Popular music reviews

Friday, August 22, 2014

Dixie Divas

The voice of Sugarland, Jennifer Nettles steps out on her own on her first solo disc That Girl (Mercury). Produced by Rick Rubin, who retains Nettles’ trademark modern country sound, That Girl feels a little underwhelming when all is said and done. Collaborating with interesting songwriting partners, including Sara Bareilles and Richard Marx (!), Nettles plays it safe throughout, even on the one cover tune, Bob Seger’s “Like A Rock.” If you’re listening to That Girl it probably has something to do with Nettles’ powerful voice and you won’t be disappointed when she belts out on tunes such as the title track, “Falling,” “Know You Wanna Know” and “Good Time To Cry.”

Friday, August 22, 2014

Lesbian Season

The Belle Brigade is a brother/sister duo with excellent genes. Siblings Barbara and Ethan Gruska are the grandchildren of composer John Williams. Of course, The Belle Brigade’s music doesn’t really sound anything like any of their famous grandpa’s compositions (you’re not disappointed, are you?). Instead, out lesbian Barbara and her brother Ethan make sun-soaked modern pop music that is appealing and evocative. The Belle Brigade’s second disc Just Because (ATO) begins with deceptively upbeat and rhythmic numbers such as “Ashes” and “When Everything Was What It Was,” before diving head first into the substance abuse subject matter of “Likely To Use Something.” The pair shares lead vocals on “Be Like Him,” with a nod to queerness. “Miss You In My Life” and “How I See It,” two songs on which Ethan takes the lead, are worth mentioning, as is “Not The One You Want.”

Friday, August 08, 2014

12 x 2

Sister acts, such as the brilliant trio Haim, are a hot commodity. Swedish sister duo First Aid Kit – aka Johanna and Klara Söderberg – can take their place alongside Haim as proof positive that sisterhood is powerful. Stay Gold(Columbia), First Aid Kit’s major label debut, and fourth full-length disc, is good for what ails you. Exquisite harmonies, intelligent and sensitive lyrics, and pleasing acoustic arrangements make these ten shimmering and solid modern folk songs, including standouts such as Waitress Song,” “Master P2014-08-08 02:49:44retender,” “My Silver Lining,” “Fleeting One” and “Heaven Know,” worth their weight in gold.

Friday, July 11, 2014

iMusic: Summer Flashback

For a while there, it looked like Canadian singer/songwriter Loreena McKennit might become as trendy as Enya. The similarities in their Celtic-influenced musical styles certainly made them worthy of comparison. McKennitt did have some hits (although not as many as Enya), earning her a devoted following and a reason to release a compilation such as The Journey So Far: The Best of Loreena McKennitt (UMe/QR). Drawing on songs from her 1990s period, when she was at her most popular, from albums including The Mask and the Mirror, The Visit and The Book of Secrets, the collection features “The Mummer’s Dance,” “The Mystic’s Dream” and “The Lady of Shallot,” to mention a few. The deluxe edition includes a second disc containing highlights from McKennitt’s 2012 Midsummer Night’s tour, recorded in Germany.

Friday, June 27, 2014

iMusic: Center Stage

Fun Home, lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s universally lauded graphic novel, might not seem like the most ideal candidate for a stage musical. The autobiographical story is about Bechdel’s coming out in college, her childhood growing up in her family’s funeral home (hence the title Fun Home), and her complex relationships with her parents, particularly her bisexual father Bruce who committed suicide. But leave it to Jeanine Tesori, who co-wrote new songs for the Broadway musical Thoroughly Modern Millie and collaborated with Tony Kushner on Caroline, Or Change, to bring it to fruition, with book writer and lyricist Lisa Kron. The Pulitzer Prize-nominated Fun Home: Original Cast Recording (PS Classics) features Tony-winning actor Michael Cerveris as Bruce, Tony-nominee Judy Kuhn as Alison’s mother Helen, and three actresses as the lead character, identified as Small Alison (Sydney Lucas), Medium Alison (Alexandra Socha) and Alison (Beth Malone). To the credit of all involved, Fun Home maintains the humor and tragedy of the book, honoring the original material and potentially expanding the audience for both the book and the show.

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