After what felt like an endless winter, spring is finally here! At last, we can put our coats and hoodies away, open our windows, and get some sun on our skin. And since your windows are open, why not put a new record from the Vinyl Store on your turntable and crank up the volume? We’ve got a lot of spring arrivals this year, including new albums from Sara Bareilles, Khalid, the National, and Vampire Weekend, along with new film and Broadway soundtracks and a best of R.E.M. collection. Read on for more, and keep checking in with the Vinyl Store to see what we’re adding to our collection.
Free Spirit, by Khalid
Khalid makes quintessential spring music; sunny, chill, and full of good vibes. Free Spirit is his follow-up to debut album American Teen and 2018 EP Sunplay, and his baritenor voice remains just as impressive. His brand of R&B is refreshing, veering neither into celebrity swagger or rainy day melancholia. Even songs that aren’t explicitly positive—“Talk” being a great example—carry an earnest optimism. “Better” and the album’s title track “Free Spirit” are two of the best songs here, and the whole album is perfect for welcoming warm weather.
Amidst the Chaos, by Sara Bareilles
When Sara Bareilles isn’t contributing music to Broadway, she’s making great albums of her own. Her latest effort, Amidst the Chaos, is inspired by the 2016 presidential election and cultural developments that followed. “Armor” is a response to #metoo and the confirmation of Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh, and “A Safe Place to Land” is about family separations along the U.S.-Mexico border, and features a duet with John Legend. It’s not all sad, though; “No Such Thing” and “If I Can’t Have You” were both written for Barack Obama.
Dumbo 2019 Soundtrack
The remake of classic Disney film Dumbo means a redo of the soundtrack as well. That work was trusted to legendary film composer Danny Elfman, whose goal was to give the film a very distinct musical identity. In some cases—as with the film’s main theme—this means simpler compositions than one might expect from Elfman, driven by his belief that Dumbo is a simple story. Elfman’s intuition results in a dynamic soundtrack that is in turns playful and sinister; the differences between the playful woodwinds and timpani in “Meet the Family” and the tense strings in “Holt in Action” are startling.
Begin Again, by Norah Jones
Begin Again is album number seven for the multi-talented Norah Jones, and it might be the most fun one yet. Jones told Rolling Stone that her intentions for this album were “quick and fun and easy and low-pressure,” so she kept her songwriting process spontaneous and didn’t spend more than three days on any of the seven tracks here, including recording time. Consequently, these songs are looser than her previous albums, and frankly it’s something she should do often. The title track is ultra-catchy and driven by a simple piano melody, and the guitar in “A Song With No Name” is downright relaxing, despite its somewhat chilling lyrics.
Stages Live (CD/DVD), by Josh Groban
Originally recorded for PBS in late 2015, Stages Live features Josh Groban doing what he does best: singing hits from the Broadway stage. Josh’s voice is in particularly good form on “Bring Him Home,” “Over the Rainbow,” and our personal favorite, “Pure Imagination.” While this album is missing a couple of songs from the studio album Stages, it does come with a DVD of the entire live performance, featuring duets with Kelly Clarkson (“All I Ask of You,”) and Audra McDonald (“If I Loved You”). Through it all, Groban’s unparalleled diction and range allow him to connect emotionally with every song.
In Time: The Best of R.E.M., by R.E.M.
Originally released in 2003, this collection starts with R.E.M.’s 1988 album Green and ends at their 2001 album Reveal. Alongside obvious favorites like “Losing My Religion,” “Everybody Hurts,” “Stand,” and “Man on the Moon” are less-appreciated songs like “All the Right Friends” (from the Vanilla Sky soundtrack) and “E-Bow the Letter.” In Time offers a solid overview of R.E.M.’s impressive legacy as a band and demonstrates why they were one of alt rock’s breakthrough bands. Their sound, built on jangly guitars and Michael Stipe’s folk-music voice, holds up beautifully.
Father of the Bride, by Vampire Weekend
Singer and lead guitarist Ezra Koenig said he was aiming for a springtime vibe with this album, and he wasn’t kidding. “Harmony Hall” has a real Grateful Dead-Meets-Paul Simon feel to it, and fans of Cornershop will love “Unbearably White,” whose title might be a cheeky reference to the most common criticism of the band. But “Sunflower” is the clear standout, opening with a guitar riff that will get stuck in your head for weeks, and featuring a bubbly tempo that compliments the equally bubbly lyrics. Play this one with the windows open.
