Album-a-rama: Vol. 2
The king of mainstream jazz is back. Gregory Porter had a massive 2013 & 2014 with Liquid Spirit which grew from nothing to one of those once a decade things, with sales off the chart. On his return Porter could play it safe, and he does to a degree, but there’s enough on Take Me To The Alley  to allow him to stretch. Ultimately though Porter is a jazz man at heart, whether it’s the relaxed opener ‘Hold On’, the melted chocolate gorgeousness of the title track, or the classic in waiting ‘Consequence Of Love’ with its sax solo, there won’t be a smoother set of tracks in 2016. Dance songstress Jessy Lanza gets you moving in a slightly more modern way on Oh No , with its dance floor beats driving the likes of ‘Never Enough’ and the sparky ‘It Means I Love you’.
Striking a more guitar-y note, Long Beach blues-rockers Rival Sons are back with their third long player. Over the course of their two previous records they’ve built a decent following and cemented a sound that straddles some of the best of their predecessors. Hollow Bones  makes the most of that tradition, with The Black Keys recent mainstream success influencing ‘Thundering Voices’, and the classic Led Zeppelin sound getting an nod on ‘Fade Out’. It’s all a bit obvious but mucho enjoyable, especially when the Californians indulge themselves on the near seven minutes of ‘Hollow Bones Pt. 2’. More rough are Spring King, with a blend of punk pace, rock melodies, and indie licks they’re confident on their debut, Tell Me If You Like , which opens fast and doesn’t let up.
Standing opposite to the Manchester rockers is the considered ethereal approach from The Duke Spirit. Their first album in five years is a welcome return. Driven by Liela Moss’ vocals and the swirling, spacious sounds created by the other four members, Spirit  is half moody alt.indie, half goth lyrics. ‘Sonar’ and its saline drip line referencing refrain sets the tone, while ‘Wounded Wing’ is a masterclass in understated drama. Adding another the our list of guitar rock are Icelandic quartet Kaleo. Their debut, A/B , is a mix of the bluesy, the folky, and the slightly introverted, along with a grab for the arena audience. There are some crackers here, the Bond-theme sounding ‘Way Down We Go’ and rollicking opener ‘No Good’, but they’re slightly offset by the dreary ‘Glass House’ and the only track in their native tongue, ‘Vor i Vaglaskogi’. Generally though, this is solid stuff.
Holding a torch for the 60s are boyband pioneers, now grandfather band, The Monkees. It’s a slight surprise to see them back with a new record after the untimely death of the face of the band, Davey Jones. Even more surprisingly Good Times  is a real return to the highs of ‘Little Bit Me, Little Bit You’ and its ilk. The list of songwriters is eclectic (mixing Neil Diamond with Noel Gallagher) but the threesome (along with old vocals from Jones on Diamond’s poignant ‘Love To Love’) blend the songs together to make a fulfilling whole. There are vintage Monkees melodies (Andy Partridge’s You Bring The Summer) and each gets their moment in the limelight, the best of which is Mike Nesmith singing the self penned ‘I Know What I Know’.
Finally Americana guitar hero Steve Gunn keeps up his productive period with more new music. The nine tracks on Eyes Between The Lines  cover the wandering electric folk of six minute opener ‘Ancient Jules’, through to the 60s summer of love sounds of final track ‘Ark’. Though at times it veers close to indulgent it always stays on the right side of that line. The world needs more artists confident in their own skins.