Monday, July 20, 2020

New Music: The Pretenders, Kansas, Ruthie Foster, Surfaces with Elton John

Artists continue to use this challenging time of sheltering at home to focus on the release of top-tier releases. Look no further than a number of excellent audio collections from a wide-range of established and rising music heroes.

Artist: The Pretenders
Title: Hate For Sale (BMG)
You might like if you enjoy: The Pretenders, Chrissie Hynde, Concrete Blonde
Tell me more: The Pretenders are back! Singer-songwriter Chrissie Hynde and founding drummer/backing vocalist Martin Chambers, along with long-time touring members James Walbourne (lead guitar) and Nick Wilkinson (bass) have returned with a batch of hard-hitting originals on Hate For Sale, including a title track that must be included in any reliable list ranking the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band's most explosive-ever rockers. There are other uptempo forays splashed across the 10-track LP as well, with the '50s-tinged "Didn't Want To Be This Lonely" and biting "Turf Accountant Daddy" among this writer's other faves.  

The Pretenders have returned with "Hate For
Sale" / Photo Credit: Matt Holyoak
Hynde is no one-trick pony, as evidenced by the beautiful retro-leaning ballad "You Can't Hurt a Fool" where she offers up some especially emotive vocals, and a yearning celebration of the mysteries of romantic passion detailed in "The Buzz." Other wonderful songs include the wistful "Maybe Love is in NYC," reggae-flavored "Lightning Man," high-octane rocker "I Didn't Know When To Stop" and tender disc-ending ballad "Crying In Public." Produced by legendary Stephen Street (The Smiths, Blur), the Pretenders' 11th studio album Hate For Sale marks a solid and exciting return that taps into the outfit's timeless resonance while forging into the future with weighty hooks in the here and now. A five-month tour teaming the Pretenders and Journey was originally scheduled to begin on May 15, 2020, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic was cancelled. Let's hope we get to hear the Pretenders out on the road soon performing many of the potent songs from Hate For SaleInformation:

Artist: Kansas
Title: The Absence of Presence (Century Media)
You might like if you enjoy: Yes, Genesis, Kansas
Tell me more: Kansas has returned with the ambitious The Absence of Presence, a full-length release produced by Zak Rizvi that is the prog-rock band's first new album since 2016's outstanding The Prelude Implicit. The Topeka, Kansas-spawned group's trademark sound rooted in dazzling virtuosity is displayed everywhere. The title track opens the proceedings, luxurious with violin, guitar, keyboards and rhythm section joining forces for an awe-inspiring soundscape that dials back when singer Ronnie Platt comes in with a probing lyrical verse. That song has a number of sections  some that race at breakneck speed and others that soar with symphonic splendor; all flow effortlessly and artfully together sans bombast. "Jets Overhead" starts with a solo piano before the band jumps in for an impressive instrumental display. "Circus of Illusion" begins with a relatively straightforward melodic rock approach that recalls '80s favorite ASIA, albeit adorned by David Ragsdale's distinctive violin play. Every cut on The Absence of Presence conjures up the magic of the band's best work, including the hard rocking "Throwing Mountains," reflective "Memories Down The Line" and thrilling "Animals on the Roof." Information:

Artist: Ruthie Foster Big Band
Title: Live at the Paramount (Blue Corn Music)
You might like if you enjoy: Aretha Franklin, Grace Potter, Ella Fitzgerald, Mavis Staples
Tell me more: Armed with a remarkable soprano that can deliver stellar blues, gospel, and soul with nuanced perfection, Ruthie Foster's latest release Live at the Paramount captured the Austin-based singer with the Ruthie Foster Big Band in January 2019. Not only is Foster in complete command of her extraordinary voice, but the talented musicians who share the stage and the energy from the audience come together in special way where the magic could have only been captured via a concert recording (kudos to music director John Mills and album producer executive producer Denby Auble). There is a buoyant force across the performance, with a soulful reworking of the Johnny Cash classic "Ring of Fire," the Memphis glide of "Singing' the Blues," meteoric "Runaway Soul" and full-on gospel offering "Woke Up This Morning" among the wonderful moments. Yours truly was floored by the gospel-meets-blues eruption of "Death Came a Knocking' (Travelin' Shoes)," Foster's incredible vocal performance of the spiritual bolstered by a soundscape of a trio of gospel singers, the 10-member horn section and Mitch Watkins' searing guitar play. Foster pulls off plenty of magic during the concert, including capping the appearance making the classics "Fly Me to the Moon" and "Mack the Knife" her own. Information:

Artists: Surfaces with Elton John
Title: Learn To Fly (Caroline Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Surfaces, Elton John
Tell me more: On July 17, Texas-based musical duo Surfaces released an extended version of their collaborative single "Learn To Fly" with Rock and Roll Hall of Fame artist Sir Elton John. The infectious soul-meets-pop non-album single  along with a colorful animated video directed by Ivan Dixon  is definitely a tuneful summertime gem that will appeal to fans of Surfaces' original version of the single as well as those who have long followed John's signature style. The artists were able to collaborate together via Zoom, but the warmth of the track will have listeners believing it was created by Surfaces (vocalists/guitarists Forrest Frank and Colin Padalecki) and the legendary John in-person. Information:

Robert Kinsler

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