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Tracy Bonham: Masts of Manhatta
You’d be forgiven for not knowing who Tracy Bonham is, but 90s rock fans will remember her 1996 debut single 'Mother, Mother,' an aggressive anthem for a generation of angst-ridden teenagers boasting screaming vocals that made Alanis Morisette's 'You Oughtta Know' seem like a lullaby in comparison.
Fast-forward a decade and three albums later, and Bonham seems to have a completely different, almost folksy sound on Masts of Manhatta.
Gone are the 90s heavy rock guitar riffs. Instead, Bonham demonstrates an older, more sedated style that’s heavy on the guitar and violin arrangements. A lot of detail and attention have been invested in layering the album’s eleven tracks with clever arrangements and background vocals.
The Highlight of the album is 'Devil’s Got Your Boyfriend', a 1940s folk tune that uses gypsy fiddles, an echoing cello bass and catchy vocals to tell the story of a two-timer. 'Your Night is Wide Open' is a gentle melody with finger-style guitar and cello that help create a haunting, dream-like serenade abruptly interrupted by a drum interval. Bonham gets to show off her violin talents on 'Josephine,' while on 'You're My Isness', the strong bass riff and her vocals sound very similar to Shivaree’s 'Good Night Moon'.
'We Moved Our City To The Country' demonstrates Bonham’s skills as a witty lyricist, where she mocks city folk’s put-on airs and houses in the countryside. Starting off with a simple guitar riff and soft beat, the contrast between city and countryside is clearly demonstrated midway, where the melody suddenly changes to a violin melody, only to shift into a slow melody accompanied by electric piano and haunting background vocals.
'Big Red Heart' builds up nicely with a catchy bass riff, hand claps and intelligent lyrics, while her vocals are somewhat reminiscent of a younger Sheryl Crowe or Meredith Brooks.
'When You Laugh The World Laughs With You,' is a tame and sweet love ballad that’s surely intended for singing a kid to sleep. It may have the same effect on its listeners; the melody’s too predictable, though it does have a good string arrangement.
'Reciprocal Feelings' is a weak track, where her rather annoying vocal melody is saved by a beautiful cello solo. 'In The Moonlight' boasts witty lyrics about growing up as a teenager and a similar style to 'Reciprocal Feelings' where she sing-speaks the lyrics in a rather monotonous voice interspersed by a high-pitched 'Ooh' in the chorus.
There's something very intelligent about Masts of Manhatta’s folk tunes; even if it takes a few listens to appreciate this album and Bonham's talents as a musician. However, if you don’t have the time and don’t like folk music; this album may fail to impress you.
In eleven songs, they built a unique sound that you couldn't quite put your finger on: slow beats dressed in austerity, accompanied by enigmatic lyrics and lone wondering guitars. With a Mercury music prize under their belt and almost every music critic at their feet, they started work on their sophomore album.
But overall, this album is much less introverted. Both Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim seem to have gained confidence as singers and hone their vocal skills with more conviction then they did on their debut album.
Beatmaster Jamie xx, having built a very solid reputation as a producer in between the creation of the two albums, also steps closer to the limelight on this record. Even more songs than on the debut album are built on beats instead of a guitar riff and those beats are slightly more experimental than they previously were. There is even some steel drum - certainly not the hippest of instruments - seeping through in ‘Reunion’.
As Bruce Springsteen’s eighteenth studio album, High Hopes was released in early 2014, and features the E Street Band and a contribution from Tom Morello, previously a member of Rage against the Machine (RATM). In addition to the E Street Band’s line up, some previously recorded material by deceased members Clarence Clemmons and Danny Federici, is also included in the mix.
Comprised of re-recorded outtakes and covers from the span of Springsteen’s career, the album came from his belief that the songs deserved revisiting and proper studio recording.
Springsteen’s layered, signature sound is clearer than ever; with meandering distorted guitars, strings and horns recorded and mastered at the highest quality. Even though he’s pushing 65, his voice still has the same strength, vigour and growl we've heard for so many years. As is usual in the case of Springsteen’s music, the arrangements transform average rock songs into sophisticated anthems.
The titular, opening track kicks off with solo percussion accompanying the singer’s warm, baritone voice. The delayed entrance of the rhythm section makes for a very dramatic and powerful effect, enhanced even further by the horn section.
Morello had performed a cover of ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’ with Rage Against the Machine, and on High Hopes he returns for another rendition with its original writer. The track is by far the heaviest on the record, and features two guitar solos; one by Springsteen and the other by Morello who brings his quirky sound to the mix, whilst remaining conservative in comparison with his RATM and Audioslave work.
Of all the songs on the album, the most minimalistic recording is ‘The Wall’; a slow piece, performed primarily with a guitar and piano, that offers an aural contrast to the multi-layered sound of the rest of the album. This piece features a soulful melody, repeated several times on both an organ and flugelhorn.
While the idea of revisiting old material is a risky one, Morello’s futuristic guitar antics and Springsteen’s wailing confidence elevate ‘Heaven’s Wall’ and ‘Frankie Fell in Love’.
‘Harry’s Place’ is a grimy, desolate song that sounds like the soundtrack to a dark, smoky bar. It tells the story of the 'big dog' in a small town and his rule over the locals. Musically speaking, the track is infused with wah wah guitars and synth tones, along with a gripping sax solo from Clarence Clemon and fitting megaphone effects on Springsteen's voice.
High Hopes hit number one in the US and UK and many European countries, including Holland and Germany, as well as in Australia; the impressive collaborations and tight compositions may not stand up to Springsteen's best, but at 65, he certainly hasn't lost any of his enthusiasm for music.