Music Reviews

There was far more to Leonard Bernstein than mere charisma

By Fred Mazelis, 25 September 2018

New Yorker music critic Alex Ross claims that Bernstein’s legacy is being exaggerated.

Young Euro Classic 2018—a display of boundless musical virtuosity and symphonic poetry

By Verena Nees, 3 September 2018

The 20 nearly sold-out concerts by international youth orchestras struck a clear musical counterpoint to the xenophobic and nationalist policies of the global political elites.

One of the greatest musical figures of the 20th century

The centenary of Leonard Bernstein—Part 2

By Fred Mazelis, 25 August 2018

There was no one else who combined Bernstein’s genius as a composer, conductor, educator and pianist.

One of the greatest musical figures of the 20th century

The centenary of Leonard Bernstein—Part 1

By Fred Mazelis, 24 August 2018

There was no one else who combined Bernstein’s genius as a composer, conductor, educator and pianist.

Aretha Franklin (1942-2018)—A tribute to the Queen of Soul

By Hiram Lee, 18 August 2018

Legendary soul singer Aretha Franklin died August 16 at the age of 76. She was a major figure, one of the great performers of the second half of the twentieth century.

Acoustic Classics—the new old songs of Rodney Crowell

By Hiram Lee, 15 August 2018

On his new album Acoustic Classics, country singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell revisits a selection of his songs in new stripped-down all acoustic recordings.

Jazz goes country—the music of Charles Lloyd and Lucinda Williams

By Hiram Lee, 7 August 2018

Vanished Gardens, a new collaboration between jazz musician Charles Lloyd and country singer Lucinda Williams, is a seamless and enjoyable blend of multiple genres of music.

David Byrne’s American Utopia: Fighting difficulties with false cheerfulness

By Matthew MacEgan, 27 July 2018

The album is intended to be the musical component of a larger multimedia project entitled Reasons to Be Cheerful, which is an attempt at spreading “positivity” in the wake of the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency.

Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You: A “ladder-climber” in the corporate world

By Matthew Brennan, 25 July 2018

The film is a dark comedy written and directed by Boots Riley, artist, political activist and rapper from Oakland, California. He is best-known as a longtime member of the music group The Coup.

Punk bassist Steve Soto dead at 54

By Josh Varlin, 10 July 2018

Soto was best known for his work with the seminal hardcore punk band Adolescents.

Donald Glover’s hit music video “This is America”

By Zac Corrigan, 1 June 2018

Within 24 hours, “This is America” had been viewed 12.9 million times and the song debuted at #1 on the Billboard chart. It has now been viewed more than 200 million times.

Rapper Kendrick Lamar wins the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Music

By Hiram Lee, 28 May 2018

Pulitzer’s choice to recognize the rapper cannot be viewed as anything but a nod to identity politics and the Democratic Party.

Music streaming service Spotify initiates censorship against R. Kelly and XXXTentacion

By Zac Corrigan, 19 May 2018

Spotify inaugurated its “Hate Content & Hateful Conduct” policy by censoring the two singers based on allegations of “sexual violence.” Competitors Apple Music and Pandora Radio followed suit.

The Jazz Ambassadors: An episode in the history of the American musical form

By Fred Mazelis, 14 May 2018

US foreign policy officials concluded that “jazz could give America an edge in the Cold War,” with mostly African-American musicians, “serv[ing] as Cold War cultural ambassadors.”

Interview with conductor William Barkhymer: “I think the world is just thankful we had Gershwin to compose Porgy and Bess

By Barry Grey, 25 April 2018

“For me, Porgy and Bess is about a community, the people, how they interact with each other, how they hold together in good times and bad times.”

The death of rapper-producer Alias and the fate of “avant-garde” hip hop

By Nick Barrickman, 13 April 2018

Brendon Whitney (“Alias”) was a founding member of the experimental hip hop/electronic music label Anticon.

May Your Kindness Remain from Courtney Marie Andrews

By Matthew Brennan, 23 March 2018

The new album from 27-year-old country singer Courtney Marie Andrews is a sensitive look at the lives of ordinary people struggling to stay afloat.

Evolve by Imagine Dragons: Noisy emotion without artistic depth

By Ed Hightower, 23 March 2018

The latest album by Imagine Dragons is part of a self-pitying and overwrought trend in pop music.

“A world without nations”—On the death of German jazz guitarist Coco Schumann

By Bernd Reinhardt, 2 March 2018

The German jazz guitarist Coco Schumann remained active musically until near the end of his life. He ranks as a jazz musician with one of the longest musical biographies ever.

