Key Changes: New Music by Enchanting Voices

First things first: everyone has different opinions on which singers have the most beautiful voices. The two singers I’m highlighting today are just two of my personal favorites — I love the rich, velvety tones of their voices and am looking to share the beauty of it with you! Both these singers are probably known to you in some way, because they’re iconic features of vocal music in popular culture. These, their most recent albums, show their chops and add to their already considerable reputations – in popular music circles, anyway. Classical music critics have mixed feelings.

Believe by Andrea Bocelli is the 16th solo album the pop tenor has released (though he’s collaborated on many more!) and it strikes a very timely tone for 2020. It’s a collection of uplifting songs that Bocelli has loved throughout his life. In his announcement, Bocelli said the album is a celebration of the power of music to soothe the soul, and it features duets with opera singer Cecilia Bartoli and award-winning singer Alison Krauss.

Harmony by Josh Groban strikes a similar note: Groban reportedly developed and fleshed-out this album during the isolation of the global pandemic when he was trying to reach a place of light and hope. The resulting album represents a miracle of cooperation as musicians and producers combined their efforts from a distance to create a unified whole. Moreover, the songs themselves are a mix of classic melodies and original songs which express hope for the future.

Key Changes: New Classical Crossovers

I grew up listening to a lot of classical music because of my parents, and only developed a love for pop music later. This has given me a unique perspective on music, and a love for a genre that’s a bit obscure but super fun if you’re a music nerd like me. It’s usually called Classical Crossovers, and it’s what happens when instruments and groups that typically play classical music play… NOT classical music, whether that’s pop music, rock music, soundtracks, etc. How this works depends on the group and the music they’re covering. I like it because the different instrumentation puts a unique twist on a familiar melody. Here are a few examples of this genre, recently ordered for the library.

Disney Goes Classical by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is an album where a symphony orchestra plays beloved Disney songs, from movies like The Lion King, Moana, Frozen, and more. It also features guest artists who are some of the best classical musicians today, including Matteo Bocelli,  Renee Fleming, and more. If you’re looking to relive your childhood or experience the magic of Disney in a different way, check out this album for a classy journey down memory lane.

10 by the Piano Guys probably needs no introduction; The Piano Guys have been an Internet sensation for a long time with their amazing covers of popular songs and mashups with both popular and classical tracks. In this album, they celebrate 10 years of making music with new covers as well as some of their greatest hits. They always adapt the original song to work perfectly with their instruments (piano and cello) and the songs on this album are no exception.

Alive by David Garrett is the newest album from an acclaimed violinist known for his violin covers of rock and popular songs. In this album, he has created a collection of his favorite soundtrack music, which runs the gamut from Disney songs like Beauty and the Beast and Let it Go to dramatic hits like Shallow, all the while staying true to his roots as a classical musician.

Key Changes: New Quirky Music

I love ordering the music CDs for the library – getting the inside scoop on all the new albums coming out is great fun for me. The only thing I like better is sharing the cool new music with other people! Today I’ve got another two albums, recently ordered for the library, which give us a great opportunity to think about how the artist’s work has changed and matured over the course of their career.

Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass by Lana Del Rey is another unique installment in already unusual body of work. Her music is hard to classify in my mind, with old Americana glamour (think 1950s and 1960s) fatalistically described in hypnotic, narcotic vocals. I’ve heard it described as a red rose smoking a cigarette. Another word people use is “sadcore”, which describes a moodier, alternative musical style featuring depressive themes, bleak lyrics, and/or downbeat melodies. It’s perfect music for thinking about doomed love or the flaws in the American dream. She has continually evolved over the course of her career: her first album, Born to Die, was a breakout hit, heavy with American nostalgia but influenced by hip-hop and indie pop. A subsequent album, Ultraviolence, was more guitar-based, sounding like psychedelic or desert rock, and was followed by Honeymoon, which had a thick, crooning sound that felt like a time warp, according to one reviewer. Her next album, Lust for Life, was for her fans, and it was followed by her biggest success, Norman Fucking Rockwell, which delved deep into twisted and sordid American fantasies and was called “massive and majestic” by reviewers. In Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass, she has created a spoken word album, putting a series of original poems over musical accompaniment. Another studio album is anticipated in early 2021, titled Chemtrails over the Country Club.

