Album review overview: MC Solaar, Fink and more

Photo (c) Jorge Fakhouri Filho

Dozens of new albums arrive at Maxazine’s editorial staff every week. There are way too many to listen to them all, let alone review them. It ensures that too many albums are left behind. And that’s a shame. That is why today we post an overview of albums that arrive at the editors in short reviews.

Wild River – Never Better

Wild Rivers will soon release their new album “Never Better” via Nettwerk, following their previous album “Sidelines.” As a preview, the new single “Backfire” has been released, which is about missing opportunities in relationships due to holding back out of fear of consequences. Produced by Gabe Wax and recorded in Joshua Tree, CA, “Never Better” reflects on the band’s recent years, during which they dealt with burnout, mental health issues, and extensive touring, but also rediscovered the joy of making music together. The eight tracks, including previously released songs like “Anyways, I Love You,” “Cave,” and “Everywhere I Go,” showcase Wild Rivers at their most authentic and confident. A cheerful album that might turn out to be one of the most uplifting albums of 2024. Cheerful and upbeat, but not groundbreaking. But is that always necessary? (Norman van den Wildenberg) (7/10) (Nettwerk)

Jake Xerxes Fussell – When I’m Called

On his fifth album, “When I’m Called,” Jake Xerxes Fussell delves deeply into the timeless appeal of folk music. Returning with his latest work under Fat Possum Records, Fussell dives into traditional melodies infused with personal revelations and historical echoes. Alongside producer James Elkington and a star-studded cast including Blake Mills and Joan Shelley, Fussell weaves a tapestry of warm, detailed arrangements that breathe new life into old songs. From the poignant opening track “Andy Warhol,” inspired by the famous artist, to the haunting sounds of “One Morning in May,” each track on “When I’m Called” resonates with Fussell’s meticulous storytelling approach. His distinctive voice and subtle guitar work form the album’s core, while layers of piano, pedal steel, and synth enrich the sonic landscapes. With tributes to mentors like Art Rosenbaum and a deep-rooted appreciation for the folk tradition, Fussell navigates themes of identity and connection with grace and depth. “When I’m Called” stands as Fussell’s most compelling work to date, a continual exploration of the rich fabric of American music. Minimalistic, but that is its great strength. (Norman van den Wildenberg) (8/10) (Fat Possum Records)

Neil Sadler – Past to Present

On March 31 of this year, the No Machine Studio in Wokingham, England, closed its doors after being the domain of guitarist and singer Neil Sadler for thirty years. Countless musicians recorded there, usually with Neil at the helm. To name just a few, the Eric Street Band with Neil’s old buddy Dennis Siggery, the UK Blues Project, Blue Touch, and Larry Miller. The Covid period did no good for the studio, and health issues eventually led Neil to decide to close it. But the urge to create music remained strong – Neil Sadler is a musician at heart – and there was still some work on the shelf. From that work, a combination of previously released and entirely new songs, he made a selection and re-recorded them. Of the eleven tracks, eight were written by Neil, one in collaboration with his girlfriend Karen Jenkinson, one by Henry Hopkins and the UK Blues Project, and the only cover is by Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy. The result is a fine album. Musically, it is firmly rooted in the blues with forays into rock and soul. It is a very personal album. Neil has left quite a bit behind with the closing of his studio. His health problems and those of his girlfriend Karen have certainly taken a toll on him. This is clearly audible. It starts with the opening track “No Love Left, No More,” a very emotional blues about saying goodbye to the old and transitioning to the new. Before Neil could devote himself to music full-time, he had a ‘real’ job for a while. He beautifully describes this in “A Bad Case Of Company Blues.” “I Ain’t Gonna Cross No River” reflects his feelings when both Neil and Karen were diagnosed with cancer and his refusal to resign himself to it. The album closes with the beautiful instrumental blues “No Rush.” These are just a few examples of what can be heard on this highly successful solo album by Neil Sadler. Excellent quality, highly recommended. (Eric Campfens) (8/10) (Neil Sadler)

MC Solaar – Eclats Cosmiques

With “Eclats Cosmiques,” MC Solaar brings the second part of his announced trilogy, heralding one of the most productive periods in his long career. That Solaar still masters his craft to perfection was already evident from the first part of this trilogy, released earlier this year, and this part two is even better. Listen to the opening track “Tot et vrai,” an epitome of the well-known Solaar flow, high-quality literary lyrics, and music that is unmistakably the Solaar sound. “Cinema” is a typical love song, the kind only Solaar can create. Delightful. This trilogy gets better as it approaches its completion. Wonderful. Solaar has never been away; he still teaches everyone a love lesson on how to rap. What a great album! (Elodie Renard) (9/10) (Osmose Inverse)

Kokoko! – Butu

Kokoko!’s “Butu” is a vibrant dive into the heart of Kinshasa’s nightlife. From the very first track, the album throws you into a chaotic, hectic soundscape that reflects the bustling, unpredictable streets of the Congolese capital. It’s as if you’re standing in the middle of traffic, surrounded by a wild array of sounds. From this initial chaos, an irresistible beat emerges that drives the album forward. The music is raw, unrefined, and spontaneous, a testament to the band’s inventive spirit. The use of homemade instruments, crafted from street trash and scrap material, gives a unique texture to the sound and reflects the harsh and resourceful environment from which they come. “Butu” is a melting pot of influences, with a mix of lo-fi electronic textures, relentless grooves, and strange rhythms. This eclectic mix comes together in a stream of sound, comparable to the rapids of the Congo River, whose power and unpredictability are palpable even from the city’s outskirts. The album’s energy is relentless, capturing the late-night pulse of Kinshasa, translating into a series of consistently uptempo and noisy tracks. The album is a culture shock in the best possible sense, immersing you in the cosmopolitan chaos of Kinshasa. Listening to “Butu” feels like being transported there, experiencing the bustling life of the city firsthand. Let this album wash over you as a confusing but delightful experience. Kokoko! has created something special with this album. A celebration of their city’s indomitable spirit and a testament to the power of music to transcend boundaries. (Jan Vranken) (9/10) (Kokoko!)

Fink – Beauty in Your Wake

Fink’s latest album, “Beauty in Your Wake,” brings ten new tracks that are neatly produced but leave a somewhat bland impression. The opener “What Would You Call Yourself” is downright dull and lasts too long, which is not a good sign for a new album. The music is not particularly original, causing the listener’s attention to quickly wane. One of the better tracks, “The Only Thing That Matters,” is beautifully sung but suffers from a very predictable chord progression and a not very interesting melody. This is precisely the problem with the album: it sounds good, but the songs are simply not strong enough. The album offers little innovation and originality, which is a shame given Fin Greenall’s rich background as a versatile musician and songwriter. If you’re looking for simple songs you can easily play on your guitar, this is your album. However, for those expecting more depth and complexity, “Beauty in Your Wake” is unfortunately a missed opportunity. (Jan Vranken) (6/10) (R’Coup’D)

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