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Pop - Released February 15, 2019 | Verve Forecast

Hi-Res Distinctions 4F de Télérama - Qobuzissime
The American dream is an inexhaustible subject. It is approached head-on, sideways, from behind, above and below. It is the ultimate fuel for hordes of songwriters; even when they weren’t even born in America. As is the case for J.S. Ondara. This young Kenyan, who his label calls "the link between Tracy Chapman and Michael Kiwanuka" (an easy claim but not wrong), went there to try his luck. In 2013, Ondara dropped anchor at his aunt's house in Minneapolis. Having only previously known his native Nairobi, the musician took his songs into bars, clubs and even out onto the street, equipped with only his voice and a simple acoustic guitar, perhaps in the hope of becoming a third millennium Bob Dylan. The Dylan of The Freewheelin', his favourite record; Springsteen's Nebraska also being one of his top picks... But to limit himself to cloning those giants wouldn’t be very interesting. And Tales of America avoids that. First of all, J.S. Ondara has his own voice. His plaintive tone is a little androgynous and makes him truly unique. On the instrumental side, he adds some more daring flavours with the help of the great Andrew Bird, Griffin Goldsmith from Dawes and Joey Ryan from the Milk Carton Kids duo. In a divided America and a crisis-riddled world, J. S. Ondara's songs are more than just bandages, they’re powerful balms that penetrate the skin and warm the heart. This is a Qobuzissime that we needed... © Marc Zisman/Qobuz
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Pop - Released August 16, 2019 | Verve Forecast

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Is this really 2019? If so, then Madison Cunningham must have been frozen in cryosleep in the mid-seventies and brought back to life four decades later. With Who Are You Now, this 22-year-old Californian releases a debut album of surprising mastery and maturity. While influenced by her predecessors Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones, Fiona Apple and even Feist, Cunningham never loses the vision of her own songs and personal sound. Her retro sound is therefore balanced on this record with a resolute timelessness. Brought up in a family of five girls, she picked up her first guitar when she was 7 and sang in church with her family at 12. She listened to other artists but mostly wrote and composed her own songs. It’s difficult to not be blown away by her lyricism; the tormented soul of a wandering old lady on an unstable path of sheer emotion. How many lives has this young musician who has opened shows the likes of the Punch Brothers, Andrew Bird, Amos Lee, Iron & Wine and even Calexico lived? With disillusioned, exacting confidence, an unforgiving feminist cry, Madison Cunningham is a folk-rock sovereign here to last. A true revelation. © Marc Zisman/Qobuz
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Alternative & Indie - Released May 8, 2020 | Verve Forecast

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Film Soundtracks - Released January 1, 2006 | Verve Forecast

What is most notable about the soundtrack to Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain is the original score by Argentinian music wizard Gustavo Santaolalla (producer of the grand Café Tacuba recordings and a songwriter in his own right, as evidenced by his two albums, Gas and Ronroco). His interludes and cues evoke the very landscape that Lee portrays in his film, but there are also some fine vocal performances by a star-studded cast of singers. Willie Nelson's read of "He Was a Friend of Mine," complete with squeezebox and layered acoustic guitars, is gorgeous. Emmylou Harris' performance of Santaolalla and Bernie Taupin's "A Love That Will Never Grow Old" is simple, spare, and poignant. The shuffling honky tonk ballad that Santaolalla wrote for Mary McBride, with its crying pedal steel, hits close to the bone and evokes Patsy Cline. Likewise, the hard-driving country of "I Will Never Let You Go," written for Jackie Greene, is tough and tender. Santaolalla's cues, like the best of Ry Cooder's film scores, touch the film's scenery, move its narrative, and pricelessly frame it in time. Teddy Thompson and Rufus Wainwright team for a throwaway country-swing version of Roger Miller's "King of the Road," but Thompson does a fine job on the Santaolalla and Taupin tune "I Don't Want to Say Goodbye," which is as heartbroken a ballad as one is likely to hear. This is an utterly wonderful soundtrack that could have done without Linda Ronstadt's version of Buddy Holly's "It's So Easy," Steve Earle's "The Devil's Right Hand," or even Wainwright's "The Maker Makes," but this is a small complaint. © TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 2006 | Verve Forecast