Love Goes by Sam Smith is another artist that I’ve always felt stands apart from the crowd. They first rose to fame in 2012 and 2013 performing on other artists’ tracks, before releasing their first studio album In the Lonely Hour in 2014. This album rocketed to the top of the charts and won them 4 Grammy awards. They continued to release individual tracks, including Writing’s On The Wall, a very atmospheric song for a James Bond film in 2015, Promises with Calvin Harris, and Dancing with a Stranger with Normani. In 2017 they released a second studio album, The Thrill of It All, which was also a big success, especially the lead single Too Good At Goodbyes. This third album features another string of wildly successful singles including How Do You Sleep, To Die For, and I’m Ready with Demi Lovato. The beauty of Smith’s music is that it has grown increasingly personal and intimate over the course of their career; In The Lonely Hour had a crooner, R&B sound that was familiar, though extremely catchy, and the lyrics told age-old stories of love and loss reminiscent of music by Adele. With The Thrill of It All and subsequent singles, Smith became more vulnerable, putting more personal truth into their songs and developing a more meditative, unique sound. This album promises to be the most authentic record yet, featuring tracks that already popular as well as new unknown songs. Early reviews are positive, saying that with this album Smith celebrates freedom and self-expression in a way they haven’t before.

Janelle Monae All Day

Janelle Monae’s masterpiece album, Dirty Computer, with its socially-conscious future funk and infectious grooves, is as good as it gets. Without question, it’s best-album-of-2018-good.  I’m blown away by how inventive and theatrical the album is while also blending multiple genres. And did you check the liner notes? Read them as you listen to the album to up the ante on your listening experience. Like Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN., with many layers of complexity, Dirty Computer gets better with every listen.

Dirty Computer  is a painstakingly conceived and executed work of art drawing on inspiration from the late, great Prince whose presence is ubiquitously felt throughout.  Other sources of inspiration are Gloria Steinem,  Barack O’bama’s 2008 “A More Perfect Union” speech, and myriad literary works including Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, Naomi Wolf’s Vagina: A New Biography, and recently release film, Black Panther, among others.  One article offers a recommended reading list “based on Monáe’s dystopian inspirations and Afrofuturist influences, based on a future that is diverse and representative of what some might consider subversion—from being pansexual to polyromantic to black.”

If Monae’s music signifies disruption, than by all means: crank the volume, and signify, people, because Monae’s America is the future. Dirty Computer’s America is not homogeneous, fixed, static, and beige,  but instead decidedly diverse, eclectic, colorful, fluid, shapeshifting, and prismatic. The May 1st 2018 issue of The Economist called the album “protest music done right” and gave it praise for delivering a societal critique without being “self-congratulatory”. This great piece from Philadelphia-based publication-The Inquirer— analyzes Dirty Computer in the context of American Protest Music and compares the the album’s final track, “Americans”, to Woodie Guthrie’s “This Land is You Land” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born In The USA”.  Author Dan DeLuca sums up the album simply as “party-starting protest music, ” and that’s exactly what it is.

But it’s a new kind of protest music. “Americans”, fused with O’bama’s “A More Perfect Union” speech,  is an electrifying anthem that conveys a powerful sense of change for the better, of a new day on the horizon. Monae states that her intent is to inspire and uplift, and those intentions are apparent from start to finish in this album.  I love rolling my window down on a sunny day, cranking the volume, and singing along with Monae: “Just love me baby / love me for who I am / fallen angels / singing clap your hands / don’t try to take my country / I will defend my land / I’m not crazy, baby / naw / I’m American / I’m American/ I’m American/ I’m American. And check these verse lyrics:

I like my woman in the kitchen/ I teach my children superstitions/ I keep my two guns on my blue nightstand/ A pretty young thang, she can wash my clothes /But she’ll never ever wear my pants.
Seventy-nine cent to your dollar/ All that bullshit from white-collars /You see my color before my vision /Sometimes I wonder if you were blind / Would it help you make a better decision?

The message is powerful but you might not even realize you’re getting an education because you’ll be too busy grooving to notice, at least at first.

