11 New Albums Your Parents Might Like (to play at Thanksgiving)
It's Thanksgiving week. Maybe you're back home with your family, done watching De La Soul, Grace VanderWaal and Regina Spektor in the parade, and need some music that you, your parents, and your little cousin can agree on - some quality new music to recommend to the out of touch older folk. Since there's no Adele album this year, we put together a list of 2016 albums that we think will appeal to several generations and sound great in the background of your tofurkey dinner (ok, who are we kidding?... but maybe your mom will like at least one of these?).
Here they are, in no particular order (and in a Spotify playlist):
1) Michael Kiwanuka - Love & Hate
As discussed in our review, the soulful British singer-songwriter's Danger Mouse-produced album is less safe than his debut (which he supported on tour with Adele), but we still think it's fun for all ages.
Going by the tracklist alone, you can tell this is a more ambitious work. The album opens with the ten-plus minute “Cold Little Heart,” and two other tracks pass the seven-minute mark. It’s moodier, sexier, in a Marvin Gaye kind of way. The album is fleshed out by lush vocal harmonies, and the instrumentation is expertly arranged. Michael does break out the acoustic guitar, but he’s also got grittier electric solos and a lot of other cool sounds.
2) Margo Price - Midwest Farmer's Daughter
It hearkens back to classic mid-’60s singers like Loretta Lynn, but this is on Jack White’s label, so you know it takes those old sounds and finds ways to modernize them. The album’s also never content to stick to one sound. “Tennessee Song” is basically a ’70s-rock song, “Four Years Of Chances” is a keyboard-led rhythm & blues boogie, and album closer “World’s Greatest Loser” is melancholic folk. The album does work in typical country styles, like the danceable “Hurtin’ (On The Bottle)” and “This Town Gets Around,” and the balladry of “How The Mighty Have Fallen,” but it does it so genuinely that Margo often rivals her influences. What really puts this album over the top though, is it proves Margo to be one of our generation’s great storytellers.
One of 2016's biggest alt-country breakouts, Margo Price has more in common with classic country and Southern rock than the type of country you hear on the radio today. Her debut album Midwest Farmer's Daughter came out back in March. Parents still not convinced? Ask them if they caught her recent appearance on Charlie Rose.
3) Whitney - Light Upon the Lake
Whitney's horn-fueled soft rock can bring you right back to the '70s, but as our review pointed out, it's a sound that's very of the moment too:
They’ve got triumphant horns on several songs, and a similar neo-Grateful Dead vibe to recent stuff by Woods (whose falsetto vocals are remarkably similar to Whitney’s), Real Estate, Ultimate Painting, and of course, a slew of other bands. Maybe my “no trust me, this isn’t slacker rock it’s laid-back jammy rock” argument has your eyes rolling all the way to the back of your head, but for real, the arrangements and attention to detail here are way closer to folk rock’s ’70s heyday than the ~vibe generation~.
4) Mavis Staples - Livin' on a High Note
Mom and dad might already know Mavis from The Staple Singers or from her long history with Bob Dylan. (Maybe they even caught her opening his tour this year.) But with Livin' on a High Note, they can enjoy her classic voice while you enjoy your favorite (comparatively) modern songwriters:
Her last two albums were produced by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, and this time she enlisted M. Ward to produce it and a handful of very talented artists to write songs for her. Sometimes you can tell who it is, like Nick Cave‘s brooding “Jesus Lay Down Beside Me” or tUnE-yArDs‘ energetic, playful “Action,” but mostly — and even on those — the authors really catered to Mavis’ style. Justin Vernon co-wrote “Dedicated” with M Ward, and it certainly sounds nothing like a Bon Iver song (which is probably for the best here, and it also shows how diverse Justin Vernon can be). Other songs come courtesy of Neko Case, Valerie June, Benjamin Booker and more.
And a bonus for Thanksgiving TV watching: the Mavis Staples documentary (starring Jeff Tweedy) is on HBO.
5) Weyes Blood - Front Row Seat to Earth
Weyes Blood’s Natalie Mering makes modern Earth Mother folk, steeped in the likes of Judy Collins, Karen Dalton and Buffy Saint-Marie, but with a lyrical view that is very much 2016. The arrangements on her new album, Front Row Seat to Earth, are gorgeous but its her pure, powerful voice that will stop you in your tracks.
6) Charles Bradley - Changes
Charles Bradley may have only started putting out music recently, but he's in his 60s and he hearkens back to the kind of timeless soul music that a lot of people in their 60s like:
Changes is his third and it’s another winner. Like on its two predecessors, Charles basically never has any sounds that feel like they would’ve come out much later than 1972, but his delivery is so genuine that they feel more like forgotten classics than revivalism. The title track is a cover of the Black Sabbath song of the same name, and he manages to make it sound like early Motown without doing much to the melody or pacing of the original. It’s quite a feat, and it’s not the album’s only major accomplishment.
