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    ADRIAN THRILLS: The smooth soul man from LA is back… with an album full of catchy pop

    ADRIAN THRILLS: The smooth soul man from LA is back… with an album full of catchy pop

    ALOE BLACC: All Love Everything (BMG) 

    Verdict: Pop to lift the soul

    Rating:

    Quite why Aloe Blacc put his flourishing solo career on the back burner six years ago is something only he knows. 

    The dapper Los Angeles soul man had been on the cusp of major stardom, with two UK No. 1 singles and another, I Need A Dollar, that was every bit as ubiquitous.

    But Blacc — who topped the charts with Wake Me Up, a collaboration with Swedish DJ Avicii, and The Man — instead lent his rich voice to a string of side-projects. 

    He revived his hip-hop duo Emanon (‘no name’ spelt backwards), became a mentor on The Voice, and sang on Avicii’s posthumous third album.

    He’s now returning to a solo path with an album that embraces classic R&B, gospel ballads and acoustic pop.  

    Blacc, 41, refuses to pigeonhole his music, saying his songs are about ‘affirmation, inspiration and motivation’ and aren’t hidebound by genre.  

    Aloe Blacc, 41, is returning to a solo path with latest album, All Love Everything, that embraces classic R&B, gospel ballads and acoustic pop

    Aloe Blacc, 41, is returning to a solo path with latest album, All Love Everything, that embraces classic R&B, gospel ballads and acoustic pop

    All Love Everything is certainly eclectic. It’s also the kind of uplifting record we need right now.

    The singer, born Egbert Dawkins, has a knack of crafting songs that are raw and weighty, but also optimistic. 

    Working with a team that includes Danish multi-instrumentalist Jonas Jeberg and British producer Neil Ormandy, he’s a natural heir to the song-powered West Coast soul of Bill Withers.

    Raised by Panamanian parents who settled in Orange County, he also has an affinity with South and Central American music.

    There’s a Latin flavour to opening track Family and hints of Brazilian bossa nova on Glory Days, a song featuring a cornucopia of keyboards — organ, clavinet, Wurlitzer, Mellotron — and some lively horns.

    The importance of family is a recurring theme. The title track and piano ballad I Do touch on the singer’s marriage to rapper Maya Jupiter.

    Both songs are emotionally direct without being soppy. Nothing Left But You — which is more saccharine — describes how much he loves his wife when they are relaxing at home together.

    A sunny disposition extends to the gospel-tinged tracks. 

    Those keyboards — vibraphone and glockenspiel this time — are again to the fore on Hold On Tight, while Blacc hits some stunning high notes on anguished string ballad My Way, a song about looking forward towards ‘a better time’ rather than a cover of the standard made famous by Frank Sinatra.

    He also owes something to the Laurel Canyon folk-rock of Joni Mitchell and James Taylor, and closing track Harvard is a brilliant piece of acoustic storytelling inspired by a chance conversation with a woman who has taken on two jobs to support her family, including a son with special needs.

    Far from being downbeat, it’s typically philosophical. ‘We all got issues, it’s just the stuff we live through,’ he sings.

    ‘It’s easy to get stuck in the negative,’ he says. ‘I try to do whatever I can to help people out of that.’ This impeccably crafted pop-soul collection may just do the job.

    WARD THOMAS: Invitation (WTW) 

    Verdict: Country twins come of age

    Rating:

    There’s a homespun feel to the fourth album by UK country-pop twins Catherine and Lizzy Ward Thomas.

    Recorded in the living room of their Hampshire cottage, in a home studio that doubles as a chicken run, it is powered by chiming acoustic guitars and warm sibling harmonies.

    Their goal is to be ‘country and current’, and Invitation fits the bill perfectly.

    The sisters, 26, have faltered since becoming the first UK country act to top the charts with 2016’s Cartwheels.

    They crept into the Top 10 with Restless Minds in 2019, but have since parted company with major label Sony to release music independently, and Invitation was finished in isolation on a laptop loaded with studio software.

    There¿s a homespun feel to the fourth album by UK country-pop twins Catherine and Lizzy Ward Thomas (pictured) powered by chiming acoustic guitars and warm sibling harmonies

    There’s a homespun feel to the fourth album by UK country-pop twins Catherine and Lizzy Ward Thomas (pictured) powered by chiming acoustic guitars and warm sibling harmonies

    It’s more intimate all round than its predecessor. If Restless Minds found the duo looking outwards to sing about social media, the women’s movement and mental health, Invitation is introspective.

    It tackles the angst of a long-distance relationship, the need for self-respect and the loosening of sibling ties (Catherine now lives with her boyfriend).

    The mandolin-flecked ballad Meant To Be Me is an ode to the one that got away — ‘It was everything I need, but I thought I wanted more’ — while Someday, on which Lizzy sings about being able to talk to her faraway lover only on Zoom and Skype, feels particularly pertinent.

    The deaths of close family friends are lamented on Painted Legacy and If There Were Words. 

    If there’s a greater maturity to these coming-of-age songs, the harmonies that were always Ward Thomas’s calling card are intact. 

    Catherine’s sultry, soulful tones blend superbly with her sister’s strident pop voice.

    Don’t Be A Stranger and the banjo-accompanied Wait Up, about coming in late after playing a gig, are a lively contrast to the reflective moments.

    But it’s the stripped-back numbers on which they really shine, with Dear Me an almost a capella performance and Hold Space a simple tune that nods to early Taylor Swift.

    The only misstep is My Favourite Poison, a big, orchestral pop number that exposes the duo’s lack of range and power. 

    They’re not quite ready for that James Bond theme just yet.

    The three bonus tracks acknowledge peers and idols. 

    They collaborate with touring partners James Blunt and Jack Savoretti, covering Blunt’s Halfway and dovetailing neatly with Savoretti on a countrified live cover of The Killers’ Human.

    Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide is too obvious a choice, although the Stevie Nicks folk ballad is beautifully sung.

    Elton John joins the Gorillaz gang

    His Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour may have been put on hold, but Elton John is keeping in touch with fans by teaming up with Damon Albarn’s cartoon group Gorillaz on a new single, The Pink Phantom. 

    Elton John teams up with Damon Albarn's cartoon group Gorillaz on The Pink Phantom.

    Elton John teams up with Damon Albarn’s cartoon group Gorillaz on The Pink Phantom.

    The track, which features a rap by Atlanta R&B star 6lack, is part of the virtual band’s Song Machine collaborations project. 

    ‘I was in the studio in London and Damon was in Devon,’ Elton said of a track that has rhythmic echoes of his 1973 song Bennie And The Jets. 

    ‘But, even remotely, it was an engaging process.’ 

    AC/DC are ready to rock again on Shot In The Dark, their first new material since 2014’s Rock Or Bust. 

    With singer Brian Johnson, bassist Cliff Williams and drummer Phil Rudd back in the fold, the band stick to a tried-and-tested formula, with Angus Young’s turbo-charged blues riffs to the fore. 

    Fellow rock legends The Who revisit the song Beads On One String by releasing the original demo version of last year’s album track. 

    Mixed by Pete Townshend, who also plays synths, it’s softer than the LP take, though singer Roger Daltrey remains a forceful presence. 

    And former X Factor star Ella Henderson continues to find her feet as a credible solo artist as she collaborates with DJ Roger Sanchez on the club-orientated Dream On Me, while that song’s co-writer, Julia Michaels, moves from backroom girl to centre stage on her dance single Lie Like This.

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