What I love about this album is that it’s impossible for me to choose a favorite song. In “I Like That,” Monae’s voice flows effortlessly over a deep, droning drum & bass foundation and all the hits are in the right spot, complete with that TLC shout-out: “Sometimes a mystery, sometimes I’m free / Depending on my mood or my attitude / Sometimes I wanna roll or stay at home / Walking contradiction, guess I’m factual and fiction /A little crazy, little sexy, little cool/Little rough around the edges, but I keep it smooth /I’m always left of center and that’s right where I belong /I’m the random minor note you hear in major songs /And I like that /I don’t really give a fuck if I was just the only one  who likes that. “I Like That” is a testament to being fearless and proud in your skin no matter what anybody else thinks. My absolute favorite line in the song appears when Monae recalls a memory from her past:  I remember when you laughed when I cut my perm off /And you rated me a six /I was like, “Damn”/But even back then with the tears in my eyes / I always knew I was the shit.” The rise and fall of the lyrics–the cadence–is as smooth as Monae’s voice and perfectly executed. I’m amazed by how she sculpts a song and meshes the verse within the constraints of the song structure.

“I Got The Juice”, featuring Pharrell, is a slammin’ proclamation about owning one’s (fluid) sexuality. SPIN magazine referred to the tune as “the best of Dirty Computer’s homages to Prince.” (I can’t say I disagree although “Make Me Feel” would be a really obvious contender. More on that below.) “I Got The Juice” echoes Prince’s “Cream” in how it oozes sex appeal; but this smashing song goes to eleven on a scale of 10. Just as the song builds to a crescendo and you think it’s going to cool off, it  ramps up for one last feminist wave of authority when Monae powerfully declares: “If you try to grab this pussy cat / This pussy grab you back ” which is a clear response to President Trump’s infamous “grab her by the pussy” statement revealed from his pre-POTUS days and now haunting him eternally.  “I Got The Juice” is like an amped up “Holler Back Girl”, the femme-fatale tune recorded in 2004 by Gwen Stefani. And like Stephani, Monae does not merely holler back. If Trump could forego the catcall and move straight to the crotch grab, you know the appropriate feminist response is neither meek nor apologetic.

An incredible rapper in her own right, Monae’s lyricism in “Django Jane” is punch-you-in-the-gut good. A Guardian article entitled “You Don’t Own Or Control Me” looks closely at how personal and political apex in “Django Jane”, described as “Monáe’s rallying cry, a rebellious protest anthem for women in general (“We gave you life, we gave you birth, we gave you God, we gave you earth,” she sings….[S]he puts down mansplaining with a forceful, deadpan lyric: “Hit the mute button, let the vagina have a monologue.” It’s one of Monáe’s most political songs to date, and also one of her most personal, a revelation for a singer whose critics have called her presence “cerebral”, her music “controlled”, her “constructed” look.” The song may be more aptly described as a battle cry, in that the speaker militantly confront the treatment of Black Americans, and particularly Black women. Monae says that Django is ‘a response to me feeling the sting of the threats being made to my rights as a woman, as a black woman, as a sexually liberated woman, even just as a daughter with parents who have been oppressed for many decades. Black women and those who have been the ‘other’, and the marginalised in society – that’s who I wanted to support, and that was more important than my discomfort about speaking out.'”

In trying to wrap up this post, I’ll just say: give this record a spin. Be blown away by the method and the message.  Want to hear the MOST PRINCE-Y song on the album? Check out “Make Me Feel”: the Prince undertones and overtones are undeniable in the funk guitar rhythm and Monae’s vocal gymnastics – especially when Monae sings “good God / I can’t help it / Ah!”

In saving the best for last, Monae reserves the final dedication in her album notes for Prince-her muse and mentor-and you can’t help but think about how proud he would be of her incredible accomplishment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kesha’s Kaleidoscopic Album”Rainbow” is a Work of Catharsis and Transformation

At first, Old Flames (Can’t Hold A Candle To You)” was my favorite song on the album. In a waltz with the one and only Dolly Parton, Kesha’s resonant vocals are set against a meandering pedal steel guitar which is decidedly “country”; yet the underlying  near heavy-metal downpicking and tambourine on the chorus elevates the tune to “not your grandmother’s”  country shuffle. Kesha and Parton’s vocals complement each other beautifully as a faint doo-wop piano adds to the nostalgia of unparalleled love. Lyrically, love is likened to a flame, of course; but embers, fires, and candles are also invoked to describe the type of love about which singer-songwriter Patricia Rose Sebert and Hugh Moffatt wrote in 1978. “Old Flames (Can’t Hold a Candle to You”) is the only cover song on the album: Kesha does her own writing, which is another reason to love this deeply-personal album.