“This is a great loss for both the community of San Diego and Tijuana”

Baja California and San Diego lose sole classical music station

By Norisa Diaz, 1 March 2018

The popular station was eventually forced off the air yesterday after struggling financially for over a decade.

Bill Frisell: A Portrait—an intimate documentary about a unique guitarist

By Richard Phillips, 23 February 2018

Emma Franz’s film is a fascinating overview of Frisell’s creative work and his constant search for new musical challenges.

A conversation with Emma Franz, director of Bill Frisell: A Portrait

By Richard Phillips, 23 February 2018

Filmmaker and musician Emma Franz speaks about her latest documentary and the political and artistic conceptions that informed her approach.

Colors: Beck’s foray into mainstream pop

By Jay James, 5 February 2018

The 11 albums Beck released prior to Colors blended a dizzying array of genres, resulting in a series of psychedelic funk, soul, folk, hip-hop and and rock-infused anthems that have consistently topped the charts.

Robert Mann (1920-2018), founder of the Juilliard String Quartet

By Fred Mazelis, 10 January 2018

Mann championed the collaborative musical form of the string quartet, and helped train generations of famed musicians.

Pop and jazz in 2017

By Hiram Lee, Matthew Brennan and Nick Barrickman, 30 December 2017

With a few exceptions, the top of the Billboard charts in 2017 was home to one conformist and forgettable album after another, or worse.

One hundred years since the birth of Romanian pianist and composer Dinu Lipatti

By Clara Weiss, 20 December 2017

Lipatti left a legacy of outstanding recordings of the major works of classical music, and is justly considered one of the greatest musicians of the twentieth century.

Dover Quartet recital offers unusual program, including works by “forgotten composers” Viktor Ullmann and Szymon Laks

By Fred Mazelis, 18 December 2017

The youthful quartet played chamber music in New York November 18, composed in the darkest days of the Holocaust, bearing witness against fascist barbarism.

Dmitri Hvorostovsky (1962-2017), one of opera’s greatest baritones

By Fred Mazelis, 11 December 2017

The Siberian-born singer, who was known especially for his Verdi and Tchaikovsky roles, had performed in nearly every major opera house in the world.

The Spark: UK band Enter Shikari at an artistic cross-roads

By Ben Trent, 18 November 2017

With the new album, the band is attempting to navigate their way through an increasingly fraught political and social atmosphere and to encourage an alternative.

The death of rapper Lil Peep and the tragedy of youth

By Nick Barrickman, 18 November 2017

Lil Peep, who died November 15 of a drug overdose while on tour, had come to be seen as the foremost representative of the genre-bending musical style known as “emo rap.”

Remembering Fats Domino

By Hiram Lee, 4 November 2017

Rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Fats Domino died October 24 at the age of 89. The gifted pianist was second only to Elvis Presley in popularity during the early days of the genre.

Memories… Do Not Open by The Chainsmokers

By Ed Hightower, 30 October 2017

The full-length debut of Electronic Dance Music duo The Chainsmokers, which features an appearance by Coldplay, is a mostly shallow party record.

Rapper Cardi B (“Bodak Yellow”) celebrated as a feminist icon

By Hiram Lee, 9 October 2017

In truth, “Bodak Yellow” is a vulgar work that glorifies backward and genuinely anti-social impulses.

On the loss of Tom Petty

By Hiram Lee, 5 October 2017

Tom Petty died suddenly October 2 at the age of 66. He was a genuine and unpretentious songwriter and performer.

Sidemen: Long Road to Glory—A heartfelt tribute to three bluesmen

By James Brewer, 21 September 2017

Scott D. Rosenbaum’s film documents the lives of three blues musicians whose talents graced the bands of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf.

Randy Newman and the problems of Dark Matter

By Hiram Lee, 24 August 2017

The latest album by songwriter Randy Newman satirizes Vladimir Putin, the Bay of Pigs invasion and the conflict between science and religion.

“The night our eyes changed”

Five musical responses to the Grenfell Tower inferno

By Paul Bond, 16 August 2017

Music mogul Simon Cowell brought together high-profile figures for a cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water, but a far more powerful and politically interesting response has come from local artists.

DL Menard (1932-2017): The voice of Cajun music

By Paul Bond, 2 August 2017

The revival of the fortunes of traditional Cajun music owes much to Menard’s love of country music, and his warmly nasal voice.

Jay-Z’s 4:44: A further display of hubris and self-absorption

By Nick Barrickman, 24 July 2017

Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter’s 4:44, released June 30 on his Roc Nation label and available through Carter’s streaming service Tidal, is the rapper and entrepreneur’s thirteenth studio album.

