The subject matter of this week's reviews includes grief and addiction.
Steve Earle and The Dukes
Country firebrand Steve Earle describes this album as "the only way I knew to say goodbye" and, in a perfect world, these recordings wouldn't exist at all.
They wouldn't need to. These songs pay tribute to Justin Townes Earle, his son, a talented singer-songwriter who, like his father, struggled with addiction. But unlike his father (65), Justin was unable to weather the storm and died in August of an overdose aged only 38.
In memory and to raise money for his granddaughter, Earle has recorded a batch of his son's songs and written one himself. It's gut-wrenching stuff, with Earle, who never struggles to conjure up blistering sincerity, driving the tracks into harsher, tougher territory.
With his backing band, The Dukes, Earle tumbles through the music with a blunted emotional intensity. His own song, Last Words, is the most affecting, as it recalls those final words between father and son - "I love you."
8/10 Review by Alex Green
The New OK
"It's a battle for the very soul of the USA," Patterson Hood warns on the title track of Drive-By Truckers' new album.
The New OK was written after he attended a Black Lives Matter march in July in his adopted home town of Portland, Oregon, and encountered a Proud Boys counter-protest.
A powerful video shot in the city during the summer shows police officers using tear gas and ends with pledging the band's support for the right to peaceful protest and opposition to white supremacy and bigotry.
For a band based on heavy touring for more than two decades, the pandemic shutdown hit hard, and The New OK is released just a year after their last record, The Unraveling.
Some of these nine songs came from those sessions, with Watching The Orange Clouds, like The New OK, written during the turmoil of last summer.
They are the angriest and most political, with the former track about tear gas spreading over Portland and Hood worrying about his children, who are asleep as the violence spreads.
The band showcase their soul side on the Stax-style Sea Island Lonely and the ballad Tough To Let Go.
The album ends with a romp through The Ramones' The KKK Took My Baby Away as Drive-By Truckers show on their 13th studio album they're at the top of their game.
8/10 Review by Matthew George
Taylor Swift's second surprise album is not just a testament to her pandemic productivity, but a career-redefining demonstration of her lyrical talent.
Evermore explores love and loss through songs ranging from hushed vocals to a call back to her country roots, all with an overarching indie feel set perfectly by opener Willow.
The ambitious murder ballad No Body, No Crime was a risk that paid off, while soft piano break-up tune Champagne Problems further demonstrates Swift's impressive world-building.
While the album is strong as a whole, a few tracks do fail to leave an impression, with Marjorie easily forgettable moments after listening.
But at its heart, Evermore shows Swift has found a comfortable home in the indie genre and is clearly there to stay.
8/10 Review by Jess Glass
Parallel and 871
Not nine months after releasing his last album, Four Tet has taken a page out of the Taylor Swift playbook and dropped, without warning or ceremony, two more.
Parallel and 871 came without warning, released on to streaming services at the tail end of December with the simplest of Twitter announcements.
On top of collaborations with Radiohead's Thom Yorke, Burial and Madlib, the south London producer and DJ, real name Kieran Hebden, has clearly been working hard during lockdown.
The two records are equally unique. Parallel is a 10-track ambient exploration with an opening track that stretches to an initially daunting 26 minutes and 46 second.
Meanwhile, 871, which stretches to a whopping 20 tracks, is more unpredictable.
With a palate taking in techno, folk and throbbing noise soundscapes, it's an album that sees him exploring more club-ready sounds.
What both lack in fun, they make up for in depth.
8/10 Review by Alex Green