In Review

Albums of the week: The Moon and Stars, French Duets, Chemtrails over the Country Club

New releases from Valerie June, Paul Lewis and Steven Osborne, and Lana Del Rey

1

Valerie June

The Moon and Stars 

Valerie June The Moon and Stars 

“Unfettered by loyalty to any one genre”, the American singer-songwriter Valerie June is “a musician’s dream” – and her third album is an “absolute stunner”, said Dan Cairns in The Sunday Times. Ranging across soul, jazz, folk and country, she sings with “unblinking self-awareness about longing, gratitude, obsession and rapture”. And her voice is extraordinary: sometimes “like a sigh, sometimes a sharp-edged keen”, and sometimes a “full-throated holler”. Yet it’s never the sound of a singer “showboating”; it’s one “digging deep for the hidden gold”. It’s a “sensational” album. 

Subtitled Prescriptions For Dreamers, this wonderful collection will surely feature on album of the year lists, agreed Will Hodgkinson in The Times. The elements of rootsy folk in June’s music “touch on the transcending otherness” that Van Morrison evoked on Astral Weeks. But she also “goes somewhere else entirely: gospel spirituals, jazzy flute moments, hypnotic one-chord dirges, country touches and soul ballads” all contribute to an enthralling kind of “sonic fantasia”.

2

Paul Lewis and Steven Osborne 

French Duets

Paul Lewis and Steven Osborne - French Duets

The cover of this superb new disc of French piano duets depicts Boaters Rowing on the Yerres by Caillebotte, said Fiona Maddocks in The Guardian. The painting, in which “two mighty rowers hold one oar each, pulling with equal weight”, reflects the way the pianists Paul Lewis and Steven Osborne collaborate on this “sunny, wistful” recital. The programme – including Fauré’s Dolly, Debussy’s Petite Suite, and Three Easy Pieces from Stravinsky’s Parisian period – might appear simple, but it requires “perfect equilibrium” between two soloists. 

They have already produced one “exceptional disc” together, said Hugh Canning in The Sunday Times: Schubert’s music for four hands, including the Fantasie in F minor, one of the genre’s masterpieces. This collection, too, is “brilliantly played”. Poulenc’s Sonata for Piano Four Hands sounds strikingly avant garde. And on both the Fauré, and Ravel’s Ma mère l’Oye, the two pianists evince “an almost orchestral palette” of colours: “limpid, translucent textures, vital rhythmic address and shapely phrasing” of the melodies.

3

Lana Del Rey

Chemtrails over the Country Club 

Lana Del Rey - Chemtrails over the Country Club 

Ever since Lizzy Grant “artfully re-branded herself” as Lana Del Rey in 2011, she has maintained a quality of ineffable mystery, said Neil McCormick in The Daily Telegraph. Even now, on her thrilling seventh album, it is unclear if she is “satirising a contemporary fixation with style over substance, or merely indulging it”. But perhaps it doesn’t matter when the music is this great. Chemtrails is a “gorgeously enigmatic showpiece” dripping with “audacious songcraft” and shot through with a “simmering, sinister undercurrent”. It’s a “seductive” treat, on which Del Rey drifts ever further from the pop mainstream. 

The singer has “toned down the lush orchestration” of Norman F***ing Rockwell and opted for more acoustic guitar-picking, said Helen Brown in The Independent – along with “scuffs of scuzzy electric guitar and trip-hoppy hotel lobby organ”. Strikingly, she closes with a loving, upbeat cover of Joni Mitchell’s For Free. “Mitchell also disappointed feminists by refusing to sign up to the cause. I bet Del Rey knows that. I bet she doesn’t care.”

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