New sounds from Lennox, Pink Floyd

Fall 2014 has seen the comeback of a number of classic artists – among them, Weezer, Foo Fighters, Pink Floyd, and Annie Lennox. The latter two artists have released notable records, both of which are sure to excite and inspire fans.

Annie Lennox, Nostalgia (Sept. 30)

STOWERS Nostalgia

Madison Stowers

M. Stowers

Annie Lennox, the former frontwoman of the ‘80s synthpop duo Eurythmics and undeniably one of the most impressive female vocalists of all time, released an album of covers back in late September. Nostalgia is a soulful, dignified blast from the past, one that at times puts some of the original versions of its songs to shame.

Despite her age, Lennox – who will turn 60 this December – has kept amazing control of her remarkably limber voice. This bold collection of jazz and soul standards showcases not only Lennox’s sublime vocal ability, but also her musical passion and influences.

Beginning with the sultry “Memphis in June,” Nostalgia kicks off with a down-tempo soul feel before gradually building into an orchestral, synthesized arrangement. Originally written by Paul Francis Webster and Hoagy Carmichael in 1945, Lennox’s take on the song omits the traditional horn section in exchange for lush piano and string performances.

“Georgia on My Mind,” made famous by the legendary Ray Charles, further showcases Lennox’s vocal range. While this particular selection may stay more true to its original recording than other covers from Nostalgia, it is nevertheless refreshing to hear.

The incomparable “I Put a Spell On You,” written by the R&B maestro Screamin’ Jay Hawkins in 1956, is an insistent, demanding cover, featuring decent guitar parts and a wonderful climax.

“Summertime,” a classic George Gershwin number written for the opera Porgy and Bess, as well as the jazz standard “I Cover the Waterfront,” are passionate and ageless.

Lennox’s cover of the languid and emotional “Strange Fruit,” well-known by Billie Holiday, is even more powerful than its original recording. A second Billie Holiday song, “God Bless the Child,” appears on Nostalgia as well.

The true highlight of this album, however, is the sweet, gentle “September in the Rain.” Lennox’s serene, moving cover of this jazz standard is one of the most stimulating versions that audience members will ever hear.

Finally, “I Can Dream, Can’t I?” again advertises Lennox’s amazing vocal range, with particular emphasis on her extraordinary soprano.

Overall, Nostalgia functions as a fresh compilation of timeless classics. Lennox’s exhilarating vocal talent is sure to captivate listeners of all generations.

Pink Floyd, The Endless River (Nov. 10)

STOWERS EndlessRiver (1)The legendary Pink Floyd released their fifteenth and final studio album earlier this month, rounding out what has been one of the most influential careers in rock ‘n’ roll history.

The Endless River, whose title is a reference to a line from the group’s 1994 album The Division Bell, has peaked at number one in the charts in over a dozen countries worldwide.

From the ethereal hum of the album’s first piece, it becomes apparent to listeners that Pink Floyd, despite reaching the end of an almost 50 year-long career, have not lost touch with their progressive rock roots.

The spacey album-opener “Things Left Unsaid” transforms into “It’s What We Do,” one of the album’s standout cuts, which at times sounds like a direct throwback to Floyd’s 1975 song “Welcome to the Machine.” The Endless River’s opening sequences are heavily reminiscent of the group’s 1975 album Wish You Were Here. The aforementioned “It’s What We Do” features an emotional, cathartic guitar performance by David Gilmour; the 68-year-old guitarist remains a demi-god in the classic rock microcosm.

Side One of The Endless River is capped off with “Ebb and Flow,” a much lighter piece whose placidity and subtleness serve as a rather stark contrast to its dark preceding tracks.

Side Two kicks off with “Sum,” a pulsing rock piece with wonderful production and another outstanding guitar performance by Gilmour. Like much of the album, this track bears resemblance to an earlier Floyd cut – this time to 1979’s “Run Like Hell,” from what is arguably the band’s magnum opus, The Wall.

“Sum” segues into “Skins,” which shifts the listener’s focus to the pounding drums of Nick Mason; the most admirable facet of this track is its markedly more prevalent percussion.

Side Two’s penultimate piece, “Unsung,” was written entirely by Pink Floyd’s late keyboardist Rick Wright. Characterized by its powerful chords and palpitating synth parts, it is surely one of River’s most unique sequences.

The final piece on Side Two, entitled “Anisina,” is a throwback to yet another cut from Floyd’s catalogue – this time “Waiting for the Worms,” again from 1979’s The Wall. “Anisina” is another one of River’s standout cuts, due in part to its wailing saxophone performance by British jazz saxophonist Gilad Atzmon.

Side Three begins much more tenderly with “The Lost Art of Conversation,” a moving piano piece, before transitioning into the more electric “On Noodle Street” and “Night Light.”

“Allon-sy (1)” is a jazzier, poppier version of “Run Like Hell” and “Allon-sy (2)” is harder, heavier, and more resounding. The final track on Side Three, “Talkin’ Hawkin’,” draws its influence from a Division Bell track entitled “Keep Talking;” both songs sample the voice of the esteemed theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking.

It is the final side of The Endless River that is the most captivating – it’s more abstract, more experimental, and more electrifying than the previous three sides combined. Tracks such as “Eyes to Pearls,” “Surfacing,” and “Louder than Words,” the latter of which is the only non-instrumental song on the record, create a satisfying conclusion to such a legendary career.

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