As it turns out, “Spaceship”, track number 14, is my absolute favorite song on the album.  Kesha’s voice is paired with a banjo (and also a mandolin?) on the verses as she sings:  “I always said when I’m gone, when I’m dead / Don’t lay me down with the dirt on my head / You won’t need a shovel, you don’t need a cold headstone / You don’t need to cry, I’m gon’ be going home.” Due to the minimalism of the song, I am able to hear the beautiful timbre in her voice which is not buried (but instead enhanced) by the stripped-down instrumentation. “Spaceship” is essentially a dirge about how the narrator wants to be treated at the time the she departs the earth. I can think of no creative act on par with the self-penned elegy that is perhaps the penultimate act of staking one’s little claim on this spinning earth. The elegy song is basically akin to a living will for artists and one of the greatest works they can write.  The narrator of the song laments her life on Earth and states that she’s from another galaxy and will one day return home. Note the ethereal backing vocals on the chorus and how they creates a ghostly ambience that is not quite of this world. In my lil humble opinion, “Spaceship” is the best song on the album, because in a really beautiful, inventive way the artist confronts her mortality, contemplates her place in the world, and explores her interest in what lies beyond. The existential lyrics contemplating one’s mortality on “Spaceship”  immediately liken the mundane verse in “Tik Tok” to mere fodder for some otherworldy sacred cow.

“Woman” is a righteous, feisty song and gives voice to female empowerment and staking your ground,  dominant themes of Rainbow.  A saxophone full of attitude paves the way for the famed Dap-Kings horn section (who backed the inimitable, late Sharon Jones). Kesha sings: “I buy my own things/ I pay my own bills / These diamond rings / My automobiles /  Everything I got I bought it / Boys can’t buy my love/ Buy my love, yeah / I do what I want / Say what you say / I work real hard everyday / I’m a motherfucking woman, baby alright.” The song is part cabaret, part pop, and all sass, and Kesha sprinkles in some expletives for good measure (and I’m not mad at her for it). In fact, I love her for it because artistic integrity is not sanitized and flawless. Kesha is the antithesis to the Insta-world where all things appear perfect but are far from it: she is the raw and the real. In other words, beauty lies in imperfection. Sometimes, what is most real is disheveled and rough-around-the-edges. Check out “Boots”, which is a little bit like the “answer” to “Woman” and “Hunt You Down”, a pantomimic ballad about murdering a lover who has done you horribly wrong. Either way, this kaleidoscopic genre-bending album showcases Kesha’s dynamic vocal ability and range.

Forgiveness, prayer, and redemption from suffering (at the hands of loved ones) are also major themes of Rainbow. You’ve likely heard “Praying” at this point, which was released with a stunning,  video depicting a narrator who is letting go of the pain of all of those who have wronged her. If you haven’t seen her late night television performance of “Praying”, it is an awe-inspiring performance. The use of repetition andguttural belting of the lyrics “praying” and “changing” make it the centerpiece of the album, no doubt. But “Rainbow”the song after which the album has been named–has quickly become another of my absolute favorites. Kesha wrote “Rainbow” when she was in rehab  for an eating disorder, so this song both embodies and symbolizes healing, growth, and survival.  “Rainbow”–with its swelling string arrangements–evoke the magic of a Disney scene in which the lead character performs her triumphant soliloquy in a sunlit forest. Kesha sings: “I used to live in the darkness / dress in black / act so heartless / but now I see that colors are everything.” Thematically, colors  are a key vehicle for communicating personal transformation, and if you’ve seen the album artwork, you know what I mean. “Rainbow” signifies a new beginning or a re-birth while “Spaceship”–a song contemplating mortality–is the perfect final cut.

