Robin Nolan is an odd fit in the pantheon of Gypsy jazz guitarists—he’s British, not Gypsy or even French. Though the genre has now become an international phenomenon, Nolan is hardly a newcomer. He’s long purveyed a highly personal vision inspired by Django Reinhardt, but in the context of modern, pop-fuelled songwriting. It’s that highly individual combination that’s helped him find approval among traditionalists as well as audiences who know a good tune when they hear it; he never seems torqued by the notion of “authenticity.” Nolan’s guitar-slinging offers a refreshing departure from the genre’s sometimes tiresome emphasis on blazing speed and overplaying. Though he’s got plenty of fire when he wants it, he focuses primarily on interesting composition and melody infused with a palpable sense of soul and playfulness. On “Dream of You” and the Beatles-esque “Ravi,” Nolan inhabits particularly Nolan-esque territory that’s simply a joy to hear.
With its debut album, Kansas City-based band Lazy smashes, sirens blaring, into the punk scene. At nine songs and just 23 minutes long, Obsession feels like a frantically paced musical punch in the face. Complete with automatic-fire drumming, string-breaking guitar riffing, and grittily defiant songwriting, the album is, at its core, a mass of loud noise, a constant bombardment of confusion and rebellion. Most of the album’s tracks bleed together, leaving no time for the non-punk-inclined to recover from one before entering the scream of another. Lazy, for its part, seems as if it couldn’t care less about its listeners’ comfort with or attitude about the genre; instead, it eschews widespread popularity in favor of pure punk, unabashedly shrieking its message into the abyss.
If you think women with small voices can’t make big records, check out the latest from Sara Hickman, the best news to come out of Texas lately. Shine contains songs that uplift, outrage, and bring joy, but nothing that just lies on the plate. It’s also a work in which Hickman showcases how she frames a song. She knows when to go girly, when to rock, when to add a whiskey-soaked rasp to her voice, and she delights in juxtaposing fragile vocals with muscular instrumentation. On tracks such as “Cocky Friend” and “Primitive Stuff” Hickman wears attitude like a rodeo queen decked out in hand-tooled boots, yet on songs the likes of “Human Wish” and “Rapture” she exudes the tender fragility she assumes when she’s doing her children’s gigs. Add splashes of girl-group-meets New Wave, some rockabilly, and some truly offbeat folk and it adds up to ten fabulous tracks.