Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon
Folkie Banhart's fifth album mostly mourns his split from CocoRosie's Bianca Casady. 'I wanna be a little seahorse,' he grieves on 'Seahorse', an assured rock meditation (seahorses, of course, mate for life). Banhart's becoming more accessible in his music, too. His scratchy early bent gives way increasingly to croons and elegant musicianship. The sadness rolling down his adopted Topanga Canyon is leavened by skinny New York rock ('Tonada Yanomaminista'), experiments in samba, gospel and reggae - all pleasant, if not as riveting as his tears.
Using the new Starbucks label to rail against climate change and war is an odd choice for earth mother Joni, but on her first album of new material in 10 years Mitchell doesn't hold back. Singing of toxic spills and barbed wire, she extends the theme first espoused in Big Yellow Taxi , which is also reworked. At 63, her darker voice reflects the sombreness of this message. Perhaps there are too many layers of jazzy saxophones and ticking drum machines here, but Mitchell confirms her standing as one of the most idiosyncratic and surprising song crafters of the last 40 years.
Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace
Considering Dave Grohl's Nirvana pedigree, it's remarkable how unremarkable the Foos are. This isn't a bad album but you'll have heard it all before. A typical 50/50 mix of bombastic stadium-rock anthems and earnest acoustic numbers, it draws too heavily on their back catalogue. 'The Pretender' would be a belting opening track but for its similarity to all their other records' belting opening tracks, while 'Erase/Replace' is a virtual facsimile of 2004 single 'Best of You'. Only instrumental 'Ballad of the Beaconsfield Miners' suggests anything new.
In Our Nature
Jose Gonzalez, the string-plucking Swede who bounced to international fame via a flat-screen TV advert, could never be accused of dizzying eclecticism. His throaty voice and pared-down acoustic sound are distinctive, but his second album rings in few changes. Apart from its eight-minute closer, this short record hasn't an ounce of fat on its bones, and Gonzalez again proves a thoughtful lyricist, giving voice to pacifism on several tracks. A cover version also features, though his version of Massive Attack's 'Teardrop' isn't as striking as what he did with 'Heartbeats'. Engaging, but not earth-shattering.
Between Daylight And Dark
(Lost Highway) £12.99
Gaultier's country noir began with confessionals detailing her descent into alcoholism, skid row and prison. She's cleaned up, but several songs on this fifth album still cast a compassionate eye on the desperate - families visiting jailbirds at Thanksgiving, the 'windswept vagabonds' who once rode America's freight trains, those stranded by Hurricane Katrina. Her own world-weariness, laden into her Louisiana drawl, is reserved for love affairs that offer fleeting moments of joy to a vulnerable heart, though, as she confesses, 'somehow I'm not so broken any more'. A class act.
Old age seems to suit pianists. Think of Marian McPartland and Hank Jones, who are both heading for 90 and playing gloriously, with Brubeck close behind at 86. Not only is Brubeck as eloquent and inventive as ever, but also his output is quite phenomenal. For me, the best of this prolific late flowering has been the occasional solo piano set, of which this is the latest. The 16 pieces - warm, reflective and glowing with tenderness - include four of his own compositions, written collaboration with his wife, Iola, and some beautiful old songs from the days of his youth, delicately coloured but never cloying.