American Myth is singer/songwriter Jackie Greene's true debut for the Verve Forecast label. Sweet Somewhere Bound, issued in 2005, was actually recorded for the Dig Music label (where his previous albums appeared) in 2004 and licensed by Universal. American Myth is a much more complex affair than anything he's done previously. The list of players is impressive: from Davey Faragher and Peter Thomas to Greg Leisz and Steve Berlin (who did a fine job producing this set), to name a few. This is the collection that should finally dispel those pesky Bob Dylan comparisons. Greene has grown into his American roots style honestly -- by becoming a better musician. And while there are those fans who would claim that his lyrics may have suffered, his craft as a songwriter has improved immeasurably. "Hollywood" will be the novelty single because of its swaggeringly infectious blues hook, but "So Hard to Find My Way," with its shimmering B3, horns creating a loose, good-time groove underscored by a warm bass line, a strolling banjo, Greene's dobro, and his deft lyrical imagery, is a better tune. His changeup is fine, too, as evidenced by "Just as Well," which comes immediately after with its introspective acoustic guitar and the dobro and hand percussion intro. This is the kind of summery sidewalk tune that the guys in Sugar Ray would have killed to have written. The accordion fills and Greene's voice, which is so utterly cool and in the pocket, captures and captivates the listener. "Love Song 2 A.M." is beautifully evocative without being drenched in sentimentality. "I'm So Gone," is a snaky, hoodoo, traveling song that reflects in full-band form what Greene does in his solo live shows to stunning effect. The guitars by Greene and Val McCallum have teeth. The open-country feel of "When You're Walking Away" (especially with Leisz's lap steel) is offset by its heartbreaking lyrics. The R&B/soul drench in "Closer to You," struts in a barroom-sexy way, which is really interesting when it's bookended on one side by the hard-wired blues of "Cold Black Devil/14 Miles," and the pure acoustic, drifting love poetry of "I'll Let You In" on the other. What it adds up to is that Greene can write any damned thing he wants to and has the heart to pull it all off. Indeed he may be losing the street cred part of the "wandering troubadour" stereotype on American Myth, but as he's shedding that skin he's becoming something more mercurial: a deft, hard-to-pigeonhole American songwriter. Greene is doing this musical vocation thing the right way; he's growing and maturing as he goes, becoming more precise and developing a bigger channel for his muse to sing through. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Electronic - Released January 1, 2008 | Verve Forecast

On their third album, the ever eclectic Brazilian Girls return to the joyful bohemian groove magic of their debut. Most importantly, they once again make it sound effortless and play their downtown worldbeat loose rather than lazy, making their loft music more welcoming than it was on Talk to La Bomb, the too clever sophomore effort that suffered from a slight case of entitlement. Here, the meticulously arranged opener, "St. Petersburg," announces that the Girls are out to earn their accolades this time as soundtrack music, tribal beats, and shuffling jazz all pass under Sabina Sciubba's intoxicating vocals. When she offers "Here is your anthem/Now go to hell," it's plain to see that the playfulness and cool flippancy are back, too, something that makes the singalong highlight "Ricardo" such a good-time single, perfect for chic summery weekends. "Internacional" is "Peter Gunn Theme" versus any given Serge Gainsbourg song, and when tubas meet Sciubba's tongue-rolling pronouncement of "Berlin," the track of the same name becomes something like a new wave revival of the musical Cabaret. Rounding out this unclassifiable effort are peaceful moments like "L'Interprete" and electronica-aware pop songs like "I Want Out," plus plenty of Astrud Gilberto-inspired numbers that explain why this group of non-Brazilian musicians gets to use the "B" word. With Brazilian Girls' sense of wonder and love of musical globe-trotting as strong as ever, New York City is a welcome return to form for this very special group. © David Jeffries /TiVo
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Pop - Released January 1, 2006 | Verve Forecast

