Artist: Robert Randolph & The Family Band Album: Brighter Days Year: 2019 Grade: B-
In Brief: You know what you’re listening to these guys for – explosive pedal steer guitar playing, feel-good Gospel, soul and funk choruses, and the occasional chill slow jam. Don’t go in expecting anything profound from the lyrics – in fact, pay no attention to them all if you like! – and you’ll probably have a blast.
Artist: St. Paul & The Broken Bones Album: Young Sick Camellia Year: 2018 Grade: B+
In Brief: A wonderfully diverse collection of songs that pay tribute to classic Southern soul and R&B influences while also leaving room for stylistic experimentation. Paul Janeway is a powerhouse vocalist, and the horn section and the rest of the band are incredibly tight. Really, the only thing keeping this record from unmitigated greatness is that it’s a bit short on content, having only 9 true songs (which is somewhat cleverly disguised by a series of short interludes and a bonus track).
Artist: Various Artists Album: Hidden Figures: The Album Year: 2016 Grade: B-
In Brief: The rare movie tie-in album that I enjoy both as a listening experience in and of itself, and as a strong reminder of key scenes in the film that inspired it. Despite a few moments that fall flat or don’t seem to relate directly to the film’s plot, Pharrell Williams did a pretty good job writing and arranging these songs, and picking the right female voices to bring most of them to life.
Artist: Alabama Shakes Album: Sound & Color Year: 2015 Grade: B
In Brief: An intriguing and unpredictable splicing of classic/Southern rock and soul/R&B sounds. Just when you think you’ve got them figured out, they flip the script. That’s an excellent way for a band in a genre I’m otherwise unsure about to get me hooked.
Artist: Florence + the Machine Album: How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful Year: 2015 Grade: B+
In Brief: A powerful set of pipes plus a talent for bringing together the best parts of indie rock, baroque pop, and soul music makes this a formidable set of songs. It’s only when Florence & Co. put the brakes on that the results start to feel a bit more generic, but even then, her vocal performance is sublime enough to get me through to the good stuff on the other side. (Interestingly, the deluxe edition’s bonus tracks offer a glimpse at stronger material that didn’t make the cut for whatever reason.)