July Music Review (part 1) – La Roux, Tom Petty, Jenny Lewis, Hurray for the Riff Raff

There’s been a lot going on in terms of new releases of interest this month, including from a couple of my all time favourites, plus we’re a little behind, so we’re doing a double-header today and tomorrow.

La Roux had a huge hit with her eponymous debut album and two mega singles way back in 2009 (remember In For The Kill and Bulletproof?) After some difficulties with her own psyche and her previous collaborator, she is finally back with Trouble in Paradise. As another reviewer noted, it certainly doesn’t sound like the product of a tortured musical process. Light but not trivial, fun but not silly, think mid- period Blondie, early Madonna, classic funky disco-pop songs, with the occasional rather lovely ballad thrown in (Paradise is You is really great).

The riff in the opening Uptight Downtown will remind readers of a certain age of Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”, and there are nods to Chic (Tropical Chancer) and other disco faves. But she has the knack of writing tunes that instantly feel recognisable without being overt rip-offs, and that’s quite an art. If we’re making comparisons in its genre, it’s maybe not as strong as last year’s pop genius of Tegan and Sara, but it’s very enjoyable, and with a deeper edge if you listen to the lyrics on tracks such as Cruel Sexuality. 8/10


Tom Petty is old enough to be La Roux’s grandfather.   And whilst Hypnotic Eye, his latest, owes just as much to the music of the past as her work, his energy and passion here would put most 25 year old artists to shame. Petty is one of my half dozen favourite artists of all time, and it’s great to see him moving away from the somewhat laid-back groove he had got into in recent years.

Going back to his rock and roll roots, he lays into eleven new songs like an angry young man; it could be 1977 all over again. It’s not party political in terms of the message, but he has a go at the “American Dream”, the church, the morality of the times, and a few other targets along the way, all backed with Stooges-type power chords, guitar solos, driving rhythm section and harmony vocals. From the first growling guitar riff of American Dream Plan B, (strangely reminiscent of Word Up), this is a pretty full-on guitar rock album, nothing revolutionary in musical terms but a return to form for anyone who likes his early work. 8/10


And another one of my all-time favourites, Jenny Lewis, releases Voyager. She was the front woman and co-songwriter for the late lamented Rilo Kiley, one of the smartest US indie bands of recent years. Her previous solo album, back in 2006, Rabbit Fur Coat was an odd but impressive Americana, country-folk-soul effort in conjunction with the Watson Twins. This new album is much more in the Rilo Kiley mode, less quirky and more straight pop-rock. It’s produced with an attractive clarity of sound by Ryan Adams (yet another of my all time heroes) – you might have expected a country feel from him, but that’s not the case, although he brings various styles to the different songs, from dreamy pop to a somewhat more rock sound.

I wonder though whether this will work for her in terms of defining a career as a solo artist. I like it, I still love her voice, but her previous fans might find a few tracks a little bland, without the Rilo Kiley edge, whilst the songs are perhaps not quite strong enough in themselves to convert a new audience. I hope I’m wrong. 7/10 (but may be a grower).  Play spot the star* in this video too...

Hurray for the Riff Raff is led by Alynda Lee Segarra, who has an interesting back story (Puerto-Rican by descent, born in New York, ran away from home, road the freight trains, lives in New Orleans now). On Small Town Heroes, their fifth album, she brings a vibrant, fresh like attitude to a sound that is in the main old-time US rural folk, with fiddles, murder ballads and harmonicas. And there’s more than a touch of the New Orleans blues in there too, not surprisingly.

What makes her approach special is the way she approaches these old traditions – not with a reverential approach, but full-on, with an almost punk-like directness. But don’t worry, she doesn’t have a punk-type voice. Hers is a gorgeous, smooth but soulful instrument, and although if you hate country music this probably won’t convert you, it’s miles away from the pre-packaged bland stuff Nashville sometimes favours. Personally, I love it. 8.5/10

* Looking at Anne Hathaway in a whole new light here. Wow. 

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  1. Paul Wright:

    I’m sure that Jenny Lewis’s second album Acid Tongue just slipped your mind. Its not as good as Rabbit Fur Coat, but i liked the Johnny & Jenny album. Mostly though I miss Rilo Kiley

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