And that leaves “Bastards” which was described in the Rolling Stone review as a “ballad ripe for a campfire singalong”. And I couldn’t agree more. In fact, “Bastards” echos the sentiment my father still eschews to his kids today. This pep-talk of a title track is Kesha’s inner dialogue turned outward: ” Don’t let the bastards get you down, oh no / Don’t let the assholes wear you out /Don’t let the mean girls take the crown / Don’t let the scumbags screw you ’round / Don’t let the bastards take you down.” And that’s pretty solid advice.

I haven’t heard much of Kesha’s work aside from her 2010 album, Animal; but after listening to Rainbow, I’d count myself among the ranks of her adoring fans. After just a few spins of the album, there are some standout tracks that I would say are “great”, due either to the result of her collaborations with other (great) artists, her emotive shapeshifting vocals, or how content/lyrics, vocals, instrumentation, and overall production quality culminate in beautifully-crafted songs. As it turns out, the punchy, poppy dance tunes are my least   favorite songs but are catchy in their own right.  The songs I am drawn to and that have the most substance, in terms of lyrical content, also happen to be the most minimally arranged.

In general, Kesha really shines when her emotive voice gets to take center stage without competing with a spastic instrumental backdrop (“Boogie Feet” comes to mind). It’s easy to pass judgement on an artist like Kesha who has achieved the all-too-evasive super-stardom; but check out some of her live performances from “Rainbow” and if you’re like me, you’ll be moved by how she has completely lived the experiences about which she sings. “Spaceship”, “Old Flames (Can’t Hold a Candle To You)”, “Rainbow”, “Bastards”, and “Praying” are beautiful and honest songs that I will return to again and again. If you’re the least bit privy to the legal battles and alleged abuse she suffered at the hands of her former producer, “Dr. Luke”, it’s not difficult to see that Rainbow  is a work of catharsis and metamorphosis. It’s fantastic to witness her return to her country roots because, yes, she isn’t merely a manufactured pop-star: not only does she write her own songs, but she can really sing. Check her out!

 

New CD’s for November

Bon Jovi — This House is Not for Sale

The first Bon Jovi album without longtime guitarist Richie Sambora

 

 

 


Alicia Keys — Here

The fifteen-time Grammy-winning singer, songwriter, and producer will release her highly anticipated sixth studio album. From the human condition to global politics, Here offers a keen glimpse of everything that matters most to Keys.

 

 

 
Miranda Lambert — The Weight of these Wings

Miranda Lambert’s highly anticipated sixth studio album was inspired by both heartbreak and newfound love. Among the tracks is the new single Vice.

 

 

 
Bruno Mars — 24K Magic

After four years, and two Super Bowl halftime appearances, Grammy Award winner Bruno Mars is back with his highly anticipated third album, which includes the hit title track.

 

 
Metallica — Hardwired…To Self Destruct

Metallica releases their eleventh studio album. The two disc set is their first studio album since 2008’s Death Magnetic.

 

 

 
Now That’s What I Call Music 60

The 60th installment of the popular music series that features the hit song from Calvin Harris and Rihanna, This Is What You Came For.

 

 

 
Doug Stanhope — No Place Like Home

Doug Standhope tackles an abundance of hard-hitting issues, from caring for the mentally-ill, to Vietnam vets, being locked up abroad, and why everyone should kick like they kick. He also take on ISIS, global poverty, TMZ, and LGBT related issues. No one is off the table in this one-of-a-kind stand-up special including Gabrielle Giffords, the Duggars daughters, Caitlyn Jenner, and Robin Williams.

New CDs for October

Michael Buble — Nobody But Me

The 9th studio album and first in three years from the multi-Grammy, multi-platinum award winning singer. It follows the critically acclaimed To Be Loved album which was his fourth album to reach No. 1 on Billboard’s Top 200 Charts.

 

 

Colbie Caillat — The Malibu Sessions

Grammy Award winning singer-songwriter Colbie Caillat returns with the follow up to her 2014 album Gypsy Heart. Her sixth studio album also includes the single Goldmine.

 

 

Kenny Chesney — Some Town Somewhere

Country superstar Kenny Chesney releases the follow-up to his hit album The Big Revival. His latest includes the single Noise, which is quickly rising up the country charts.

 

 

 

Green Day — Revolution Radio

After four years, Green Day return with a brand new album, their first release since being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Their latest includes the new single Bang Bang.

