Beth Hart arrived on the music scene at the tail end of the ’90s female singer/songwriter craze that gave us artists as diverse as Alanis Morissette, Cat Power and P.J. Harvey. It was Atlantic Records who made some of the biggest waves during period, releasing essential recordings by Tori Amos, Jewel and Julianna Hatfield, as well as queer women including Jill Sobule and Melissa Ferrick. The label was also responsible for a host of one-hit wonders (no offense intended) such as Toby Lightman, Donna Lewis, Kacey Crowley, Poe, Bif Naked, Mary Karlzen, and Hart herself.
2Cellos’ eponymous 2011 domestic debut disc was an immediately accessible crossover delight. The Croatian duo fiddled about with songs by Muse, U2, Nine Inch Nails and Kings of Leon, among others, finding a way to transform the tunes without turning them into a Hooked On Classics horror show. Expectations were high for their sophomore release In2ition (Masterworks) but to be fair, they’re just stringing us along. True, they do uncover nuances in the boring and repetitive Rihanna cut “We Found Love,” take rewarding liberties with Coldplay’s “Clocks” (featuring none other than Lang Lang on piano) and express themselves clearly on the original “Orient Express.” But some of their choices work against them. AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” and the Police’s “Every Breath You Take” come off like a cross between elevator music and a high school recital. The addition of guest vocalists, particularly in the case of Elton John on Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well” and Glee’s Naya Rivera on Muse’s “Supermassive Black Hole,” are, well, super massive black holes. Here’s the thing, while a couple of the guest performers (Sky Ferreira on the Cher cover “Bang Bang” and a restrained Zucchero on “Il Libro Dell’Amore,” an Italian reading of The Magnetic Fields’ “The Book of Love”) don’t overpower the 2Cellos, next time out, they should trust their intuition, their (cat)gut feelings, and skip the guest stars.
Heloise & The Savoir Faire ratchets up the meat of their beats on Diamond Dust (Simian), the long-awaited follow-up to their 2008 debut Trash, Rats and Microphones. It’s just Heloise (Williams) now, although she hasn’t lost her own savoir faire. What she has gained is an even more 80s retro outlook which comes through on “Time Lords,” the early Madonna mode of “Oh Pioneer,” the Teena Marie tease of “Bottom To The Top” and the designer jeans reference of “K.O.P.I.O.” (which stands for keep on pumping it out). She’s at her most modern on the aptly named “Dance Floor Destroyer,” which sounds like an open invitation for some rump shaking wreckage.
Joan Armatrading may sing about the “Single Life” on the opening track of her “jazz flavoured” new album Starlight (429), but according to various sources on the internet, including lesbian website afterellen.com and out musician Janis Ian’s website, Armatrading married longtime girlfriend Maggie Butler in 2011. Brava, diva! That said, songs such as the smokey “Close To Me,” the intimate “Tell Me,” the subtly funk “Back on Track,” the stripped down “The Way I Think of You,” and the suggestive “Busy With You” naturally take on a different (let’s call it “confirmed”) meaning. In terms of Armatrading’s 21st century output, Starlight may not be as immediately pleasing as 2010’s This Charmed Life, but is a glowing improvement over the miscalculation of 2007’s Into The Blues.
To say that the past few years have been amazing for Glen Hansard’s music career is an understatement. Hansard, who had been hard at work in his band The Frames throughout the 1990s and early part of the 21st century, starred in the 2007 indie hit Once, a film featuring his music on the soundtrack and for which he received an Oscar for the song “Falling Slowly.”
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