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Rewinding September | The Top Returns & Reinventions

A change can be as good as a rest. Take it from these intriguing offerings.

Some people hate change. Not me. In fact, there are few things I like more than hearing an artist change their tune, either on their own or with the help of new friends. Here are the acts that came out (or came back) with something different in September, presented in alphabetical order. Just click on the cover pic to read the original review (and probably listen to the album in full).

The Highwomen
The Highwomen

WHO ARE THEY? Country music’s newest supergroup and self-described “collaborative movement” is this all-female ensemble featuring recently minted Grammy magnet Brandi Carlile, veteran songwriter Natalie Hemby, country-popster Maren Morris and southern rocker Amanda Shires. Fittingly, their handle recalls The Highwaymen, the outlaw supergroup that co-starred Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson. (Or, as my wife quipped: ‘It would be better if they harkened back to a band called The Himen. Get it? Get it? Hymen? Get it?’)

WHAT IS THIS? Their much-anticipated debut album, which was produced by Grammy-winning Nashville producer Dave Cobb and features songwriting and/or musical contributions from a VIP roster that includes Sheryl Crow, Shires’ husband Jason Isbell, Carlile’s bandmates Phil and Tim Hanseroth, Lori McKenna, Miranda Lambert and Ray LaMontagne, among others. Guess they weren’t kidding about the “collaborative” thing.

WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? A perfect balance of reverence, rebellion and reinvention. Stylistically and sonically, these dozen tracks harken back to the classic Music Row sounds of the late ’60s and early ’70s. But lyrically, tunes like Redesigning Women, My Name Can’t Be Mama and If She Ever Leaves Me are perfectly of-the-moment — and a dose of what the male-centric country scene needs at this particular moment.

Chrissie Hynde With The Valve Bone Woe Ensemble
Valve Bone Woe

WHO IS SHE? The leader and sole permanent member of the great Pretenders. The unmistakable vocalist with arguably the greatest contralto and most expressive vibrato in rock. And the woman who says the F-word better than almost anybody around.

WHAT IS THIS? A so-called “jazz/dub” covers album — produced by Marius de Vries and Eldad Guetta — which finds Hynde putting rock on the back burner to purr and croon oldies written and/or recorded by the likes of Sinatra, Coltrane, Mingus, Carmichael, Nancy Wilson, Astrud Gilberto and Rodgers/Hammerstein, with a few pop gems from Brian Wilson, David Bowie, her ex Ray Davies and Nick Drake in the mix.

WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? Actually, jazz/dub is a pretty accurate description of this distinctive hybrid, which surrounds Hynde’s luscious vocals with everything from big-band bombast to moody orchestrations — then decorates the results with post-modern soundscapery and fiddly sonic filigrees.

Iggy Pop

WHO IS HE? The streetwalkin’ cheetah with a heart full of napalm. The runaway son of the nuclear A-bomb. The king of The Stooges. The godfather of punk. The idiot with a lust for life. The world’s first stagediver and crowdsurfer. And the man whose closet apparently contains infinite pairs of black jeans — and no shirts.

WHAT IS THIS? His 24th studio release (counting Stooges albums) and the followup to his 2016 Josh Homme collaboration Post Pop Depression — which Pop famously claimed would be his swan song as a recording artist.

WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? Not like Post Pop Depression, that’s for sure. Nor any of his other rock releases. This left-field half-hour collection of jazzy crooning, oddball rockers and spoken-word pieces has more in common with his other eccentric releases like 1999’s Avenue B, 2009’s Prelimiaires and 2012’s Apres. Consider yourself warned.

Sturgill Simpson
Sound & Fury

WHO IS HE? The iconoclastic American alt-country singer-songwriter who broke through to the mainstream with 2014’s druggy Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, and went on win the Best Country Album Grammy with his orchestrated 2016 concept disc A Sailor’s Guide to Earth.

WHAT IS THIS? His fourth full-length and latest sonic and stylistic left turn: A self-described “sleazy synth-rock dance record” that supposedly takes its musical cues from British popsters La Roux. Seriously. Oh, and its release was also accompanied by a dystopian anime film that was loosely inspired by Akira Kruosawa’s samurai classic Yojimbo and is now playing on Netflix. Because of course.

WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? As weird as you expect. But also much, much cooler. Turns out that despite his country roots, Simpson can crank up and rock out with the best of them. Though he sounds best when he hews closer to a southern synth-boogie reminiscent of ’80s ZZ Top instead of trying to approximate the dry-ice cool more representative of the genre.