Recordings | July 2015

Three albums we're listening to this month

By Cait Brennan, July 2015 Issue.

XL Recordings | 4halfstars

A handful of months ago, 20-year-old Shamir Bailey was working at a Ross Dress For Less in Las Vegas and dreaming of sharing his music with the world. A chance email with Godmode Records’ Nick Sylvester changed everything, and now Shamir’s one of the brightest breakout stars of 2015, with a boundary-breaking debut that’s a clarion call for outsiders everywhere.

Shamir’s voice is like ear candy, silky and alluring, living somewhere between dreamy teenage girl and world-weary diva. His lyrics are confessional, bold, hilarious and refreshingly sincere.

“I never felt ‘latched’ to a gender,” Shamir told NPR, and that feeling infuses everything Shamir does. There are no binaries here, no easy categories, just the amazingly joyous sound of a person embracing absolute creative freedom to be themselves. Ratchet is an intoxicating mix: classic ‘90s house-inspired riffs, suburban Vegas glamour damage, cutting-edge 21st century electronica.

“Life’s no answer, it’s just one big guess,” Shamir sings on “Make A Scene,” an anthem for breaking out of the boxes life puts you in. The take no prisoners “Hot Mess” drops Shamir’s voice into a down-and-dirty baritone on the intro before effortlessly soaring into diva range.

Shamir primarily sings, but he can rap, too; the genius jam “On The Regular” is a showcase for Shamir’s gorgeous flow as well as a declaration of intent. “You can’t contain the truth,” Shamir sings on the beautiful ballad “Darker” and “Head In The Clouds” is a whirling, dizzying dance floor gem.

The joyous synthfunk bassline of “Call It Off” will have you kicking that not-so-special someone to the curb. The song’s not-to-be-missed video transforms Shamir into a puppet, and includes a bonus hotline where you can call Shamir for “free, round the clock” relationship advice (for real!) at 1-844-4-SHAMIR.

Shamir is a bright, bold talent that nothing can contain.


PaulWellerSaturnsPattern_WEBPaul Weller
Saturn’s Pattern
Warner Bros. | 4stars

From his early days reinventing post-punk pop with his legendary band The Jam to his sultry ‘80s techno-soul with the Style Council to his illustrious solo career, Paul Weller has been at the forefront of rock for as long as we can remember.

“The Modfather” is a national treasure in the United Kingdom, but in America he never became a household name. His latest, Saturn’s Pattern, is a bold, defiant, ageless blast of rock and soul energy that puts most of his better-known hall-of-fame peers to shame.

Weller comes bursting out of the gate with the opening scorcher “White Sky,” demonstrating his blues-rock chops haven’t flagged one whit, with a Zeppelin stomp and a Jack White distortion vocal before a thundering chorus that could only be Weller. The psych-fueled title track is rich with Farfisa organ sounds and seductive harmonies.

Few artists sound this vital on their first solo album – this is Weller’s 12th. The beautiful ballad “Going My Way” recalls both Weller’s Jam classic “English Rose” as well as the upbeat, glossy soul of his Style Council days, while “Where I Should Be” is a heartfelt statement of purpose: he’s not done yet, not by a long shot.

“Long Time” marries a Jesus and Mary Chain wall of guitars with a staccato vocal and a better-than-Britpop wail. The moody, magnificent “These City Streets” ends the set with a brisk eight-minutes-thirty of Weller at his best. If you’ve never met the man, now’s the time: Saturn’s Pattern is the latest demonstration of Paul Weller’s enduring brilliance.

RainbowTrain_WEBChana Rothman
Rainbow Train
Self-released | 4stars

In the early ‘70s, actress Marlo Thomas got together with A-list friends Michel Jackson, Diana Ross, Alan Alda, Shirley Jones and others to create a powerful project called “Free To Be … You And Me.” Backed by Gloria Steinem’s Ms. Foundation For Women, the album taught kids tolerance and self-acceptance, aiming to shatter gender stereotypes and let kids be themselves.

Philadelphia-based singer songwriter Chana Rothman channels that spirit for a new century in Rainbow Train, a celebration of the broad diversity of gender expression in our world and a wonderfully supportive new resource for genderqueer and trans* youth and their families and allies.

The title track has a groovy folk-worldbeat vibe, a catchy chorus and a straightforward message. “You don’t have to be just a boy or a girl,” she sings. “You can be a beautiful blended swirl.” It sounds like the theme to an imaginary genderqueer PBS series we’d definitely like to see.

“Boy In A Dress” borrows Namoli Brennet’s famous title for a poem describing the rejection gender-variant kids can get from teachers and peers, while talking through coping mechanisms and cheering those who offer support.

Rothman is a gifted lyricist and has a lovely voice and a knack for melody that keeps these songs from feeling preachy or heavy-handed. “My Body Is Mine” has a Colbie Caillat feel, encouraging kids to embrace themselves in all shapes and sizes. “Dress Up And Dance” goes for a ‘70s disco vibe, with Rothman channeling a bit of Alicia Bridges as guests Ali Wadsworth and Philly MC Mighty Flipside Esq riff on playing dressup.

“A Better Way” has a hint of gospel in its plea for tolerance, calling out civil rights heroes as inspiration. “Shine Like The Sun” rides a sunny Soca beat, while “Holy” celebrates the divine in every individual soul, a prayer of affirmation beyond gender. “Each part of me is a gift of love, bigger than words like boy or girl – I am a blessing to the world,” she sings. Hopefully young listeners will take that to heart.

Rainbow Train is an inspiring work and a great listen, as well as a great resource for parents, educators and anybody who sees beyond the binary. It’s available from her website, chanarothman.com.