Jay Brannan, ‘In Living Cover’
As talented a musician as Jay Brannan is, who can help shaking the image of him as the hot threesome-having guy in John Cameron Mitchell’s “Shortbus”? His oft-stripped music helps, since the real Brannan – not the skanky one in that dirty drama – seems much more world-weary than self-assured, and it actually makes him that much more of a catch. His sensitive-boy side poured over on “Goddamned,” his earnest debut released last year, and that’s channeled on this nine-track covers disc through a melancholy mix of remakes and newbies. All of it’s a little too even-tempered and dreary, but his voice, a sweetly affecting soother that often contorts into his darling falsetto, is still pleasantly magnetizing.
His ear is just as good – culling tracks from Joni Mitchell, Ani DiFranco and Bob Dylan – maintaining their emotionality, but giving them his own precious, stripped touch. He decelerates The Verve Pipe’s “The Freshman” into a piano-led downer, makes Jann Arden’s “Good Mother” more desperate and strings up The Cranberries’ “Zombie” to an achier effect. The very first song, “Beautifully,” the better of the two originals, almost perfectly commingles among the classic covers – and not just because it’s sad as hell. So, yeah, Brannan makes us want to give him a big bear hug. And, yeah, a covers album seems premature in his music career – a period when many try to fight the sophomore slump – but he manages to swoon with his interpretive skill, and, thereupon, expose his inner-self as much as “Shortbus” exposed his outer-self. (Available on iTunes)
Regina Spektor, ‘far’
There’s eccentric, and then there are human-made dolphin noises. It’s what Regina Spektor makes on “Folding Chair,” and she doesn’t shy away from a flurry of other quirks on her follow-up to 2006’s brilliant “Begin to Hope,” where the pianist’s peculiar pop began feeling less queer and more sanitized. This one follows suit, but the New York siren is still a little loopy, miming those mammal sounds and dedicating an entire song to a lost wallet. The most tangible tunes are the opening two: “The Calculation,” riding a show tune-ish bounce that belies the busted-relationship narrative, and head-lingering sweller “Eet,” which uses a nonsensical word to concoct a delicious little ditty.
God’s funny side is subject for one of the set’s best – “Laughing With,” a meditative moment regarding religious hypocrisy that climbs with achy strings. “Dance Anthem of the ’80s” is jaunty and spunky, and when it breaks out in yelps and beatboxing, we’re reminded of just how much of a goof-off Spektor can be. Most of the LP, though, resists being too weird, and because it’s not, it shifts focus to Spektor’s colored, sometimes cryptic writing that turns the brain neurons and quietly breaks the heart, like story-song “Man of a Thousand Faces.” She trips on a couple ballads, “One More Time With Feeling” namely, that only graze the surface on an album that has a lot to say. And usually says it pretty darn well.
The Swedish fella made Robyn’s hopeless masterpiece “With Every Heartbeat” that much more devastating with his string-laden house beat, and on his first full LP he kills it … and us. The female-featured electro-pop, strikingly “Until We Bleed” with Lykke Li, levels well with the vocal-less tracks, like the one-two punch ending. A bad breakup inspired his debut; one track is called “I Just Want to Make that Sad Boy Smile.” Nuff said.
Eight years after this bedroom balladeer went poof, mysteriously abandoning fans who adored his neo-soul, he returns with the first entry in his trilogy. And if anything announces the sensual singer’s back, it’s the ooh-la-la opening lyrics: “Prove it to me in the nude.” “Pretty Wings” is the delicate lead single, and the rest of the 36-year-old’s comeback LP is chill, deep, intimate … and as naked as you’d be if you agreed to his demand (and who wouldn’t?).