In 13 years of marriage, Elvis Costello and Diana Krall rarely have released new music on similar cycles. But Costello’s new Hey Clockface (Concord Records) arrives mere weeks after Krall’s This Dream of You (Verve), and both are among the two artists’ best works. Costello recorded portions of his new one in Helsinki, Paris and New York before quarantine, with a few tunes finished during lockdown. Some critics find the results too scattershot, but frankly, the diversity of the album’s styles make it much more interesting than 2018’s touted Look Now, Costello’s reunion with his Imposters band. When the new work leaps from Moroccan spoken-word poetry in “Revolution 49” to the raucous political electricity of “No Flag,” who could complain?
Krall opts for more traditional jazz horn accompaniment in her new piano work, though her arrangements sometimes suggest Costello’s own. This lovingly curated set of tunes from the likes of Lerner & Loewe, Dylan and Irving Berlin, should satisfy her traditionalist fans, while embracing a special warmth to serve as a salve for 2020.
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Laura Veirs, My Echo (Bella Union) – Colorado Springs native Laura Veirs no doubt rattled some fans when she said the songs on her new album knew they were divorce songs before she did. Veirs’ former husband Tucker Martine played an important role in crafting her own work as well as her case/lang/veirs trio. The loss burns through in tracks like “Freedom Falling” and “End Times,” though Veirs somehow retains her signature sense of ethereal wistfulness, despite the heartache. Hers is not the bitter divorce album of someone like Suzanne Vega.
Adrianne Lenker, Songs and Instrumentals (4AD) – Not many fans of Big Thief realize its primary lyricist Lenker has released worthy music on her own. Here, she combines 11 simple vocal songs of love and vulnerability on one disc, with two extended instrumental explorations on another. Those familiar with the strident rock approach of Big Thief may be surprised to learn how understated and quietly beautiful tracks like “forwards beckon rebound” can be.