What to listen to now: The Black Madonna, Allison Crutchfield, Dropkick Murphys and more
A weekly roundup of must-hear music from The Times staff.
This week’s picks include a heartbreaking, disco-inspired song from Chicago artist the Black Madonna, as well as Celtic-punk veterans the Dropkick Murphys. Also, catch a bit of Allison Crutchfield’s winning debut.
And if you want to dig into history a little deeper, Randy Lewis takes a spin with a recent Bob Dylan reissue.
The Black Madonna, “He Is the Voice I Hear” (We Still Believe).
From December’s Ghost Ship fire to last weekend’s shootings at the BPM Festival in Mexico (and now, word of William Onyeabor’s death), dance music has seen almost too many funerals to bear. The Chicago producer the Black Madonna — who performed with Robyn at FYF Fest — acknowledges this streak of loss on her sprawling new single, with melancholy disco strings and hymnal piano lines.
But just under the surface, there’s a still a beating kick and buoyant synthesizers to remind listeners of a hope in something more graceful. Faith has always had a place on the club floor, and perhaps it’s more needed now than ever. — August Brown
Dropkick Murphys, “11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory” (Born & Bred)
This rowdy Boston band hasn’t managed to duplicate the mainstream bump it got in 2006 when Martin Scorsese prominently featured its song “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” in his Oscar-winning “The Departed.” (Well, there was that time a few years ago when New Kids on the Block mashed up “Shipping” with “Hangin’ Tough”…)
But toiling in relative obscurity has hardly led the Dropkick Murphys to go slack: On its ninth full-length, these Celtic-punk bruisers keep their guitars sharp and tempos revved for songs the band’s members have said were inspired in large part by the opioid crisis that’s resulted in the deaths of dozens of their friends. The act even makes a hard-stomping anthem of “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” the Rodgers and Hammerstein show tune taken up recently by the likes of Josh Groban and Susan Boyle. — Mikael Wood
Bob Dylan “The Real Royal Albert Hall 1966 Concert!” (Sony Legacy).
Dylan’s world tour in 1966 was a bona fide game-changer, catching him in the midst of marrying complex, intensely literary lyrics with the power of electrified rock ’n’ roll as laid down by the Hawks, the group that would soon evolve into the Band. For decades, recordings of what was purported to be the Royal Albert Hall performance in London were bootlegged and circulated among Dylan aficionados, until 1998, when Columbia Records issued it in official form. Or so everyone thought.
More recently, tapes from the May 26, 1966 Royal Albert Hall performance were discovered, after musicologists determined that the old bootleg and the 1998 official release actually documented his concert nine days earlier in Manchester, England (at which a disgruntled folk music fan is heard shouting “Judas!”) The set list is the same, but the idiosyncratic performances — the show’s first half solo acoustic, the second half with Hawks blazing and more heckling — differs enough to make this well worth hearing. — Randy Lewis
Allison Crutchfield, “I Don’t Ever Wanna Leave California.” (Merge Records).
This single, from Crutchfield’s upcoming debut for Merge Records, contains one winning line after another: “Darling, you’re too mid-Atlantic,” she sings at the start, and though only Crutchfield likely knows what that means, it sounds like the sort of sharp put-down that would really offend someone. And later, she confesses, “I keep confusing love and nostalgia,” a common fallacy of modern romance. Both lines are delivered with a casual effervescence, as the Alabama native has perfected the art of singing conversationally.
This is lightly strummed folksy rock, sure, and it feels as genial as tea-time — synths lay low, buzzing along for the ride, and a plucky bass carries the melody. “I aspire to live in the present,” Crutchfield sings in the song’s final moments, just before some swooning harmonies recall the pop songs of yore. It conveys a sense of homesickness, while holding fast to the belief that what’s ahead will be better than what’s come before. — Todd Martens
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