We Get By, by Mavis Staples
Mavis Staples has been performing rhythm and blues, with a heavy emphasis on blues, since the late 1960s, so it comes as no surprise that she’s really good at it. Her upcoming album We Get By was produced by Ben Harper (who also wrote the songs), and will hit shelves around her 80th birthday. For someone who jokes about being over the hill, Staples sings with more gusto and conviction than most younger blues singers, and keeps the music stripped down to the essentials. “Change,” the album’s lead single, is both powerful and simple, with a roadhouse guitar lick and catchy backup singers underscoring Staples’ own smooth, gutsy vocals.
12 Little Spells, by Esperanza Spalding
Jazz savant and Harvard professor Esperanza Spalding’s newest album furthers her reputation as a furnace of ambition; each song is meant to correspond with a part of the human body, and they all have their own videos. But don’t worry, this record more than holds up on its own. Jazz is often used as background music these days, but Spalding’s freewheeling, intellectually stimulating compositions require the listener’s full attention. To borrow a phrase from Paste Magazine, this is not “dinner jazz.” What it is, however, is really good, especially the tracks “Thang,” “Until the Next Full,” and “The Longing Deep Down.”
Disney’s remake of its 1994 classic Aladdin doesn’t just have an updated soundtrack, it has two completely new songs. Alan Menken and the songwriting duo Pasek & Paul (of La La Land fame) wrote a new duet for Aladdin and Jasmine, and a solo for Jasmine titled “Speechless.” They’ve also updated “Arabian Nights” and “Friend Like Me,” which has been altered to suit Will Smith’s comedic style. They’ve certainly got big shoes to fill—the original soundtrack is beloved for good reason—but the new voices of Aladdin and Jasmine (Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott, respectively) are incredible, and Smith is as effortlessly charming as ever.
I Am Easy To Find, by the National
I Am Easy to Find is the National’s eighth studio album, and their most ambitious in two ways, Not only is it their longest effort to date, it’s a companion piece to a short film that will be released alongside the record. It’s also another impressive take on college rock by a band that has basically mastered it; the somber lyrics and interesting composition make these songs more fun and spring-appropriate than one might expect. They’ve also picked some mega-talented female guest vocalists, including longtime David Bowie collaborator Gail Dorsey and Lisa Hannigan, who supplies Blue Diamond’s voice on Steven Universe.
Living Mirage, by The Head and The Heart
Seattle-based folk band The Head and The Heart are set to release Living Mirage this May, and without cofounder Josiah Johnson. In his absence, the band has spiced up their tried-and-true folk sensibility with flourishes of pop; the album’s lead single, “Missed Connection,” adds piano and even synth to the mix. If this song reminds you of the Killers, or even Toto, you aren’t the only one. The album’s title track, on the other hand, holds tighter to the band’s traditional folk sound, albeit with peppier and more prominent drums. The band has said that this album is about change and rebirth, making it perfect for spring.
California Son, by Morrissey
Morrissey takes on hits and obscurities from the 1960s and ’70s on his upcoming covers album California Son. His version of Roy Orbison’s “It’s Over” has already been praised by Orbison’s son, which makes sense given Morrissey’s vocal style and rockabilly roots. Other tracks on this unique album include Bob Dylan’s “Only a Pawn in Their Game,” protest singer Phil Ochs’ “Days of Decisions,” and in a real treat for rock music obsessives, Jobriath’s “Morning Starship.” It’s not just Morrissey on this record, either; guest vocalists include Petra Haden, Sameer Gadhia, and Billie Joe Armstrong, among others.
40, by Stray Cats
Rockabilly revivalists the Stray Cats haven’t released a new album in over two decades, but after a handful of shows celebrating the band’s 40th anniversary, they jumped back in the studio and recorded twelve new songs, all originals. The album’s first single, “Cat Fight (Over A Dog Like Me),” is as playful and bouncy as their classic material, complete with a full-blast Setzer guitar solo to remind us how good rockabilly can be. Even more impressive is the band’s chemistry; after all those years apart, they sound like they never stopped touring together. When you listen to this record, so will your neighbors.
Come From Away Soundtrack
Newfoundland isn’t often the setting of musicals, but Come From Away isn’t most musicals. It tells the strange and compelling story of what happened when 9/11 led to the forced landing of thirty-eight international aircraft in Gander, a small town whose population was doubled by the sudden influx of displaced passengers. The soundtrack is more infectious and fun than the subject matter would suggest; the Irish flourishes in “Blankets and Bedding” are a welcome surprise, and “Me and the Sky” will make any listener consider becoming a pilot. “Something’s Missing” is the soundtrack’s tearjerker, in which the passengers and airline staff confront the aftermath of 9/11.