 

 

Norah Jones — Day Breaks

One of music’s most beautiful and critically acclaimed voices returns with an album that finds her returning to her jazz roots.

 

 

Kings of Leon — Walls

Kings Of Leon release the follow-up to their Mechanical Bull album. Includes the songs Waste A Moment; Find Me; Over; and more.

 

 

Pitbull — Climate Change

International icon Pitbull releases his 10th full-length album that features an array of superstar and burgeoning musical guests including Jennifer Lopez, Enrique Iglesias, Prince Royce, Jason Derulo, Stephen Marley and more.

 

 

Rascal Flatts — The Greatest Gift of All

Country superstars Rascal Flatts release their first ever holiday album, which features both new and classic tracks like Strange Way to Save the World; The First Noel, and Someday at Christmas.

 

New CDs for June

Fitz & The Tantrums — Fitz and the Tantrums

The third album from Fitz & The Tantrums is brimming with imagination, energy, and genre-smashing scope. Includes the tracks Handclap; Complicated; Do What You Want; and more.

 

 

 


Nick Jonas — Last Year Was Complicated

Radiohead continues to do things their way with the release of their first new album since 2011. Their unique rock style comes through on tracks like Burn the Witch.

 


Radiohead — A Moon Shaped Pool

Fresh off of the success of his 2014 self-titled album, Nick Jonas returns with a release that has already generated a hit with the track Close featuring Tove Lo.
Red Hot Chili Peppers — The Getaway

Along with the single Dark Necessities, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ first new album in five years also includes new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer and production from Danger Mouse.

 

 


Tegan & Sara — Love You to Death

The follow-up to Tegan and Sara’s 2013 pop breakthrough album, Heartthrob, is their eighth studio album and features the single Boyfriend.

 


Train — Does Led Zeppelin II

Train, the band behind such hits as Hey Soul Sister, pays homage to one of their biggest musical inspirations with the release of the first cover album of their career.

 

 

New CDs for May

Eric Clapton — I Still Do

Music legend Eric Clapton has reunited with famed producer Glyn Johns for his forthcoming 23 studio album, set for release on May 20, 2016 on his Bushbranch /Surfdog Records. The twelve-track record includes some original songs written by Clapton.

 

 

Goo Goo Dolls — Boxes

The eleventh album from the Goo Goo Dolls is a vibrant, sonically forward-looking album with indelible melodies, intimate, heartfelt lyrics, and an anthemic, uplifting vibe. Features the single Over and Over.

 

 

Ariana Grande — Dangerous Woman

Grammy Award nominee and pop superstar Ariana Grande returns with her third album, which includes the tracks Dangerous Woman and Be Alright.

 

 

Cole Swindell — You Should Be Here

Cole Swindell releases the follow up his successful debut album, which earned him the ACM Award for New Artist of the Year. Along with the title track, which is also the first single, there is a collaboration with Dierks Bentley.

 

 

Meghan Trainor — Thank You

Meghan Trainor releases her highly anticipated sophomore album three months after winning the Grammy Award for Best New Artist. The first single, NO, made its debut on On Air With Ryan Seacrest.

 

 

Keith Urban — Ripcord

Four-time Grammy winner and judge on the farewell season of American Idol is releasing his eighth studio album. Features the hit singles John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16 and Break on Me.

New CDs for April

The Lumineers — CleopatraThe Lumineers return with the follow-up to their platinum selling debut. Their second album is the natural continuation of the sound that audiences all over the world fell in love with. Includes the single Ophelia.

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Santana — Santana IV

Features sixteen all-new tracks written and produced by the band that burst with the same unparalleled energy and superlative musicianship that made Santana a pioneering force in world music, and a household name across the globe.

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Weezer — White Album

Weezer’s self-titled tenth studio album. The first track from the highly anticipated album, Thank God for Girls, has charted across multiple genres and is currently sitting in the top ten on alternative radio.

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cheaptrickCheap Trick — Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello

As they are inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cheap Trick continue their reign as the top progenitors of power-pop with their seventeenth studio album.

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Andrew Bird has always been highly respected and has held a captive audience with his storytelling prowess, but it’s with his new album that he has made a breakthrough record.