Music reviews for Nov. 27, 2013

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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Linda Thompson, "Won't Be Long Now"

Linda Thompson's first solo album in six years (and only her third since 1985) finds songwriter/guitarist Richard Thompson's former better half once again having her exquisitely soulful way with dark and deathly British Isles balladry.

“Won't Be Long Now” is a family affair: Her ex shows up on the opening “Love's for Babies and Fools.” Son Teddy plays guitar and contributes songs, and daughter Cami takes a turn on “Fast as My Feet.”

Thompson has been kept out of action with a rare vocal disorder, but here she sounds divine and she navigates troubled love songs of betrayal, loss and despair that are right in her wheelhouse. And just to let you know her voice is in great shape, she includes a commanding, live a cappella version of the brutally codependent drinking song “Blue Breezin' Blind Drunk.”

—Dan DeLuca, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Diane Birch, "Speak a Little Louder"

On her 2009 debut, “Bible Belt,” Diane Birch masterfully evoked the golden era of the late '60s, early '70s, drawing comparisons to fellow piano-playing singer-songwriters Laura Nyro and Carole King.

On “Speak a Little Louder,” Birch is decidedly less retro, at least on the surface. Gone are the overt R&B and gospel touches, and the tracks tend to be swathed in a synthesizer gloss and other more modern textures that can make the drama of the songs seem a bit overblown.

It would be more off-putting if Birch's strengths as a singer and writer were not still in evidence. Especially on numbers that plumb romantic tribulations, such as “Love and War” and “Frozen Over,” her soul shines through the sometimes-sterile surroundings.

—Nick Cristiano, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Jake Bugg, "Shangri La"

A year ago, this English singer-songwriter was largely unknown in the U.S. despite the fact that his self-titled debut had entered the British chart at No. 1.

Today, Jake Bugg is still largely unknown here, but the folks who do know him are people of influence. Thus “Shangri La,” Bugg's second album, titled after the Malibu studio where he recorded with A-list producer Rick Rubin and an all-star band that included Elvis Costello's drummer and Chad Smith of Red Hot Chili Peppers.

The result isn't the clean-up job it might've been; Bugg, 19, still sings with a nasal edge that wouldn't last more than a round on “American Idol.” Yet the songwriting here feels more evened-out, less appealingly pugnacious than it did last time, when he was using old-fashioned early rock grooves to blast the phonies all around him.

One exception is the album's rollicking opener, “There's a Beast and We All Feed It,” about playing nice to get ahead. But even there he's kind of guilty of doing the same thing. “I'm not a finger pointer,” Bugg sings, “I will not cry your name.” Come on, Jake—somebody's gotta do it.

—Mikael Wood, Los Angeles Times

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