With their lead singer sensually delivering her witty lyrics in five different languages while the band skillfully flirts with house, dub, and plenty of other cosmopolitan genres of music in the background, the Brazilian Girls' Talk to La Bomb revisits nearly all the elements that made their 2005 self-titled debut such a thrill, but the songwriting has slipped a bit, welcoming the beloved act to the sophomore slump. With great ideas hidden deep inside wandering tracks and more loose numbers than it should have, Talk to La Bomb feels a lot like the B-sides and remixes collections plenty of other bands follow a killer debut with, which means fans will get something substantial out of it but they won't be able to convert their friends. There's still some solid reason to cheer for the band with the Ric Ocasek-produced "Last Call" being a delicious kind of comfortable pop-house, while "Sweatshop" offers a winning combination of sexuality and Stereolab. The tribal "Tourist Trap" gets reckless in the tropics with its fun tale of "lighting up at the pool/peeing into the ocean" and the closing "Problem" is the Vogue magazine/punk rocker the Girls always seemed to have in them, but tracks like "Sexy Asshole" and "Never Met a German" are forgettable and feel like they were written because somebody dropped a clever song name. Talk to La Bomb indulges every whim you'd expect on an odds-and-sods compilation, so pretend it is and adjust your expectations accordingly. © David Jeffries /TiVo
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Folk/Americana - Released January 1, 2009 | Verve Forecast

Having already issued a handful of homemade recordings, Elizabeth & the Catapult sound unusually assured on their major-label debut. Taller Children bounces between piano jazz, coffeehouse pop/rock, and contemporary lounge, a mix that appeals to NPR-loving sophisticates without alienating those who prefer mainstream radio instead. At the center of the storm is frontwoman Elizabeth Ziman, a disciple of Ella Fitzgerald and a contemporary of Regina Spektor, Ingrid Michaelson, and other piano-playing female songwriters. Ziman distances herself from those females by simply casting her net wider, helming a torch ballad one minute and piling thick harmonies on top of electro-pop percussion the next. The presence of studio wiz kid Mike Mogis -- producer extraordinaire for the likes of Rilo Kiley, Cursive, and Tilly & the Wall -- helps fuel the eclectic set list, as it relieves the band of splitting its time between songwriting and production duties. Free to do whatever they wish, the musicians explore the boundaries of pop music with wide-eyed fascination and competency, using the studio to their advantage without resorting to the sort of dense, grandly orchestrated music that can't be replicated in concert. Some orchestral flourishes do pepper the album's ballads -- "Rainiest Day of Summer" evokes a rainy Manhattan landscape with Brill Building strings, and "Right Next to You" brims with gauzy layers of keyboard, vibraphone, and flügelhorn -- but Taller Children devotes more time to the talents of the band, not its host of sidemen. This is a record that reveals its layers upon many listens, an album that channels the sophistication and elegance of Fifth Avenue while keeping its head in the bohemian enclave of the West Village. In short: very agreeable, very New York, and quite promising. © Andrew Leahey /TiVo
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Pop - Released September 20, 2019 | Verve Forecast

Hi-Res Distinctions Qobuzissime
The American dream is an inexhaustible subject. It is approached head-on, sideways, from behind, above and below. It is the ultimate fuel for hordes of songwriters; even when they weren’t even born in America. As is the case for J.S. Ondara. This young Kenyan, who his label calls "the link between Tracy Chapman and Michael Kiwanuka" (an easy claim but not wrong), went there to try his luck. In 2013, Ondara dropped anchor at his aunt's house in Minneapolis. Having only previously known his native Nairobi, the musician took his songs into bars, clubs and even out onto the street, equipped with only his voice and a simple acoustic guitar, perhaps in the hope of becoming a third millennium Bob Dylan. The Dylan of The Freewheelin', his favourite record; Springsteen's Nebraska also being one of his top picks... But to limit himself to cloning those giants wouldn’t be very interesting. And Tales of America avoids that. First of all, J.S. Ondara has his own voice. His plaintive tone is a little androgynous and makes him truly unique. On the instrumental side, he adds some more daring flavours with the help of the great Andrew Bird, Griffin Goldsmith from Dawes and Joey Ryan from the Milk Carton Kids duo. In a divided America and a crisis-riddled world, J. S. Ondara's songs are more than just bandages, they’re powerful balms that penetrate the skin and warm the heart. This is a Qobuzissime that we needed... © Marc Zisman/Qobuz
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Pop - Released May 29, 2020 | Verve Forecast

