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Nightsounds' Favorite Albums of 2023

Todd Gehman

War and more War. The world needs more art and music.  And this list is not aided at all by AI. Quite the opposite. People are music. Vignette reviews. Thanks for supporting the Nightsounds for all these decades.

Jess Williamson                                          “Time Ain’t Accidental”                                      

Breezy, charming country-folk; simple pop and country-inflected song arrangements with an uncluttered mix – direct and clean vocals. A voice of full of heartache and promise.

Williamson’s style is ruminative, but focused. Nightsounds got hooked on the single “Hunter”, a song which concisely packages Williamson’s break up with her long-time partner and her new found confidence in declaring she is in charge as the hunter. Effortless but affecting.

Lori McKenna                                                         “1988”                            

This fine singer-songwriter has been practicing her even finer heartfelt, bedsit and world examining songcraft for decades – mostly under the radar. She has the humanist eye for life’s circumstances, including heart-bruised lamentations, crisscrossing her victories with life’s bitter disappointments.

The crunchy guitar and chiming acoustic pulse of “Killing Me” is instantly catchy. So is the insistence of “The Town in Your Heart” – a nostalgia-soaked breakup tune. McKenna is just a consummate pro by now and the flattering and unfussy production by Nashville legend Dave Cobb makes it shine.

boygenius                                                    “The Record”

I do not need to tell you any more about boygenius than the national press has already trumpeted –magazine covers; national videos and television appearances. The zenith, finally, for this trio of off-kilter indie pop and rock goddesses. Each of Lucy Dacus, Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers has carved a unique niche in indie circles.

This release catalyzes their pop experimentation and facilely blends their voices into a unified sumptuous whole. And it is apparent their close friendship has yielded a more unified sonic template - start to finish. “True Blue” celebrates those moments that have constructed this shared life – warts and all. The vocals are, dare I say it, ethereal and almost angelic – though the lyrics are fraught, caustic and unsparingly self-reflective.

The National                                                           “First Two Pages Frankenstein”

The National released two complete collections in 2023 – this being the opener. And I will readily admit I am a sucker for the National’s brand of soporific, self-loathing and low-key performance.

The music is prototypical ‘National’; morbidly dry and mid-tempo; rangy, mopey ballads with Matt Berninger’s dry, whisper-like narration in the lead. Call it hypnotic, or numbing. It has its own sophistication and languid unfurling as an asset.

This music is calm; waltz-like at times. Throw in terrific duets with Phoebe Bridgers and Taylor Swift (no kidding – on “The Alcott”) and it is a meditational treatise.

Jen Cloher                                        “I am the River; The River is Me” 

An intriguing back-story intrigues. Jen Cloher makes assertive and slightly twisted indie rock, from unceded territory near Melbourne, Australia. And this thing rocks; with Cloher’s spoken word smokey, flattened vocals less sung than declaimed.

A pointed political intellect informs these mini anthems of rocking dissension. Nightsounds was mesmerized by “Protest Song”. It is a glimpse into another culture and political landscape that is not well known stateside. Engaging and edifying too.

Also Noted:  A Few of the Individual Releases of 2023 that Nightsounds loves

Steve Dawson                                  ‘Dreaming’

Margo Cilker                                   ‘Valley of Heart’s Delight’

Silvana Estrada                              ‘Toms Diner’ (a great Suzanne Vega cover)

Nuria Graham                                 ‘Cyclamen’ (Yes, It’s me the Goldfish)

Rufus Wainwright                         ‘Folkacracy’

Kassi Valazzi                                   ‘Knows Nothing’

Julia Pratt                                       ‘A Little Love’

Luluc                                                 ‘Diamonds’

Malin Anderson                              ‘Ships in the Night’

Dave Leonatti, Nightsounds
Email: theleos1@juno.com

 A favorite quote from musician Tim Freedman of The Whitlams:

“The easiest way to find meaning in life is to keep doing what you are actually quite good at and take a little bit of pleasure in occasionally being excellent”.

Dave Leonatti is an architect, freelance writer and self-professed music nut based in Springfield. He wrote music and performing arts reviews for the State Journal-Register. Dave started the Nightsounds program in the late 1980's.
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