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New Music Friday: Lorde, GA-20, Kool & The Gang, Villagers

GA-20, Shannon and the Clams, and Lorde spearhead a New Music Friday filled with the blues, R&B, and some soulful albums to end the summer.

Kool & The Gang: Perfect Union Album Cover Crop

College is back in session and there is definite hope for some live music this school year as bands are scheduled to perform as long as attendees are vaccinated, masked, or can offer proof of a negative PCR test. SUNY-Binghamton mandates masks in class so I suspect there will be very little pushback when it comes to wearing them at local music venues here in Vestal or downtown Binghamton. New Music Friday selections this week from one of my favorite bands of the 1970s and established acts making waves with great new albums.

Shannon and the Clams: Year of the Spider

Release Date: 08/20/2021, Easy Eye Sound | Buy CD/Vinyl at Amazon

If you love the music of the 1950s, this indie retro band from the Bay area in Oakland is sorta punk, part doo-wop and one helluva listen. I was not prepared for the chills that lead singer and bassist, Shannon Shaw, sent down my spine. Her raspy voice sets the tone throughout and takes one back to the early days of rock music. It’s easy to see what Dan Auerbach inspired to sign the band to his label; the band delivers the same gritty sound and energy of the Black Keys and is almost perfect fare for a rainy day when all you want to do is put on a record and dance.

Kool & The Gang: Perfect Union

Release Date: 08/20/2021, Omnivore Recordings | Buy CD at Amazon

For a group that started as a jazz ensemble, Kool & The Gang have taken a very interesting path throughout their career. The Jersey City band have sold more than 70 million albums worldwide and have also undergone numerous changes in personnel and have explored many musical styles throughout their history, including jazz, soul, funk, rock, and pop music.

Robert “Kool” Bell and George “Funky” Bell are the only 2 surviving members of the original band; Perfect Union is their first new studio album in almost a decade and “Leave it on the Dance Floor” comes closest to the funky gospel sound that made them Grammy Award winners and one of the most popular R&B groups of the ’80s. There’s nothing on this album as memorable as “Jungle Boogie” or “Celebration,” but the music makes you want to dig out those bell bottom jeans and dance.

Villagers: Fever Dreams

Release Date: 08/20/2021, Domino Recording Co. | Buy Vinyl at Amazon

I didn’t grow up listening to U2, so I have a very different take on the “Irish” indie rock band sound. Villagers were formed in 2008 by Irish singer/songwriter Conor J. O’Brien and what’s so intriguing about Fever Dreams is how many different styles it covers across all 10 tracks. The title of the album is very apropos as it sounds like the band experienced something similar during their recording sessions.

O’Brian describes his lyrics as “an eerie sense of disquiet,” and there is a lot of truth to that; “Circles in the Firing Line” and “The First Day” are great examples of that explanation. There are moments where one feels like they are listening to a Beck album; the layered and creative instrumentation, oversampled vocals, and rich tapestry of sounds. The New York Times compared them recently to U2 — nothing could further from reality. I can listen to this album over and over and get lost in its beautiful harmonies; something nobody has ever said about a U2 album.

Lorde: Solar Power

Release Date: 08/20/2021, Universal Music | Buy CD/Vinyl at Amazon

Lorde (AKA Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor) has a unique melodic style with a hauntingly beautiful voice. Having gained international fame from her first studio album, Pure Heroine, Lorde has formed her style around her stage name; one only hope that she doesn’t let the fame go to her head. With her third studio album she still remains true to her style and continues to utilize creative lyrics with extremely vivid imagery.

“Solar Power,” and “Stoned at the Nail Salon” don’t deliver the bombastic anthem-like power of “Royals” and the more I listen to it — the more I wonder if Lorde is trying to become Lana Del Rey from a lyrical perspective. There are some parallels with their development as artists so perhaps it was only a matter of time before the transition occurred.

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GA-20 Does Hound Dog Taylor: Try It…You Might Like It!

Release Date: 08/20/2021, Karma Chief Records | Buy Vinyl at Amazon

I didn’t realize until very recently just how many Karma Chief (Colemine Records) recordings have been played in my home. The indie label has become a force in the R&B, soul, and blues categories with bands like Durand Jones and The Indications and Black Pumas. GA-20 are a Boston-based blues act that took its name from a Gibson guitar amp that was part of its lineup between 1950-1961.

Formed by Pat Faherty and Matthew Stubbs, GA-20 pay some serious respect to Hound Dog Taylor with this gritty and electrifying studio album that feels like a live gig supercharged with some of the late-Chicago blues guitarist and singer’s mojo. “Hound Dog” Taylor was born with 6 fingers on each hand and earned a reputation for being a lady chaser in both his native Mississippi and Chicago. This upbeat collection including the pulsating “Give Me Back My Wig” will get you off your feet and groovin’ all night long.

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