Roger Waters’ Is This the Life We Really Want?: An angry, depressed protest against war and nationalism

By Kevin Reed, 9 June 2017

In 12 tracks and 55 minutes, Waters paints a picture of a desperate world and he issues an angry protest—if also a disheartened outburst—against the things that make it so.

The case of punk duo PWR BTTM: The erosion of democratic rights in pop culture

By Norisa Diaz, 5 June 2017

The New York-based band has been banished from the music industry following social media allegations of sexual assault, undermining the long-standing legal principle that the accused is presumed “innocent until proven guilty.”

Singer-musician Chris Cornell (1964-2017) dies at 52

By Adam Soroka, 22 May 2017

Cornell (born July 20, 1964 in Seattle, Washington) will be best remembered as the lead vocalist of the Seattle metal band Soundgarden. His vocals combined an R&B sensibility with a dynamic, multi-octave range.

Musician-singer Valerie June’s The Order Of Time: A warm album, but …

By Matthew Brennan, 18 May 2017

The album is June’s first proper release since the 2013 album Pushing Against a Stone, which made her a nationally known artist in the US.

On the Freedom Highway with Rhiannon Giddens

By Hiram Lee, 15 April 2017

Folk singer Rhiannon Giddens’ latest album will almost certainly be counted among the best of this year.

Rock ’n’ roll great Chuck Berry dead at 90

By Hiram Lee, 23 March 2017

It would be difficult to overstate Berry’s influence on American popular music in the second half of the 20th century. Perhaps more than any other artist in the genre, he defined the sound of rock ’n’ roll.

Why is the Flaming Lips’ Oczy Mlody so disappointing?

By Hiram Lee, 27 February 2017

Indie rock veterans The Flaming Lips have returned with a new album of mostly detached psychedelia.

Daniel Barenboim conducts the Bruckner symphony cycle in New York

By Fred Mazelis, 20 February 2017

A late 19th century composer who has some detractors gets his big moment at Carnegie Hall.

Columnist Myles E. Johnson on Beyoncé at the Grammys

The New York Times opens its pages to frenzied racialism

By David Walsh, 16 February 2017

The February 14 op-ed piece in the Times by Myles E. Johnson (“What Beyoncé Won Was Bigger Than a Grammy”) is an especially repugnant example of racialism.

Recording artists voice opposition to the White House at 2017 Grammy Awards

By Nick Barrickman, 15 February 2017

Numerous Grammy Award-winning music artists took to the stage on Sunday’s awards ceremony to criticize the new US administration.

Composer David Axelrod dies at age 85

By Nick Barrickman, 15 February 2017

Axelrod crafted and inspired some of the more haunting, cinematic and versatile popular American music during the second half of the 20th century.

Rap artist Yasiin Bey’s “final” performance at Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center

By Nick Barrickman, 7 January 2017

Bey’s humane and charismatic personality was on display at his Washington, D.C. performances; with the artist rapping, crooning, drumming and at times breaking into dance on stage.

Popular music in 2016

By Hiram Lee and Matthew Brennan, 31 December 2016

Much of the pop music released in North America this past year was uninspired and superficial. Some was merely empty-headed and crude.

Greg Lake, pioneer of progressive rock music, dies at 69

By Kevin Reed, 17 December 2016

Greg Lake was a founder, along with schoolmate Robert Fripp, of the British band King Crimson in 1968 and later the 1970s’ supergroup Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

Silent Night: A moving contemporary opera on the 1914 Christmas truce

By Fred Mazelis, 29 November 2016

The opera has received almost a dozen productions since its premiere five years ago.

Leonard Cohen (1934-2016) dies at 82

By Hiram Lee, 23 November 2016

Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, famed for songs such as “Suzanne,” “The Stranger Song,” “So Long, Marianne,” “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye,” “Famous Blue Raincoat” and “Bird on the Wire,” died November 7 at the age of 82.

Musicians speak out at concert to support Pittsburgh Symphony strike

By Evan Winters, 26 October 2016

Members of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, together with other musicians and PSO students, played to hundreds of people in person and thousands more online.

Young Euro Classic: International music festival in shadow of European Union crisis

By Verena Nees, 19 September 2016

The summer music festival was held in Berlin for the seventeenth time and attracted an audience of 26,000 to the Berlin concert hall at the Gendarmenmarkt.

Toots Thielemans: 1922-2016

“That little space between a smile and a tear”

By James Brewer, 25 August 2016

The Belgian-born multi-instrumental jazz musician became widely known for his virtuosic harmonica playing.

