MUSIQUE BOUTIQUE: Julie Driscoll, Robin Holcomb, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Honey & the Bees

Welcome to Audiofemme’s record review column, Musique Boutique, written by music journo vet Gillian G. Gaar. The last Monday of each month, Musique Boutique offers a cross-section of noteworthy reissues and new releases guaranteed to perk up your ears.

If no one told you it was a reissue, you might think that Julie Driscoll’s 1969 (Esoteric Recordings) was a new release — it sounds that modern. The British musician got her start in the blues band Steampacket, where she met Brian Auger, later joining him in Brian Auger and the Trinity (who just released the great Far Horizons box set last month, featuring Driscoll’s spinetingling cover of “Season of the Witch”). That group found success with songs like their cover of “This Wheel’s On Fire,” and also terrorized the Monkees. But Driscoll wanted something more meaningful than pop stardom, so she went solo, writing all the songs on 1969, working with her future husband Keith Tippett (though despite its title, the record wouldn’t be released until 1971).

There are folk-influenced numbers, like “Those That We Love” with its melancholy refrain “Yes, it is those that we love, who will always forsake us/And it’s those that love us, we will always forget.” The propulsive jazz-rock fusion of “A New Awakening” has an agitation that reflects the fear and excitement of charting your own course. There’s the beauty of the contemplative “Lullaby.” “Break Out” flirts with prog rock, Driscoll’s soaring voice matched by Jim Cregan’s equally expressive guitar solo. “Leaving It All Behind” tempers its description of recovering from an emotional blow by setting it against a horn arrangement of trumpet, sax, trombone, and oboe. But Driscoll’s striking voice remains the most mesmerizing element.

Musician/composer Robin Holcomb is known for her eclectic approach to music, moving from her classical training to avant garde jazz and hitting all points in between, eventually composing for orchestra, theater, and film, along with her solo work. One Way or Another, Vol. 1 (Westerlies Records) is as solo as it gets; just Holcomb and a Steinway grand piano, revisiting her back catalogue and throwing in a few covers, in a four-day session held at SnowGhost studio in Whitefish, Montana.  

The musical mood is lovely and serene, but the lyrics reveal there’s much going on beneath the surface, as in this couplet from “Once:” “Cheating hearts grow lonesome, you can always tell/Diamond earrings glitter from the bottom of the well.” As for the covers, Randy Newman’s “Shining” is a perfect choice, a quietly devastating number about the trap of domesticity. She transforms the R&B swagger of Lil Green & the Howard Biggs Orchestra’s “I’ve Got that Feeling” into something more ethereal and mysterious. And her version of Stephen Foster’s “Old Dog Tray” is a haunting meditation of grief that accompanies longevity. The album’s release is accompanied by a November tour.

Hard to believe it’s been that long, but yes, it’s almost a decade since the Yeah Yeah Yeahs put out an album (2013’s Mosquito). Those who wondered if they’d ever hear new material from the indie rock trio (Karen O, Nick Zinner, Brian Chase) were finally rewarded with the release of Cool It Down (Secretly Canadian). “Spitting Off the Edge of the World,” the first single and the album’s lead off track, opens with the gentle thump-thump of a drum before exploding into a lush synthesized landscape (with Perfume Genius putting in a vocal appearance, delivering the shimmering line “She’s melting houses of gold”).

The irony about this track that sounds so majestic is that it’s about the decay of the planet due to climate change. There’s a similar cast to other songs on the album, focused on the beauty that can be culled from despair. In “Burning,” the response to a melting world is one of rapture, of throwing oneself into a whirling, spinning dance as the music crescendos around you. The unfulfilled desire on “Wolf” sounds glorious, as Karen O pleads with you to run off into the wild with her. The taut, tight beats of “Different Today” echo its matter of fact observations about the sorry state of the world. Sounds to me like the perfect soundtrack for the roiling times of 2022.

Real Gone Music resurrects one of the great lost albums of ’70s Philly soul with the release of Honey and the Bees’ 1970 album Love. The group is best known for their cover of “It’s Gonna Take a Miracle” (originally recorded by R&B group the Royalettes), a sweet slice of soul with gorgeous harmonies. Lead singer Nadine Felder has the kind of cool, clear voice that has her sounding in command even as she offers up a series of pleas, as in the songs “We Got to Stay Together,” “Make Love to Me,” “Please Have Mercy.”

The group had the further advantage of working with a number of people who’d go on to build the Philadelphia music scene into a powerhouse in the 1970s, including Leon Huff, who played piano on their records and later co-founded the Philadelphia International label with Kenneth Gamble and songwriter Thom Bell. With sophisticated arrangements of strings and horns, and a crisp remastering job, this marks the welcome return of a hidden gem. Released on (what else?) honey-colored vinyl.