For those of you not looking for another Bowie reflection/review, TL;DR, skip to the list at the bottom. For those of you who are into it, read on.
January was a tough time for many music fans, with the loss of some pretty legendary names. For me, it was the death of David Bowie that hit hardest. I can’t claim to have been a Bowie superfan, but his music was ever-present in my youth, and became the soundtrack to a lot of great memories as I grew into adulthood. Beyond liking the music Bowie created, I was even more fascinated by his ability to constantly reinvent himself, turning life into performance art. Nothing exposes the depth of this artistry better than the way he orchestrated his final months, turning his death into a powerful statement on 21st Century privacy, lifelong creativity, and going on your own terms.
The result of this period was Blackstar (officially ★), David Bowie’s final album, released on the artist’s 69th birthday, just two days before his death. I will never forget the shock I felt upon hearing of Bowie’s death just days after celebrating this latest release. What a surreal experience it was to go back and re-listen to the album within the confines of a completely different context. Lyrics took on haunting new meanings; music videos became more somber and stirring. The Thin White Duke was saying goodbye; we just weren’t listening.
This album would have been a great listen without the backstory, but knowing all the details and the way they were carefully crafted and presented just makes Blackstar the stuff of legend. It made me think a long while about my own mortality and wonder how I would choose to confront it: with careful plans and aggressive strides to make sure I left my loved ones with something lasting and memorable, or with fear and denial until my final moments. David Bowie’s last act showed us that it was possible to die with courage, dignity, and a flair for the dramatic. As he so eloquently said from the stage on his 50th birthday “I have no idea where I’m going from here, but I promise I won’t bore you” – I’m sure that even after his death, the legacy of David Bowie will continue to intrigue and entertain us for years to come.
That’s the long story of one of my new arrival picks, so I’ll just give you a list of brief highlights for the rest. Place your holds now! In the case of Blackstar, it might be a little bit, but it’s worth the wait.
Miloš Karadaglić – Blackbird: The Beatles Album (Mercury Classics) – love the Beatles? Like classical guitar? This is the album for you.
Shemekia Copeland – Outskirts of Love (Alligator Records) – A fiery, driving mix of blues, rock, and soul. It’s the type of album you want to listen to on repeat.
Cecile McLorin Salvant – For One to Love (Mack Avenue Records) – Delightful follow up to Salvant’s 2013 Grammy-nominated album, WomanChild. This 26-year-old jazz virtuoso has a phenomenal voice and a load of creativity.
Dexter Story – Wondem (Soundway) – For listeners looking to try a little of everything, look no further. Story effortlessly blends funk, jazz, soul, and traditional East African instrumentation and vocals to create vibrant and hypnotic soundscapes.
Cool Uncle – Cool Uncle (Fresh Young Minds) – What happens when smooth jazz icon Bobby Caldwell gets together with Grammy-winning producer Jack Splash (Kendrick Lamar, John Legend, Jennifer Hudson)? Well they make beautiful music, of course, and they have a great time doing it. This is largely a pop/funk/RnB record, with playful nods towards the worlds of smooth jazz and even yacht rock. It may sound borderline cheesy, but it’s the kind of cheese you could fall in love with. It’s great to see people with this level of talent having fun with their craft.