This edition of ON the Beat was originally emailed to subscribers on August 31, 2023. To receive Josef Woodard’s music newsletter in your inbox each Thursday, sign up at

The death of the Long-Playing Record Album has been greatly exaggerated. In the evermore digital and track-oriented realm of music-making and marketing of our day, pundits and persons on the street are sounding the death knell of the album as we’ve known and loved it (when the music is loveable). But it ain’t so. And to be clear, nothing in the term “long-playing record album” actually indicates a format or physical medium, despite our associations with vinyl, compact-disc, cassette, 8-track, and now vinyl’s redux: the idea of an “album” of songs is the thing.
Taking a casual, highly-selective and genre-sweeping look at what 2023 — so far — has had to offer the public ear validates the ongoing vitality of the “album” concept and the challenge it presents to artists thinking more in big-picture rather than bite-sized dimensions. Partake of these platters of music as you wish, with whatever utensils or gadgets, but do partake, in large plate fashion. In the end-of-summer slump on the live music calendar, the calm before fall’s storm, recorded music is always there to soothe and rattle and hum.

Father John MistyChloe and the Next 20th Century (Sub Pop) Father John, a k a Josh Tillman, swept onto the Santa Barbara Bowl stage this month to deliver one of the more exhilarating and subversive shows of the year. At the root of this year’s Misty model is his “pandemic” album, which finds him soaking in a tub of “fake jazz,” Rufus Wainwright-y melodicism and such memorable ditties as his poignant, Glen Campbell-inspired ode to his belated pooch, “Goodbye Mr. Blue,” and the suave-then-punkishly-brash “The Next 20th Century.” link

AmareaFountain Baby (Golden Angel) Over the course of 14 songs in under 40 minutes, the deceptively soft-voiced Ghanaian-American singer, returning after her 2020 breakout album, graces and energizes a changeable musical landscape variously pop-tarted, Afrobeat-y, dance-fueled, electro, and acoustic textured. Pinches of punk sneak in, to boot. link

Lana del ReyDid you know there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd? (Interscope) Moody, cryptic, and surprisingly tuneful chanteuse Lana del Rey does it again. But does what? Serving as her own kind of musical/genre mixologist who confounds even as she lures our ears into her world, while tapping into gritty memories and existential angst, fleeting film and cultural references and dark corners of Americana. In the opening “Grants,” she mythologizes a selfie moment: “I’m gonna take mine of you with me/Like Rocky Mountain High/The way John Denver sings.” Ok then. link

Barbie: the Album (Atlantic) What can we say? The smartest and slyest woman/film on the 2023 block. Give into its wiles, even if it doesn’t include Matchbox 20’s “Push,” which the Kens “play at” their Barbies, until the tables turn. link

David VirellesCarta (Intakt) The thoughtful dynamo pianist David Virelles hails from Cuba, but has been based in New York for some years, and he is busy carving out a fascinating aesthetic from various components in his being: Cuba meets Brooklyn, traditional music meets a freshened-up jazz sensibility, which can veer far left and abstract-ish, without ever leaving a musical grounding of his particular devising. link

Henry Threadgill EnsembleThe Other One (Pi) At 79, the lavishly-laureled Henry Threadgill may be in the eminence gris category of jazz legends, but it’s hard to think of him in those terms, given his ever-young and venturesome spirit. Latest case in point, the expansive canvas of The Other One, rich in the ear-stretching personal vocabulary that Threadgill has developed for decades, but in a “chamber jazz” setting (which includes Virelles, incidentally). These days, we don’t get his signature alto sax sound, but he conducts, composes, and leads his charges into a “beyond” direction. link

Cécile McLorin SalvantMélusine (Nonesuch) McLorin Salvant — who we’ve had the pleasure of hearing in Santa Barbara a few times — remains one of the wonders of the jazz universe, vocal division. Here, she dives deep into the Franco-phonic sonic corner of her broad aesthetic, from originals going back as far as the 12th century, to mesmerizing ends. link

Aroof Aftab, Vijay and Shahzad IsmailyLove In Exile (Verve) Omni-gifted pianist-composer-thinker Vijay Iyer has stretched out over multiple musical zones, including edgy contemporary jazz, classical, and Indian music — a versatility he amply demonstrated as music director of the 2017 Ojai Music Festival. Here, Iyer moves into a meditative “worldly” area, with Urdu vocalist Aroof Aftab and multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily creating sumptuous, hypnotic musical tapestries: perfect late August balm music to sink into. link

(Live note: this special trio plays in the al fresco splendor of the Hollywood’s Ford Amphitheatre on September 20 link).


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