Everybody Works by Jay Som
Starts off just fine, with “Lipstick Stains” drifting in and out of focus; washes of acoustic guitar and horns providing ballast to Melina Duterte’s scene-setting sentiment, the word “stains” contrasting with “smile.” Then the album kicks off with what remains my most listened to song of the year so far. I can’t properly articulate just how much the softly-sung “Take your time” does to me; how “Feel like a firefighter when I take off your shoes” and “My sister knows / She says that ghosts are real” evokes nostalgia in me for memories that I didn’t think I held on to. But I can articulate the other stuff, how the instruments come alive to Duterte threatening to cut through the knots, or the effectiveness of the stop-starts throughout. I can articulate how indelible the tune in the choruses are to how the instruments cycle such that the bass-line is the main momentum of the second verse. Or, I can articulate how the boys yelling in cheerleader fashion “BUT I LIKE THE BUS” remains one of the best musical moments of the year, or how “Why don’t we take the bus? / You say you don’t like the smell” recalls Ricky Roma’s fantastic speech in David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, or the sentiment that Duterte enjoys public transit because “I can be whoever I want to be.” Unpretentious and thoroughly enjoyable indie pop/rock; expertly crafted. Nothing on the album comes close to it, even though there are moments: the vulnerable way she sings the vulnerable lyric, “There’s nothing up my sleeves”, on “Remain”; the guitar solo of 1990s love letter, “1 Billion Dogs,” before eventually settling in the bounce of the main hook. But her Weltschmerz and the homey bedroom aesthetic makes telling some of these songs apart from others difficult, even after dozens of playthroughs. This is true, even if “One More Time, Please” incorporates the light funk of a scratch guitar or “For Light” slowly canoes towards its climax.
I’ll give her this much: she probably tricked a few people into thinking this was a full band experience even though, excepting some vocals, she composed, performed and produced the entire thing by herself. She certainly tricked me. B PLUS
Hudson by Jack DeJohnette, Larry Grenadier, John Medeski, and John Scofield
I was super-excited about this: Jack DeJohnette (best known for drumming during Miles Davis’ fusion years) delivered one of last year’s best albums, jazz or otherwise, in In Movement (with Ravi Coltrane and Matthew Garrison). On Hudson, he collaborates with Larry Grenadier on bass (best known for his work with Brad Mehldau), John Medeski on keys (whom you might recognize for his work with John Zorn) and John Scofield on guitar (who also worked with Miles Davis, but during Davis’ late period). And it did not disappoint: Hudson is a generous collection of 11 songs over 70 minutes, leveraging Scofield’s melodic guitar lines and Medeski’s psychedelic explorations over Grenadier’s acoustic bass and DeJohnette’s unmistakable drum-work across an array of styles.
Just listen to the two vastly different approaches of the two Bob Dylan covers: the band set “Lay Lady Lay” to a reggae groove and emphasize one of Dylan’s most direct tunes. And I was surprised that they would dare cover a lyric-heavy song like “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”, especially one that I can’t imagine being sung by anyone except Bob Dylan. So they go for a different approach, trying to capture the apocalypse in the instrumentation instead. (I’m also pretty sure that Scofield quotes “Tennessee Waltz” at the end; it certainly sent me straight to Sonny Rollins’ cover, which DeJohnette played on).
Elsewhere, they focus on the R&B elements of Jimi Hendrix’s “Wait Until Tomorrow” while DeJohnette resurrects “Dirty Ground,” originally from 2012’s Sound Travels and originally sung by Bruce Hornby, opting to perform vocals himself. His older vocals do the lyrics more justice than the first take. And John Medeski elevates both Scofield's original “El Swing” with his solo (notice how it’s pushed forward to climax by DeJohnette and Gernadier) and “Up on Cripple Creek,” with an intro that captures the spirit of the Band. The surprises don’t end there: bringing in woodwinds, tribal drums and vocals to round the album on “Great Spirit Peace Chant.” B PLUS