File next to: The Civil Wars, Terra Naomi
From the moment of The Civil Wars' 2012 implosion, it was obvious that Joy Williams would be first to debut strong solo material. Former partner John Paul White, still in embittered self-imposed exile, often complained of Williams' sly sense of marketing, scarcely a fault. In addition to showcasing her exceptional songwriting, Williams' debut solo album Venus mixes polyrhythms and hints of EDM with Civil Wars-style traditional material, a recipe for pretension had it not worked so well. If she and White were all about a countrified sense of control, Williams alone is all about trying on styles to expand her base, giving her album the feel of Rhiannon Giddens' recent solo debut. Williams also makes sure to include a track, "What a Good Woman Does," about the importance of always taking the high road. — Loring Wirbel
File next to: Dungen, Zero 7
With their fifth album, 2010's One-Armed Bandit, Jaga Jazzist distilled their multifarious sound into a cohesive synthesis of downtempo, trip-hop, electronica and experimental jazz. They followed up with a live set, 2013's Live with Britten Sinfonia, expanding on their already thick and deeply textured arrangements. Now with Starfire, the Norwegian instrumental ensemble moves into longer, denser, more adventurous song structures. At eight minutes and change, the title track is evocative of some spy adventure film shot in European locales. But this music is far too interesting to serve simply as soundtrack accompaniment; the eight-or-nine musician Jaga Jazzist has always been adept at putting varied instruments to intelligent use. They combine analog synthesizers, brass and standard rock-band instrumentation in a way that seems perfectly natural. — Bill Kopp
Wizzz! French Psychedelic 1966-1969 Volume 1
Born Bad Records
File next to: Nuggets II, CQ soundtrack
France has long been notorious for its musical insularity. Listen to a bootleg of the Beatles' February 1964 show — the height of Beatlemania — and you can hear the group just fine; the Parisians merely clap. They also minted their own Elvis with Johnny Hallyday. But the resistance to outside musical influences worked both ways: Francoise Hardy and Serge Gainsbourg, huge stars at home, got relatively little traction internationally. But this newly reissued Wizzz! collection shows French musicians paid at least some attention to what was happening elsewhere. Fuzztone guitars, combo organs and trashy melodies are all the rage on this 14-track set. Is it derivative? Sure. But it's always undeniably French, with a vaguely square café jazz vibe applied to songs worthy of, if not The Seeds, then Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood. — Bill Kopp
This is awesome! Excited about the new music and adventures for his year!
Thanks so much!!!
Hah! Similarly, one, if famous, should not die in December, as all those who passed…