Best albums of 2016: 20 to 11

In my penultimate 2016 albums post we have David Bowie’s final album, crisp hip hop from Kano and Common, Bat for Lashes’s latest art piece, Kate Tempest’s thunderous spoken word epic, plus we two of best hidden gems in the form of Tall Black Guy’s second LP and the debut album from London jazz-hip hop collective, Fur.

20. David Bowie – Blackstar
19. Corinne Bailey Rae – The Heart Speaks in Whispers
18. Common – Black America Again
17. Fur – Soon at the Latest
16. Tall Black Guy – Let’s Take a Trip
15. Bat for Lashes – The Bride
14. Kano – Made in the Manor
13. Kate Tempest – Let Them Eat Chaos
12. White Denim – Stiff
11. BadBadNotGood – IV
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Lion Babe – Begin review

Lion Babe - press photo 2015, 3, by Misha Taylor (1920x1080)In the words of director and artist Simon Frederick: “Black is the new black”. And few things this year have brought delight, joy and open-mouthed awe to me than the sight of black sisters rocking natural curls with pride. Alicia Keys, Solange, Corinne Bailey Rae, Fleur East, Nao and Radio 1 DJ Clara Amfo, to name but a few of the music world’s natural hair heroes.

But what has hair got to do with music – and Lion Babe specifically? More than you’d think. Hair is an express of the self. And anyone who knows what it’s like maintaining an afro, day in, day out, will tell you that – just ask Erykah Badu, India.Arie or Solange. Jillian Hervey, Lion Babe’s majestic frontwoman, wears a mane of golden curls that look as though they were a gift from the goddess Oshun herself.

Hervey’s natural hair journey – as well as the fact she is the daughter of singer and actress, Vanessa Williams – brought her face to face with taunts, teases and pressure for her to conform to her attacker’s standards of beauty. But, as she told Glamour magazine earlier this year, returning to natural hair led her to feel “very comfortable in my skin and really confident about who I was”. The Lion Babe of today could not exist without this comfortable, confident brown-skinned wonder woman. Continue reading

Corinne Bailey Rae – The Heart Speaks in Whispers review

Corinne Bailey Rae, press photo, 2016, 03 (1619x911)Corinne Bailey Rae is content. Content that the creation of her third album has been a fresh direction for her, even if it may not feel like that to all listeners initially. Six years on from the phenomenal, Mercury-nominated album, The Sea, the Leeds musician, who tragically lost her first husband, saxophonist Jason Rae, in 2008, is in love again and wants to share her newfound happiness with the world. The Heart Speaks in Whispers doesn’t quite have the total flourish of its predecessor, but it is an album of serenity and patient beauty. Continue reading

The allure of live albums

Corinne Bailey Rae - Life is Good Fest, Sep 12, 2010, Peter Lee (1920x1080)If you’re not able to attend a concert, live albums are the next best way of immersing yourself in a more intimate matter with a performer. It’s more than simply the music. They audibly capture the atmosphere. The energy of the performer(s). The yelps of excitement that greet fan favourites. The chatter, the odd fault and the ticklish laughter that often follows. Triumphant solos, guest appearances, live-only cover songs and affecting finales that sweep you up with the crowd.

No wonder live albums – and live music in general – has become a cure for those lonely nights or times when overtime is unavoidable. Continue reading