Musician-singer M.I.A dropped from Afropunk festival for criticizing Black Lives Matter

By David Walsh and Zac Corrigan, 18 July 2016

M.I.A. has every right to criticize Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar, who travel in privileged circles around the Obamas and other leading Democratic Party figures.

A tribute to German Sinto musician Häns’che Weiss

By Bernd Reinhardt, 16 July 2016

In addition to a remarkable command of his instrument, guitarist Häns’che Weiss was distinguished by his thrilling musicality.

Bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley dead at 89

By Hiram Lee, 6 July 2016

Ralph Stanley led one of the most remarkable groups in Bluegrass music and was among the genre’s greatest banjo players and singers.

Anohni speaks on war, inequality and Obama

By George Marlowe, 6 June 2016

The World Socialist Web Site spoke to Anohni about her new album.

Anohni’s Hopelessness: A protest against war, drone bombings and more

“If I killed your mother with a drone bomb, how would you feel?”—Crisis

By Zac Corrigan, 6 June 2016

Anohni is the British-born, American transgender singer formerly known as Antony Hegarty who released five albums under the name Antony and the Johnsons.

Prince (1958-2016)

By Hiram Lee, 27 April 2016

While music icon Prince, who died April 21 at the age of 57, was among the more electrifying performers of his generation, his work could be terribly uneven.

A concert of relative rarities by American composer Aaron Copland

By Fred Mazelis, 23 April 2016

Copland’s jazz-influenced Piano Concerto deserves a higher profile in the orchestral repertoire.

The Hope Six Demolition Project: PJ Harvey takes on war and global poverty

By Matthew MacEgan, 22 April 2016

Harvey’s new album is the product of the artist’s investigation into the poverty and devastation being inflicted on different parts of the globe.

Born to Be Blue and Miles Ahead: Why so much fiction when life is fascinating enough?

By John Andrews, 7 April 2016

Films based on the lives and personas of post-World War II jazz musicians Chet Baker and Miles Davis have been released recently.

Rapper Phife Dawg from A Tribe Called Quest dead at 45

By Hiram Lee, 29 March 2016

The members of A Tribe Called Quest were more relatable than the superstar rappers who came before them and more sensitive and intelligent than the lyricists of then-emerging gangster rap.

Ten years since the death of hip hop artist James “J Dilla” Yancey

By Nick Barrickman, 21 March 2016

A talented musician, Yancey is considered by many to have been among the greatest of all hip hop producers.

Beatles producer George Martin dies at 90

By Hiram Lee, 15 March 2016

Legendary music producer George Martin, who supervised almost all of the Beatles’ recordings, died on March 8.

Jazz album: Crisis by Amir ElSaffar and the Two Rivers Ensemble

By Jeff Lusanne, 22 January 2016

An album fusing Western jazz traditions and traditional Arab music preserves an endangered Iraqi art form and creates a new sound.

The year in popular music

30 December 2015

World Socialist Web Site music writers pick their favorite recordings of 2015.

An interview with performer, educator and archivist of the Great American Songbook, Michael Feinstein

By Barry Grey, 23 December 2015

“I feel that this body of work is timeless, because it has a level of craft, inspiration and quality that transcends the era in which it was created.”

Red Pill’s Look What This World Did To Us: The “everyman mentality,” its strengths and weaknesses

By Nick Barrickman, 20 November 2015

Look What This World Did To Us (April 2015, Mello Music Group) is the third full-length studio album from Detroit-area rapper/producer Red Pill (born Chris Orrick, 1987).

Mose Allison—American Legend: Mose’s live music finally leaves the room

By James Brewer, 18 November 2015

Recorded at a series of shows in Northern California in 2006, this live CD epitomizes Allison at his best.

New Orleans songwriter, musician Allen Toussaint dead at 77

By Hiram Lee, 12 November 2015

On tour at the time of his death, Toussaint suffered a heart attack following a performance at the Teatro Lara in Madrid, Spain.

Kamasi Washington’s The Epic: A bold statement in jazz

By Jeff Lusanne, 17 September 2015

The Epic is a striking new work in jazz that successfully incorporates many influences into a unique new big band sound, and provides an engaging concert experience.

Woman: The confessions of R&B singer Jill Scott

By Hiram Lee, 9 September 2015

The latest album from the neo-soul singer is an interesting but uneven effort.

Young Euro Classic: A music festival in Berlin opposing war and nationalism

By Verena Nees, 31 August 2015

The annual Young Euro Classic youth orchestra festival recently concluded with a memorable performance in the Berlin Concert Hall.

