Hear Me Out: Cyndi Lauper, Rihanna

By Chris Azzopardi

Cyndi Lauper, 'Detour'

Girls just want to have... a country album? If you're Cyndi Lauper and your repertoire is as delightfully ADHD as hers - the American Songbook, pop ear-candy, the blues, a damn musical (she won a Tony for "Kinky Boots") - the next "logical step" is, well, inevitably illogical. But hearing the "Time After Time" singer channel good ol' honky-tonk alongside a melange of veterans isn't so unusual after all; in fact, Lauper sings this collection of country classics as if she never even turned the pop world upside down three decades ago with a string of bubbly hits and timeless power ballads. She did, of course, but on "Detour," she sinks her cowboy boots so far into Nashville soil it's hard to believe this is the same Cyndi whose polished pop songs continue to abide under the disco glow of the gay clubs. Even so, Cyndi's personality and charisma is intact, from the yelpy runs on Guy Mitchell's 1959 No. 1 single "Heartaches by the Numbers" to the husband-and-wife razzing she and Vince Gill partake in on "You're the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly." Lauper's version of Patsy Cline's "I Fall to Pieces" is a staggering achievement. Just listen to the way Lauper enters the track, her voice low and husky and, through and through, divine; yes, hand over the Best Female Country Vocal Grammy right now. Skeeter Davis' 1963 hit "End of the World" also gets a lovely Lauper reading. That quiver near the end? Ah, nice touch. Though the singer recently confirmed that she's working on another Broadway musical, let's hope she laces up her cowgirl boots and takes another detour as radical and rich as this. Grade: A-

Rihanna, 'ANTI'

Rihanna can sing. Soar and dip and drop - she's no Adele (because who is?) but when the Barbadian pop princess commits herself, the result is otherworldly. So if creative differences are the reason behind RiRi's decision to split with longtime label Def Jam (she's now with Jay Z's Roc Nation), going in for the vocal kill, as she does on "Love on the Brain," is the best kind of record-label retribution. The swaying slowie is refreshingly not-Rihanna, unless you've envisioned that Ri's time offstage is spent belting Etta James' classics. That's what this soul throwback resembles, after all. Her fluttery voice is dramatic and full, and she slays every syllable, channeling her inner vocal goddess. "ANTI," the "Umbrella" singer's surprise drop, then, resists the Rihanna we knew, the one who wasn't known for the kind of avant-garde, Beyonce-like wildcard that "ANTI" is. Let her pointedly remind you that she, too, can dig deep and pour her innermost feelings all over a solo piano, which she does on "Close to You." Listen as she lashes out at an ex-beau, which she does atop the slinky grind of "Needed Me." Yes, like 2009's head-turner "Rated R," Rihanna excels when she challenges not just herself but those who expect the superficiality of her baity-and-sometimes-bland singles, from "S&M" (bland) to "We Found Love" (not bland). That's not to say that now, eight albums in, Rihanna is getting everything right (that grating Drake collaboration, "Work," is a bust), but her persona-altering diversions are less eager to please and more eager to be everything you thought she couldn't be. Grade: B

Also Out

Margo Price, 'Midwest Farmer's Daughter'

Rural flavor meets Southern sizzle - and, naturally, the dive bar down the street - on Margo Price's superbly drawn "Midwest Farmer's Daughter." The Nashville singer-songwriter is heated during the jukebox jam "Since You Put Me Down," directing her drinking problem - and a prayer that requests her "voice haunt you above the ground" - at a cheat. A compliment to both Price and her throwback style, the cheeky song could be mistaken for a Tammy Wynette cover. Heck, the entirety of "Midwest Farmer's Daughter," with its hard-won narratives and vintage production, and all the way through the mellifluous coda "World's Greatest Loser," is a classic country stunner.

Lukas Graham, 'Lukas Graham'

At 11, Danish child actor-turned-pop star Lukas Graham Forchhammer was "smoking herb" and heeding to his father's advice to "go get yourself a wife or you'll be lonely" because he didn't know the difference. He distills that truth into "7 Years," his personal verity and the launch track for his band's respectable debut. Ed Sheeran, Jason Mraz, Gavin DeGraw, Five for Fighting - the comparisons are apparent. From the rollicky "Annie"-sampled "Mama Said" to the pained "Happy Home" and the churchy campfire sing-along "Funeral," this is old-soul folk-pop designed for maximum cross-generational appeal.

Chris Azzopardi is the editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBT wire service. Reach him via his website at http://www.chris-azzopardi.com.
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