7) Lee Fields & the Expressions - Special Night
Lee Fields taps into the same soul era as Charles Bradley, but Lee actually got his start back then (his debut single came out in 1969), and he's been releasing music ever since. He's especially been on a creative hot streak these past few years though. This year's Special Night is his latest success:
Lee Fields has written political music before, and given the political climate we’re currently in, you may expect those types of songs, but Special Night is mostly a love (and sex) album. The most major exception is “Make The World” (with its refrain of “We can make the world better if we come together”), which sounds like a 1970 Norman Whitfield composition, and there’s some crossover between the two topics like on “Where Is The Love,” where “love” isn’t talking about romantic love. But more often than not, romance wins out. Two of Special Night‘s best songs are its opening title track, where “special night” refers to how “every night is a special night when I’m with you,” and “Lover Man,” where the title is decidedly self-explanatory.
8) Regina Spektor - Remember Us To Life
She's fancy enough to headline Radio City Music Hall (though even metal bands play there these days) and family friendly enough to take part in this year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade (though so is that murdering clown Ronald McDonald apparently), but Regina Spektor is still making the kind of "alt" music that made us fall in love with her so many years ago at small East Village clubs and when she was touring with the especially-cool-at-the-time Strokes. Remember Us To Life, her 7th album of quirky, theatrical piano rock pop, is another crowd-pleaser, and we'll never get sick of that voice.
9) Anderson .Paak - Malibu
If you want soul/funk but a more modern approach than Lee Fields and Charles Bradley, Anderson .Paak's your man. He's one of 2016's biggest breakout artists (following several appearances on Dr. Dre's 2015 comeback album), and Malibu is one of two albums he put out this year. As our review points out...
Dre’s not on the album but it’s very much in the same world as Compton, and even more accurately, it’s in the same world as Compton contributor Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly. Guest appearances come from Rapsody, who’s got a standout verse on TPAB, and she shows up with just as much fire here. Kendrick’s Black Hippy groupmate Schoolboy Q is his usual crazed self on early single “Am I Wrong.” Compton guest BJ the Chicago Kid surfaces again here on “The Waters,” a track with keys by TPAB contributor Robert Glasper. And there’s The Game, whose own career got a major push from Dre a decade ago and who sounded in great form on Compton, as he does here. (Other notable guests include Talib Kweli and producers 9th Wonder, Madlib, Kaytranada and Hi-Tek.) It’s also got a similar approach to To Pimp A Butterfly in the way it fuses modern hip hop with old soul and funk, and like that album, it sounds alive.
10) Laura Mvula - The Dreaming Room
She’s got disco legend Nile Rodgers playing guitar (on lead single “Overcome”) and musicians from The London Symphony Orchestra playing all over the record. She’s clearly aiming for artistic integrity over big hits, and it’s working. The Dreaming Room feels most directly routed in classic soul and vocal jazz, but it doesn’t sound retro or anything, and it doesn’t really fit in with today’s trends either.
Like the aforementioned MIchael Kiwanuka, Laura Mvula has previously been associated with Adele a few times, but is really forging her own path. And who doesn't like a good Nile Rodgers collaboration?? (AKA the guitarist of Chic and a writer/producer/guitarist for Bowie, Madonna, Duran Duran, Diana Ross, Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" and more.)
11) Kevin Morby - Singing Saw
We compared folk rocker Kevin Morby to Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen in our review of his new album, his most ambitious and biggest-sounding yet:
He’s got gorgeous strings, bold horns, backing harmonies, pianos, acoustic guitars meeting distorted electric guitars, and more. His Dylan influence is still undeniable, but like kindred spirits Kurt Vile and The War on Drugs, he continues to turn that influence into a sound that’s clearly his own.
And that’s not all! You can also surprise your parents with the news that Paul Simon and David Crosby released albums this year, and that David Bowie and Leonard Cohen did shortly before passing. Maybe you can even trick them into listening to some of your favorite indie bands with the Grateful Dead tribute album, which includes Dad Rock staples Wilco who also came out with a great new album this year.
And last but definitely not least, rest in peace to the great Sharon Jones, whose 2015 holiday album is the perfect thing to put on at your parents' house. You also might wanna watch the Miss Sharon Jones documentary, which is available on a few streaming services (Amazon, YouTube, Google Play) for $4.99.
Here's a Spotify playlist with all of it, and Happy Thanksgiving!