Listening Post

The Sunday Star-Times weekly wrap of new music

Neil Young performs at the Orange Stage at the Roskilde Festival in Roskilde, Denmark, during his tour last year to ...
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Neil Young performs at the Orange Stage at the Roskilde Festival in Roskilde, Denmark, during his tour last year to promote Earth.

Neil Young

Peace Trail

(Warner)

★★★½

If it seemed like only yesterday that Neil Young released an album then that's because it is.  Peace Trail is almost the acoustic equivalent of Earth, released in June 2016, and an album with a strong eco message that similarly linked to the fiercely political The Monsanto Years. Of course, Young has long  been a crusader again mutli-national greed, environmental  issues and the plight of indigenous people, most notably Native Americans. Peace Trail and Indian Giver, with its metaphoric battle message — the war against the rape and pillage of Mother Earth to the point of destruction — represent the two sides of Young's writing style, one gnarly and fierce the other more considered and gentle. For all of his conviction, Young occasionally allows the message to get lost in a too cleverly conceived but not properly thought out song such as My New Robot, with a vocoder processed vocal reminiscent of his Transformer album,  which is a jumble of harmonica and synths with silly lyrics alluding to the impact of online shopping replacing real and personal shopping interactions.  Still, even when Young delivers a dud, there's still always a trail of gems to fall back on.

Mike Alexander

Jeshel

(Self-released)

★★★★★

There's something almost serendipitous about Jeshel Forrester posting out his latest album with little or no fanfare.  He's one of those people whose paths you might cross by happenstance only to discover that beyond the lack of self-important promotion - call it humility - his life's work, influence and achievements are those of someone who has already a left a footprint (as an activist, academic, novelist, poet and musician) that will be felt by generations to come. As a reference point  only, Forrester evokes the ghosts of pre-electric Dylan, whose Girl of The North Country he covers, early Johnny Cash and the melodic sensibilities of Willie Nelson and kris Kristofferson..  There are simple narratives on Jeshel, which includes his previous album Alma Rose, such as The Ballad Of Polly Kincaid and Koori Man, where the story is left to leave it's own deep impression, more personal songs such as Rest For The Weary and the almost confessional Black Top Road and a handful of covers by the previously noted Dylan, Gillian Welch, Nancy Griffith and Buddy and Julie Anne Miller.  Forrester's music is simple and down-to-earth - there's no histrionics here, just straight-forward honesty. What surprises the most, is that there are no swines among these 25 pearls.

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Mike Alexander

Jim James

Eternally Even

(Universal)

★★★

James Edward Olliges' second solo album while maintaining longtime rock band My Morning Jacket. Eternally Even is a pleasant and easy record which demonstrates the versatile vocal work of James. He's very much crafted an aesthetic that doesn't rely on one particular tone or instrument. Opener Hide in Plain Sight is slow broody alt rock where is Here in Spirit is essentially easy listening pop. But there's a clear diversity of styles going on here. The second half of the album is more of an upbeat approach - The World's Smiling Now and In The Moment both have a stunning leisurely summertime sound, a preeminent texture of the record. Fans of James' work will almost certainly connect with this record. But you get the impression it will take its time with newer listeners as the stronger elements certainly don't hit home on first listen. 

Hugh Collins 

Kara Gordon

Settle The Score

(Self-released\)

★★★★

With just an album (with his band The Wreckage) and various YouTube demonstration videos to his credit, Kara Gordon really hasn't done recording justice to his talents as New Zealand's finest gun-slinging guitarist for hire - until now.  Settle The Score owes much to Barnaby Weir, who brought him into the Fly My Pretties fold and is a vital collaborator on this five track EP, which he produced. Maybe, Gordon needed time or a mentor to help him find his musical identity but, he's a natural born bluesman.  The title track is a slack key stomper, while Bad Man and Real Deal,  both featuring Alabama 3's Nick Reynolds on harp, are troubled tales where Gordon showcases his superior musicianship. Short and sweet but full of style and substance.

Mike Alexander

 - Sunday Star Times

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