Artists Maintaining Unique Styles

Uptown Special
Mark Ronson

How many albums boast lyrics by novelist Michael Chabon and singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright, harmonica from Stevie Wonder and vocals from Bruno Mars? Once again, Mark Ronson proves he’s not just one of the hottest producers and DJs around, he’s a gifted artist in his own right. Ronson melds many styles into an album that highlights R&B and even New Orleans jazz in spots—a departure from his previous pop and hip-hop efforts. His fourth solo album is an early contender for best album of 2015.

Onward and Sideways
Joshua Radin
(Glass Bead)

After his only major label album and three indie releases, Joshua Radin has delivered his second self-released record. His sad love songs are sung in a hushed, breathy style that is a perfect match for his wistful lyrics and sparse musical setting; some songs recall a more romantic Damien Rice. Radin may not be releasing albums on a major label, but he’s still one of the most inviting singersongwriters currently working and this may be his most fully realized album to date.

My Favorite Faded Fantasy
Damien Rice
(Warner Bros.)

On his first album in eight years Damien Rice wallows in the same sad sandbox of loneliness and heartbreak that Radin explores. But if Radin is broken-hearted, Rice is utterly devastated by the consequences of lost love. Rick Rubin, who is better known in the hip-hop world, but who continues to do exciting work with singer songwriters, produced the album. Rubin loves placing songs and performances in stark settings, revealing an artist’s naked vulnerability, and few people are as willing to confess as openly as Rice.

I Forget Where We Were
Ben Howard

Using very little instrumentation, Ben Howard presents his songs in an electronic musical setting. It’s not that he uses synths, it’s that he employs unique guitar tunings and layered sound to create rich musical dreamscapes. Borrowing concepts from James Blake and Bon Iver, but rendered in a more subtle way, the English folk-inspired artist is creating something fresh and new.

Berkeley to Bakersfield

Cracker has been one of the most singular American bands through its 10 albums. The group’s bluesy rock sound that has the energy of punk and the grit of the Rolling Stones has endured through countless lineup changes and a fickle music scene that prefers pop to a great rock band. This double-disc album is the most ambitious project of their career. The first CD reunites Cracker’s original lineup, reflecting the ferocious energy of the band, the second pays homage to the group’s country roots. Few bands could pull off either with such aplomb.