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One year after the release of his debut (Qobuzissime-winning) album in February 2019, J.S. Ondara has released, in the midst of the Covid-19 (then)epidemic, the aptly named “Tales of Isolation”. Lockdown clearly hasn’t deterred this young Kenyan, described by his label as a fusion of Tracy Chapman and Michael Kiwanuka. Following along the lines of his two most beloved records, Dylan’s “The Freewheelin’” and Springsteen’s “Nebraska”, Ondara offers a collection of acoustic songs that are carried by his vibrant singing and plaintive, androgynous voice that pulls on the heart strings. In “Folk n’ Roll Vol. 1: Tales Of Isolation”, the American Dream which fascinates him so once more comes face to face with life’s struggles. And creation in itself is most moving when the artist expresses what’s closest to them. Such is the ideal fuel for the songs of a troubadour of Ondara’s calibre, who is at his most true and powerful when the skies are dark and stormy. © Max Dembo/Qobuz
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Alternative & Indie - Released March 6, 2020 | Verve Forecast

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Pop - Released September 20, 2019 | Verve Forecast

The American dream is an inexhaustible subject. It is approached head-on, sideways, from behind, above and below. It is the ultimate fuel for hordes of songwriters; even when they weren’t even born in America. As is the case for J.S. Ondara. This young Kenyan, who his label calls "the link between Tracy Chapman and Michael Kiwanuka" (an easy claim but not wrong), went there to try his luck. In 2013, Ondara dropped anchor at his aunt's house in Minneapolis. Having only previously known his native Nairobi, the musician took his songs into bars, clubs and even out onto the street, equipped with only his voice and a simple acoustic guitar, perhaps in the hope of becoming a third millennium Bob Dylan. The Dylan of The Freewheelin', his favourite record; Springsteen's Nebraska also being one of his top picks... But to limit himself to cloning those giants wouldn’t be very interesting. And Tales of America avoids that. First of all, J.S. Ondara has his own voice. His plaintive tone is a little androgynous and makes him truly unique. On the instrumental side, he adds some more daring flavours with the help of the great Andrew Bird, Griffin Goldsmith from Dawes and Joey Ryan from the Milk Carton Kids duo. In a divided America and a crisis-riddled world, J. S. Ondara's songs are more than just bandages, they’re powerful balms that penetrate the skin and warm the heart. This is a Qobuzissime that we needed... © Marc Zisman/Qobuz
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Rock - Released July 17, 2020 | Verve Forecast

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Rock - Released October 12, 2018 | Verve Forecast

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Ambient/New Age - Released November 22, 2019 | Verve Forecast

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Alternative & Indie - Released April 24, 2020 | Verve Forecast

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Rock - Released January 1, 2006 | Verve Forecast

Ollabelle's second album, Riverside Battle Songs, arrives on the heels of 2004's self-titled debut, one of the more celebrated Americana releases of the new millennium. That album combined classic gospel material with T-Bone Burnett's sparkling production and a fresh vocal approach featuring five gifted singers who could shine both individually and collectively. Where the debut album was skewed toward traditional songs with a smattering of originals, Riverside Battle Songs reverses the ratio. Nine of the 13 songs are Ollabelle originals. The traditional songs fare best here. Namesake Ola Belle Reed's "High on a Mountain" is given a spirited reading, while the familiar spiritual "Down by the Riverside" is updated with ambient touches that recall Daniel Lanois' production work. The Appalachian gospel song "Gone Today" arrives via spine-tingling a cappella singing, departs via a fiddle and Dobro hoedown, and is one of the album's highlights. The originals are more problematic. The mournful "Everything Is Broken" is a starkly lovely ballad, while "Troubles of the World" offers an impressive and surprising raga-tinged coda on what is otherwise a standard gospel song. However, producer and multi-instrumentalist Larry Campbell adds some too-familiar alt-country pedal steel work on "Heaven's Pearls" and "Blue Northern Lights," songs that are certainly pretty, but which overstay their welcome. More disturbingly, the five members of Ollabelle simply sound too polite and well-mannered for songs that are intended to convey spiritual desperation and heavenly joy. It's a charge that could have been leveled at the debut album, but the universally strong material offset the lack of funk and fire. But Riverside Battle Songs, with slightly weaker material, is The Gospel According to NPR and PBS, and as such it will appeal mostly to fans who like their fire and brimstone diluted with a strong dose of slick professionalism and urbane refinement. Undeniably well crafted and well sung, and occasionally moving, Riverside Battle Songs is nevertheless something of a disappointment. © Andy Whitman /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 2009 | Verve Forecast

