan’s knife-edged wit and guitar riffs. Weighty truth-telling is so deftly glammed up in reverb and sunny, Beach Boys-style harmonies during “Dada Bois” that his layered meanings may not register with listeners until they find themselves singing along with his delirious poetry. A keeper worthy of steady replays.
COREY LEDET, Corey Ledet Zydeco (Nouveau Electric):3
The zydeco veteran gets the Fat Tuesday party started early with this ingratiating set co-produced with Lost Bayou Ramblers fiddler Louis Michot. Due to sessions being interrupted by the pandemic, tracks alternate between full-band rompers (Big Joe Turner’s “Flip Flop and Fly,” the cheery “It’s Gonna Be Alright”) and Ledet’s solo accordion (“Nina’s Hot Step”); about half are sung in Kouri-Vini, his family’s Creole dialect. “Buchanan Ledet Special” is named after his grandfather, “zydeco’s first drummer,” whose double-clutching beat has defined the genre since he backed zydeco king Clifton Chenier. Pandemic be damned.
YASMIN WILLIAMS, Urban Driftwood
The 24-year-old Virginia guitarist’s percussive fingerstyle technique often inspires wonder, as does this set of acoustic instrumentals composed during the pandemic and lockdown, with Williams tapping guitar on her lap like piano or drum while also riffling notes on kalimba. “Sunshowers” and “I Wonder” spin fluid visions of countryside tranquility; “Adrift,” a dynamic exchange with cellist Taryn Wood, reflects the turbulence sparked by George Floyd’s murder. Williams nods to West African griots by playing kora during “Through the Woods,” which — like the cinematic title track — is sensitively punctuated by hand drummer Amadou Kouyate, before “After the Storm” spreads hope like balm.
THE WEATHER STATION, Ignorance
(Fat Possum): 3½
Love and climate intersect in unsettling metaphors throughout Canadian composer and actress Tamara Lindeman’s latest offering, which thrums with rhythmic urgency (courtesy of three percussionists and Tegan and Sara keyboardist Johnny Spence). Positioning herself as an avatar of generations born into a world torched by the climate crisis, Lindeman sifts through bewildering emotions wrought by corporatization (the jazz-tinged “Robber”), powerlessness (“Tried to Tell You,” the hooky “Separated”), and cultural and climatic turmoil (“Trust”). Nervous amid “pink clouds massing on the cliffs” and electric keyboard, flute and skittering drumbeats, “Atlantic” echoes countless 2020 conversations: “I should get all this dying off my mind/ I should really know better than to read the headlines.”
CELESTE, Not Your Muse (Interscope): 4
“Please don’t mistake me for someone who cares,” the Culver City-born, London-based soul singer warns in sultry tones during opener “Ideal Woman,” but that’s the pride of the rejected talking; this album’s a magnetic declaration of feeling. Her material and distinctive phrasing channel mid-20th century blues, jazz and soul, notably during the Nina Simone-inspired “Stop This Flame” and vibraphone-rippled dream “Beloved.” Crescendoing horns vent stormy reactions to England’s December 2019 election during “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know,” but “Strange,” composed in LA during 2018’s wildfires, hits hardest. Conveying profound isolation and need with just piano, strings and a raw vocal, it devastates with velvet restraint.
ANYA MARINA, Live and Alone in New York
Recorded in December 2019 at Manhattan’s Rockwood Music Hall, this 17-track live set reaches back to the pop artist’s 2004 debut “Miss Halfway” with a winsome rendition of “Clean & Sober” and resurrects songs from numerous albums made since, including the title track of last year’s cactus-inspired “Queen of the Night.” Marina’s in fine, wisecracking form as she accompanies her sweet contralto on guitar and piano; her confessional rapport with the audience triggers memories of pre-COVID songwriter shows at Hotel Café, making this more than just an engaging retrospective for fans.