10 New Albums I'm Recommending Right Now
These under-the-radar records (from 4 continents) deserve a hearing
Stan Getz once told me that he listened to new music the way a Wall Street broker studies the stock market.
That puzzled me at first. But over time, I’ve come to understand what he meant. Trends come and go, and it’s often hard to separate music of real value from the merely fashionable. As a result, it can take some digging to find new musicians to dig.
But if you’re persistent, you will find the winners, even in a down market.
Below are ten recent albums that make it into my private winner’s circle. As is often the case here, they cover a lot of territory—seven countries on four continents, to be specific.
Most of these will show up on my ‘Best of Year’ list, coming in December.
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Jantra: Synthesized Sudan
Choice Electronic Grooves from East Africa
Dance music is trance music—or it should be. The dancers deserve at least that much. But so many contemporary electronic dance tracks fall short. Their beats are as lively as Campbell’s Tomato Soup, and just as canned. But every once in a while I hear plugged-in grooves that still carry an electric charge. Synthesized Sudan does that on every track, thanks to Jantra, a mysterious musician hailing from Fashaga, a disputed triangle of land on the border of Sudan and Ethiopia. The subtitle of his album is (pause for breath): Astro-Nubian Electronic Jaglara Dance Sounds from the Fashaga Underground. Half those words don’t show up in my dictionary. So I won’t try to decipher or explain it—I’m just moving to the groove.
Below is a choice track, but also check out this behind-the-scenes video clip.
Various Artists: Tell Everybody!
21st Century Juke Joint Blues
This is the best blues album I’ve heard so far this year. That’s especially surprising because it’s a compilation of new tracks by artists working for a small indie label, Dan Auerbach’s Nashville-based Easy Eye Sound. And most of them are playing music out of a Hill Country tradition that sometimes seems on the verge of extinction.
But this record makes clear that those old stylings can still keep juke joints jumping in the year 2023. I could pick and choose among the artists represented here, and many people will head straight to the hot and swampy track by the well-known Black Keys. But I’ll tell you that everybody who participated in Tell Everybody! delivered the goods.
Brìghde Chaimbeul: Carry Them With Us
Contemporary Music for the Bagpipe
Many people go running when they hear the bagpipe. But, of course, that was the original intention. They brought these cumbersome instruments into battle, and the goal was to frighten the enemy.
I tried learning how to play one of these bad boys during a trip to Scotland, and even enlisted the help of a skilled teacher. Halfway through the first lesson, I put a stop to the proceedings. “Let’s forget about teaching me to play,” I suggested, “and instead let’s use the rest of our time talking about the best bagpipe albums.”
That turned out to be a useful move. I returned to the United States with cool piping records in my suitcase.
Nowadays, I’d put Brìghde Chaimbeul (pronounced Bree-chu CHaym-bul) at the top of my list of contemporary bagpipers. And this ought to be the perfect moment for a bagpipe revival, given the rising popularity of drone music in a range of genres. She can certainly drone with the best, but her tone also possesses a plaintive quality that you probably don’t associate with drone music. Part of that derives from her instrument. Chaimbeul plays the Scottish smallpipes, less overpowering than the more familiar great Highland bagpipes. If the latter are ready for war, the former are suitable for love.
An extra plus is the presence of Canadian saxophonist Colin Stetson, who has featured Chaimbeul on his own projects. I’ve praised Stetson frequently in the past, so you can imagine how excited I am about this collaboration. Their duo encounters are like Simon & Garfunkel or Sonny & Cher for circular breathing fans.