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Albums of the Year 2019: Nick Cave - Ghosteen | reviews, news & interviews

Albums of the Year 2019: Nick Cave - Ghosteen

Albums of the Year 2019: Nick Cave - Ghosteen

Beauty and soul out of suffering and darkness

The poetry of loss

The highs in a year of music come at the most unexpected moments: I was sitting at a beach restaurant in Spain, in earlier this month, sharing a seabass with PP Arnold, former Ikette and soul star of the sixties who’s re-invented herself decade after decade, and released an excellent and varied album earlier this year The Further Adventures of PP Arnold.  We were talking about her gospel roots – she first sang publicly at age 4 – when she suddenly broke into song, with quiet and sensual intensity. She did both call and response, looking straight into my eyes, instantly touching my heart with the spirit she channelled so powerfully.

There was a similarly soulful explosion at the small concert Rhiannon Giddens gave inside Wormwood Scrubs Prison in November. A group of inmates, who’d been involved in a song-writing workshop, opened for her, and their mixture of inexperience and deeply felt emotion swept the audience of prisoners and visitors away. Giddens did her thing – a breathtakingly varied range from jazz to old time Appalachian string band music, blues to trance music from Puglia. Her attunement and connection with her musical partner Francesco Turrisi displayed such erotic power and irresistible excitement  that the incarcerated member of the audience were up on their feet.

Live music cannot be beat, even if it’s on film. I was deeply moved by the long-awaited film of Aretha Franklin’s recording of a gospel album in 1972 in front of a congregation, “Amazing Grace” directed by Sydney Pollack and featuring the Rev James Cleveland and the vibrant togetherness of the Southern California Community Choir. The power of the spirit, summoned by song, has rarely been evoked so vividly.

Gospel evolved out of the incalculable savagery of enslavement. The songs’ unequalled emotional depth drew from a multigenerational legacy of suffering and pain. My album of the year is Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ “Ghosteen”, a bold yet always poetic and oblique exploration of grief and slow recovery. His son’s tragic death haunts every melancholy texture of this remarkable album. No guitar band fury, as one might have expected from Cave, but something much more courageous. Synths, piano, voice and little else. This, like all the other music in my 2019 selection, is about healing, transcending the hurt and finding new strength.  

Two more essential albums

Gyedu-Blay Ambolley: 11th Street Sekondi

Bon Iver I,I

Gig of the Year

Rhiannon Giddens with Francesco Turrisi, Wormwood Crubs Prison, London

Track of the Year

"Galleon Ship" (Ghosteen, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds)


If you like Nick Cave's album, then check out Paul Amlehn's music. It sounds like Nick has been influenced by him.

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