Straight Outta Compton: an uncritical picture of the rise of American “gangster rap”

By Nick Barrickman, 25 August 2015

Straight Outta Compton is a hip hop biopic focusing on the rise to prominence of the influential hip hop group N.W.A. in the late 1980s.

The Good Fight: the latest from Washington DC-based hip hop artist Oddisee

By Nick Barrickman, 21 August 2015

While avoiding many of the more overt expressions of self-absorption, many of the Oddisee’s attempts to reflect reality remain purely on an individual and superficial plane.

Amy, a documentary film about the British singer Amy Winehouse

By Joanne Laurier, 12 August 2015

Asif Kapadia’s documentary is a straightforward and compelling account of the performer’s life starting at the age of fourteen.

Chris Squire, founding member of Yes, dead at 67

By Kevin Reed, 30 July 2015

The British-born bass player, song writer and vocalist for the progressive rock band Yes, died on June 27 at his home in Phoenix, Arizona. He was 67.

What Happened, Miss Simone?: The life of African-American singer, pianist and civil rights activist Nina Simone

By Helen Hayes and Fred Mazelis, 22 July 2015

Simone did not so much move between different genres—jazz, gospel, blues and folk—as combine them into her own unique and powerful style.

Strange Fruit by Kenan Malik: A polemic against racism and identity politics

By Nancy Hanover, 29 June 2015

The WSWS is reposting a 2010 review of Strange Fruit, a book by British journalist and scientist Kenan Malik, who penned a thoughtful look on the complex biological, social and historical issues involved in the notion of race and racism.

To Pimp a Butterfly from rapper Kendrick Lamar

By Nick Barrickman, 1 June 2015

Despite the album’s billing as socially ­conscious “political rap” by certain critics, the focus of To Pimp ... is largely on the rapper himself and his personal experiences in the music world.

Blues musician B.B. King, 1925-2015

By James Brewer, 18 May 2015

The iconic American blues artist died May 15 at 89, after dozens of albums and decades of intensive touring.

“Cultural appropriation,” “white privilege” and the attacks on rapper Iggy Azalea

By Nick Barrickman and David Walsh, 20 February 2015

In recent months, the hip hop music industry has witnessed a controversy surrounding the commercial success of Australian-born rapper Iggy Azalea.

Singer Joe Cocker: 1944-2014

By James Brewer, 3 January 2015

The iconic British rock performer died on December 22 of lung cancer at the age of 70.

The year in music: Favorite recordings of 2014

By our reporters, 31 December 2014

World Socialist Web Site music writers pick their favorite pop and jazz recordings of 2014.

New albums from saxophonists Dayna Stephens and Walter Smith III

By Hiram Lee, 27 December 2014

The music of saxophonists Stephens and Smith reveals some of the strengths and weaknesses in contemporary jazz.

Run the Jewels 2 from rappers Killer Mike and El-P

By Nick Barrickman, 10 December 2014

Run the Jewels 2 is the second full-length studio effort from the hip hop duo Run the Jewels, consisting of rapper Killer Mike and rapper-producer El-P.

Israel Nash on the way to excellence with Rain Plans

By Eric London, 25 November 2014

The musician has broken through with his third album, which combines late-1960s rock influences with the plaintive drawl of the Southwestern country desperado.

Atlanta Symphony musicians agree to concessions after nine-week lockout

By Fred Mazelis, 13 November 2014

The latest contract follows a pattern across the US, but there is also growing anger at the corporate stranglehold on culture.

The Gold Mine by Kelsey Waldon: Life, more or less

By Dylan Lubao, 16 October 2014

Kelsey Waldon sets out to tell small-town stories in her debut album.

New Met Opera contract sets precedent for further givebacks

By Fred Mazelis, 20 August 2014

An all-night bargaining session produced a four-year deal based on “equality of sacrifice.”

Sage Francis’s Copper Gone: A critic, but frustrated

By Nick Barrickman, 6 August 2014

Francis is best known for his passionate vocal performances and thought-provoking lyrics that express understandable anger at the conditions of modern society.

The Passenger depicts the Holocaust and its aftermath in opera form

By Fred Mazelis, 25 July 2014

This “lost opera,” written in the late 1960s, deserves a permanent place in the repertoire.

Interesting music in 2014 so far

By our reporters, 12 July 2014

World Socialist Web Site music reviewers pick some of the more interesting albums or songs released in the first half of 2014.

The career of popular songwriter Gerry Goffin (1939-2014)

By Hiram Lee, 7 July 2014

Lyricist Gerry Goffin passed away in June at the age of 75. Together with composer Carole King, he wrote many of the better known pop hits of the 1960s.