If there were any doubt that Bruce Hornsby had completely redefined himself as a "do whatever I want to" musician rather than the pop/rock singer/songwriter he had appeared to be upon his popular emergence 20 years earlier, that doubt should have been dispersed by his two album releases of 2007, the bluegrass duo set Ricky Skaggs & Bruce Hornsby and the jazz trio session Camp Meeting with Christian McBride and Jack DeJohnette. That liberation accomplished at last, Hornsby unsurprisingly returns to the pop/rock singer/songwriter mode on Levitate, his first album since 1993's A Night on the Town to be co-credited to his backup band. But his old group the Range is long gone, replaced by an ensemble pointedly called the Noisemakers (John "J.T." Thomas on organ and keyboards, Bobby Read on reeds, Doug Derryberry on guitar, J.V. Collier on bass, and Sonny Emory on drums), who have been backing him as a unit since 2002 -- although some of the musicians have been with him since the early '90s -- and the sound of Levitate only occasionally recalls the Bruce Hornsby of "That's the Way It Is," "Mandolin Rain," and "The Valley Road." Instead, he and the Noisemakers come up with combustible jazz-rock arrangements revealing the influence of Steely Dan (notably on "Paperboy") and Brian Wilson ("Michael Raphael"), used to support sometimes bizarrely humorous lyrics, as signaled by the opening song, "The Black Rats of London." In truth, Hornsby isn't much of a lyricist, if only because he doesn't seem to know what to write about, and his songwriting has never recovered from the loss of his brother John Hornsby as a co-writer. The best songs here are co-compositions, particularly "Cyclone," with a strong, evocative, and characteristic lyric from former Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, as well as "Continents Drift" and "Simple Prayer," both co-written by Chip deMatteo. The album's unevenness also may be due to the multiple purposes that inspired the material, however. The music in some cases seems to have been written for different projects and retrofitted here: the title song (based on a theme in Thomas Newman's score for The Shawshank Redemption) appeared in a different version in director Spike Lee's film Kobe Doin' Work; "Invisible" is in director Bobcat Goldthwait's August 2009 film World's Greatest Dad, starring Robin Williams, in which Hornsby has a cameo; and some of the music apparently is intended for a Broadway musical to be written by Hornsby, called SCKBSTD. No wonder the album comes across as a collection of sessions instead of a coherent whole. Nevertheless, old-time Hornsby fans who fell away over the years might want to give this one a listen; it's closer to his singer/songwriter self than he's been in many years. © William Ruhlmann /TiVo
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Pop - Released January 1, 2009 | Verve Forecast

Having already issued a handful of homemade recordings, Elizabeth & the Catapult sound unusually assured on their major-label debut. Taller Children bounces between piano jazz, coffeehouse pop/rock, and contemporary lounge, a mix that appeals to NPR-loving sophisticates without alienating those who prefer mainstream radio instead. At the center of the storm is frontwoman Elizabeth Ziman, a disciple of Ella Fitzgerald and a contemporary of Regina Spektor, Ingrid Michaelson, and other piano-playing female songwriters. Ziman distances herself from those females by simply casting her net wider, helming a torch ballad one minute and piling thick harmonies on top of electro-pop percussion the next. The presence of studio wiz kid Mike Mogis -- producer extraordinaire for the likes of Rilo Kiley, Cursive, and Tilly & the Wall -- helps fuel the eclectic set list, as it relieves the band of splitting its time between songwriting and production duties. Free to do whatever they wish, the musicians explore the boundaries of pop music with wide-eyed fascination and competency, using the studio to their advantage without resorting to the sort of dense, grandly orchestrated music that can't be replicated in concert. Some orchestral flourishes do pepper the album's ballads -- "Rainiest Day of Summer" evokes a rainy Manhattan landscape with Brill Building strings, and "Right Next to You" brims with gauzy layers of keyboard, vibraphone, and flügelhorn -- but Taller Children devotes more time to the talents of the band, not its host of sidemen. This is a record that reveals its layers upon many listens, an album that channels the sophistication and elegance of Fifth Avenue while keeping its head in the bohemian enclave of the West Village. In short: very agreeable, very New York, and quite promising. © Andrew Leahey /TiVo
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Ambient/New Age - Released November 22, 2019 | Verve Forecast