Three new-ish records this week. The fifth album in little over two years from London’s enigmatic Sault, a debut from Australian R&B artist Genesis Owusu, while Miranda Lambert joins two other country artists for a literal campfire singalong,
Mysterious London collective Sault are back with their fifth album in little over 24 months. It’s always tricky writing about Sault because they’ve kept their their identities shrouded – not playing live or giving interviews. Unusually, Sault provided a statement to accompany Nine:
Some of us are from the heart of London’s council estates where proud parents sought safer environments to raise their families. Community is the only real genuine support & the majority of us get trapped in a systemic loop where a lot of resources & options are limited.
Adults who fail to heal from childhood traumas turn to alcohol & drugs as medicine.
Young girls & boys looking for leadership can get caught up in gang life.
It’s very easy to judge.
What would you do if this were you?
As such, Nine marks a change in focus. While Sault’s 2020 records tied into the Black Lives Matter narrative and felt American in their outlook, this new record is firmly situated in London, as titles like ‘London Gangs’ and ‘Alcohol’ indicate. Musically, it’s closer to Sault’s 2019 albums 5 and 7 with its minimalist, rhythm-heavy sounds.
It does feel a little slight compared to some of their earlier records – it’s a brief 34 minute record with only 8 full songs. Generally the rhythmic songs like ‘London Gangs’ and ‘Trap Life’ are stronger than the Cleo Sol-fronted slices of neo-soul. Cleo Sol does front the gospel-tinged closer ‘Light’s In Your Hands’ – I’m a sucker for those 1970s singer-songwriter piano chords.
Nine is only available for download and streaming for 99 days – you can download it for free from https://www.sault.global/.
Smiling With No Teeth
Canberra, Australia, is about the last place you’d expect a cutting-edge neo-soul artist to emerge from. It makes more sense when you learn that Owusu immigrated from Ghana at the age of 2. A surprising formative influence for Owusu was the Xbox game Jet Set Radio Future; Owusu played the game, with a pirate radio soundtrack of noise rock, future funk and rave, as a 5-year old.
Owusu has already enjoyed success with singles ‘WUTD’ and ‘Sideways’, but Smiling With No Teeth is his debut record. He went into the studio with a disparate bunch of well-known Australian musicians, like guitarist Kirin J. Callinan who’s prominent on stand-out track ‘Drown’.
Owusu’s a multi-faceted artist, able to jump between abrasive rockers like ‘Black Dogs!’ and smooth soul like ”No Looking Back’. As a result, Smiling With No Teeth can be an exhausting listen, even at 54 minutes long. ‘A Song About Fishing’ is startlingly close to a smooth 1980s Van Morrison track, while his African/Australian voice is unique on songs like ‘Whip Cracker/
Sometimes Smiling With No Teeth is easier to admire than enjoy, but Owusu’s a talented guy and I’m interested to hear what he comes up with next.
Jack Ingram, Jon Randall, and Miranda Lambert
The Marfa Tapes
It took me a while to latch onto Miranda Lambert – she’s an excellent songwriter but favours a modern country production sheen. There were hints of a more modest sound on 2016’s acclaimed The Weight of These Wings, but she commits to a simple style on The Marfa Tapes. The Marfa Tapes was recorded around a campfire with two guitars and two microphones, with relaxed dialogue between the songs. Lambert shares the limelight with Jack Ingram and Randall. Both have released records, although Randall in particular is better-known as a songwriter.
It may seem odd that Lambert revisits ‘Tin Man’ from The Weight of These Wings here. But it’s actually the first song that this trio of country artists wrote together, so it makes sense for this project. The Marfa Tapes has a fun and off-the-cuff atmosphere – ‘Am I Right or Amarillo?’ is a particularly goofy song title.
Despite the relaxed atmosphere, the songwriting is often very strong. There are fun singalongs like ‘Homegrown Tomatoes’ and ‘Geraldene’, but also moments of profundity like ‘The Wind’s Just Gonna Blow’. ‘Amazing Grace (West Texas)’ is a perfect closer, warm and spiritual.
I’m expecting Lambert to welcome back the big choruses and overdriven guitars for her next project, but it’s comforting to hear her play an album of warm Texan folk.