Shenandoah Davis, “The Wings” (Plume). The lead track from Seattle vocalist/pianist Shenandoah Davis's Souvenirs, "The Wings" epitomizes her ambitious compositional skills while showcasing her buoyant voice and perceptive lyrics (Souvenirs is being promoted as an unconventional breakup album, and its emotional heft is substantial; plus, it was recorded in a Brooklyn apartment with Sam Miller). This is exquisitely melodious pop that harks back to the lilting charm of '60s girl groups, but with the orchestral grandeur of Scott Walker's first four solo albums and the icy-sweet spaciousness of Mercury Rev's Deserter's Songs/All Is Dream era.
Mavis Staples, "If All I Was Was Black" (Anti-). Damn, Mavis Staples is still fabulous at 78. With production/instrumental help from Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, the soul/gospel grande dame inhabits this mid-tempo beauty—the title track from her just-released album—with her patented warmth and wisdom. There's nothing radical about the music or lyrics; Mavis just hits that sweet spot in your heart with her weathered-to-perfection voice. Even in subdued mode (for her), Staples stirs deep feelings. "It's time for more love," she sings with irrefutable logic, followed by a wonderfully gnarly Tweedy guitar solo, as the song ambles with a slightly faster Rose Royce/"I Wanna Get Next to You" gait. Mind's now at ease.
Maya Youssef, “Queen of the Night” (Harmonia Mundi). Newsflash: There are other contemporary musicians from Syria besides Omar Souleyman who deserve your precious attention. Maya Youssef—whose album Syrian Dreams comes out today on Harmonia Mundi's Latitudes Series—is a virtuoso of the kanun, a 78-stringed plucked zither used in traditional Syrian music. The piquant timbres she generates from it, coupled with her gorgeously bittersweet melodies and crisp hand-drum rhythms, culminates in an ambrosial aura. "Queen of the Night" sounds like the work of a Middle Eastern Alice Coltrane or Dorothy Ashby. Not gonna lie: Youssef makes this American of Syrian descent proud.
Marisa Anderson, "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" (Mississippi). Portland guitarist Marisa Anderson might be the female John Fahey. On Traditional and Public Domain Songs, she displays her preternatural facility for making old music sound startlingly alive. (Her original material is fantastic, too, and she's amazing live, as well.) Here, Anderson transforms patriotic warhorse "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" into a glassy-eyed reverie with wonderfully slurring tones and a much more laggard tempo, as if to mock the original's audacious strut. Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Eric Copeland, "Mixer Shredder" (DFA). As Eric Copeland's biggest fan, I am compelled to hype this cut from his recently released Goofballs. In the context of this Black Dice member's ultra-bizarre catalog, "Mixer Shredder" is relatively conventional. Hell, it's almost fit for a mutant disco/experimental-techno DJ set. But it sounds too unquantized and infected with queasy tones to mix smoothly into or out of anyone else's club tracks. Forever a misfit, our Eric. Recommended for fans of Patrick Cowley's ill gay-porn soundtracks, Mr. Oizo's Analog Worms Attack, and malfunctioning video games.
Noteworthy November 17 album releases: Mavis Staples, If All I Was Was Black (Anti-); Charlotte Gainsbourg, Rest (Because); Godflesh, Post Self (Avalanche/Shellshock); King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, Polygondwandaland (ATO); Morrissey, Low in High School (BMG); Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Soul of a Woman (Daptone); T-Pain, Oblivion (Nappy Boy/RCA); The Body/Full of Hell, Ascending a Mountain of Heavy Light (Thrill Jockey); OCS, Memory of a Cut Off Head (Castle Face); Baths, Romaplasm (Anticon); Taylor Swift, reputation (Big Machine); Nine Inch Nails, The Fragile: Deviations 1 (Island/nothing); Karl Blau, Out Her Space (Bella Union); Kicking Giant, This Being the Ballad of Kicking Giant, Halo (Drawing Room/K); Electric Wizard, Wizard Bloody Wizard (Spinefarm); Bitchin Bajas, Bajas Fresh (Drag City); Black Sabbath, The End (Eagle Rock/Universal).