Lykke Li - I Never Learn: A unique voice, big emotions, and "wall of sound" production to tie it all together. This album is an instant classic. Heartbreak never sounded so rich, full, and satisfying.
Beck - Morning Phase: Picking up where 2002's classic Sea Change left off, Morning Phase is another career highlight. Mellow melancholia through a haze of 1970s' folk-rock. Beautiful and mature.
Marianne Faithfull - Give My Love to London: Faithfull figured out long ago how to utilize her limited vocal range for maximum emotional effect. If anything, every year adds another layer of poignancy to her already formidable interpretive skills. This collection does not disappoint. Instead of showing a legendary artist resting on her laurels, it showcases one who is fully present and at the top of her game.
Bryan Ferry - Avonmore: Time may have stood still for Bryan Ferry but that seems to have been his intent all along. His music effortlessly straddles a line between dated and timeless, and that - along with his quivering vibrato and sense of stylish ennui - is part of its appeal. The densely arranged yet danceable songs on Avonmore could easily be outtakes from earlier classics such as Bête Noire or Mamouna. That sort of consistency can be reassuring or redundant, depending on the listener, but for me it's a sign that, at least for the length of an album, all is well in the world.
Annie Lennox - Nostalgia: These days, it seems de rigueur for pop stars of a certain age to cover standards from the Great American Songbook. Whether a rite of passage or a sign of creative bankruptcy depends upon the artist. Some vocalists - Bryan Ferry and Boz Scaggs come to mind - take to these old tunes quite naturally, and to that roster can be added Annie Lennox. Always one to do things her way, she transcends the potential for cheap sentiment and schmaltz by virtue of that rich and soulful voice. Despite the album title, this is not merely a nostalgia trip but an exercise in emotion. Lennox inhabits each piece as only she can, with the understated arrangements showcasing something rarely heard these days: the pure love of singing.
[Five more next week!]