New Music Reviews: Amanda Shires, Black Midi, and Kabza De Small

It’s a diverse week – the folky American of Amanda Shires, the intensity of UK’s Black Midi, and the smooth amapiano of South African DJ Kabza De Small.

Amanda Shires

Take It Like A Man

2022, 8/10
Texas-born fiddler and singer-songwriter Amanda Shires has always been a talent, but on her seventh album, she’s becoming more comfortable in the spotlight. Following a stint in The Highwoman, Take It Like A Man was partly written during a time when Shires and her husband Jason Isbell were struggling to communicate. This is chronicled in songs like ‘Fault Lines’, where Shires sings “Time was all I’d want/You can keep the car and the house.”

In line with the vulnerable nature of the material, Take It Like A Man is often beautiful. The opening ‘Hawk For The Love’ has some guitar muscle from Isbell, but the tone of the record is set by confessional and soulful material. ‘Lonely At Night’ sounds like a meeting point of Carole King and 1970s soul, while ‘Empty Cups’ is pretty. ‘Fault Lines’ is the centrepiece of the album, gorgeously vulnerable.

Shires thrives as a confessional singer-songwriter on Take It Like A Man, delivering her highest-profile album yet at the age of 40.


Black Midi

Hellfire

2022, 8/10
Experimental London band Black Midi have been prolific in their brief career so far. Presumably, there’s more to come, since Hellfire was written during the COVID-19 pandemic when the group was unable to record or tour – the band were back in the studio weeks after releasing 2021’s Cavalcade.

Black Midi have developed markedly over their brief tenure. On 2019’s improvisation-based debut Schlagenheim, their vocals felt like an afterthought, low in the mix. The group’s vocal prowess has increased markedly, and the vocals are often the focal point on Hellfire – frontman Georgie Greep sings in an unsettling croon, like a less accomplished Scott Walker.

The music is layered and intense, although, unlike their previous record, there aren’t as many instrumental freakouts – a lot of the band’s usual cacophony happens within the constraint of conventional songs. There’s more calmness than before – the pedal steel of ‘Still’ gives it a country flavour, while ’27 Questions’ is like odd cabaret. The quickfire riffing of ‘Sugar-Tzu’ and ‘The Race is About To Begin’ are much more in line with the expected Black Midi sound.

At this point in their career, Black Midi are endlessly fascinating – still in their early twenties, anything seems possible.


Kabza De Small

KOA II Part 1

2022, 8/10
South African DJ and producer Kabelo Petrus Motha is better known as Kabza De Small. Alongside his solo career, he’s a member of the Scorpion Kings along with DJ Maphorisa. KOA II Part I is the sequel to Kabza’s 2019 album I Am The King of Amapiano: Sweet & Dust – it’s an epic first volume, clocking in over two hours.

The tracklist was winnowed down from a much larger pool of tracks- Kabza told Spotify that “I work every day so had 81 songs”. It features a vast list of guest vocalists, mixing known artists like Simmy with emerging artists like Spartz. Despite the array of guest vocalists, KOA II Part I is homogeneous – every track opens with a similar beat, and there’s little variation.

Despite the length and lack of variety it works, like a comforting blanket of sound. It’s hard to talk much about the individual tracks – they blend into one, but the vocals and tunes are invariably gorgeous. The blissful ‘Khusela’, with Msaki is gorgeous. Spartz excels on the beautiful ‘Ingabe’.

To create a two-hour album that both works as background music and rewards repeat listening is no mean achievement.

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10 Comments

  1. Amanda Shires is the clear standout to me here, and I’m going to check out her new album. I seem to recall that Jason Isbell on his most recent album also addressed the tensions in their marriage.

    Black Midi and Kabza De Small clearly look like outside my core wheelhouse, so they would definitely require that I spend much more time – unlike Amanda Shires who immediately grabbed me!

  2. Amanda Shires has a great voice…plenty of range with her.
    Black Midi…I normally wouldn’t listen to but I like the break around 46 seconds in…it caught me by surprise.

  3. I wasn’t familiar with Black Midi’s music until writing about the unrelated obscure music genre black midi for my 30-day song challenge, but I like what I’ve heard from them. And the Kabza De Small song you shared is undeniably infectious.

    • Thanks for listening to the other two songs! I assumed that most readers would gravitate to the Shires record. I like that mellow South African dance sound, even though it’s sometimes a bit samey.

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