New Music Reviews: Meshell Ndegeocello and Carly Rae Jepsen

Today’s records are both eclectic – Meshell Ndegeocello demonstrates an uncanny ability to play anything, from dub to jazz to spacy instrumentals. Canadian pop treasure Carly Rae Jepsen pushes the boundaries of her sugary and effervescent music.

Meshell Ndegeocello

The Omnichord Real Book

2023, 9/10
German-born Meshell Ndegeocello is an artist whom I’ve never explored a full album from before. At 54, The Omnichord Real Book is Ndegeocello’s thirteenth studio album and her first for the venerable jazz label Blue Note. 2018’s Ventriloquism was a covers album, meaning that Omnichord is her first album of new material in almost a decade. She took advantage of the time and space afforded by the Covid lockdowns to create – she stated “I must admit it was a beautiful time for me. I got to really sit and reacquaint myself with music. Music is a gift.”

Ndegeocello lost both of her parents over the past few years, and the title of the album comes from a Real Book that her father had given her that she’d found when clearing out their belongings. A Real Book is like a cheat sheet for musicians, while the Omnichord is a moody electronic instrument, used on Robbie Robertson’s ‘Somewhere Down the Crazy River’.

The quality level rarely lets up over the course of eighteen exploratory tracks. The pretty guitar licks on ‘Good Good’ are an early highlight. ‘ASR’ recalls the relaxed dub sound that was popular in my country, New Zealand, in the early 21st century, but Ndegeocello is a step above, supported by the guitar licks of Tortoise’s Jeff Parker. ‘Burn Progression’ and ‘Virgo 6’ ride gorgeous jazzy grooves. ‘Oneelevensixteen’ is pared back and gorgeous, immediately followed by the vibrant African sounds of ‘Vuma’ with a memorable guitar lick.

Consistently classy, The Omnichord Real Book is an outstanding achievement.

Carly Rae Jepsen

The Loveliest Time

2023, 8/10
CRJ fans know the drill by now. She’s a prolific writer, so each album is followed by a collection of outtakes. The Loveliest Time is the companion to 2022’s The Loneliest Time. In an interview with Variety, Jepsen stated that she enjoys making outtakes collections – “I really leaned into it being one of the most exciting processes for me. The B-sides territory is this expansive world where I can play in all directions.” Accordingly, The Loveliest Time is Carly Rae Jepsen’s most expansive release yet.

It’s the upbeat songs that are the most arresting. ‘Shy Boy’ was the lead single, and it has the euphoric lift of Jepsen’s best work, interpolating ‘Midas Touch’ by Kentucky electro-funk band Midnight Star. Jepsen also dips into classy disco on ‘Psychedelic Switch’. ‘Anything To Be With You’ is a surprising opener, with its multi-tracked vocals and urgency. Some of the most eclectic material is clustered toward the end – ‘Stadium Love’ has the arena-rock feel that its title implies, while ‘Put It to Rest’ is retrained and classy. The Loneliest Time feels more adult than Jepsen’s earlier work. The Emotion era explored the liminal spaces between relationships, mourning past relationships and anticipating new ones. The Loveliest Time feels real, imbued with love and lust.

As you’d expect from an outtake collection, The Loveliest Time is less consistent than its parent album, but it’s another impressive entry in Jepsen’s overlooked post-‘Call Me Maybe’ work.

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  1. Carly Rae Jepsen isn’t much my cup of tea, but I’m intrigued by Meshell Ndegeocello’s album. The variety and the sophisticated sound are impressive.

    I also realized Ndegeocello is the cool bassist who was featured in John Mellencamp’s great 1994 cover of Van Morrison’s “Wild Night”. I love her bass tone in that rendition, and her vocals are great as well. I think I prefer it over the original!

  2. Meshell Ndegeocello is interesting. Vuma is the one that got my attention…a little John Coltrane – Eight Miles high…a little chaotic but controlled. I like ASR also…

    • I hadn’t really checked in on her before, but she has a lot of records. This one had a lot of good songs.

  3. I remember Meshell Ndegeocello’s song If That’s Your Boyfriend that was a big hit in the ’90s. Everybody loved it. Do you know that one?

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