Where You Live Tracy Chapman (Elektra/Wea)
Seventeen years after “Fast Car” and ten years after “Give Me One Reason” dominated the airwaves, Tracy Chapman continues to make music that is honest, direct, smart and politically savvy. Part storytelling folk, part soul, part rock, “Where You Live,” Chapman’s latest, is some of her strongest work yet. In the opening track and first single, “Change,” Chapman dares listeners to examine their lives and their values in a way that could have easily been a heavy-handed flop. But Chapman shines, sounding like a good friend who won’t tell you what to do, but inspires you to think. “If everything you think you know makes your life unbearable, would you change?” Chapman sings. “How bad, how good does it need to get?” Less successful is “America,” which comes off a bit preachy even if you can’t argue with the sentiment. Chapman’s storytelling skills are put to better use on the haunting “3,000 Miles.” The song’s sparse instrumentation evokes the distance and desperation the lyrics describe. It is classic Chapman. Of course, Chapman is also a master at love songs that are as disarming as they are beautiful, if not self-effacing. “Never Yours” pulls at the heartbreak strings. “Say I’m a saint of mercy, say I’m a whore,” she sings. “I’ve been a lot of things, but never yours.”
PCD The Pussycat Dolls (A&M)
Though “Don’t Cha,” the hit duet with Busta Rhymes, may have been your first Pussycat Dolls experience, these ladies have been around the block. Several blocks, really. Formed in the early 90s, the Dolls started out as a group of dancer friends playing around with their own choreography. Before long they were performing at the Sunset Strip’s Viper Room. In 2002 they moved their show to The Roxy, where they attracted guest performers like Gwen Stefani and Christina Aguilera. Now they’ve got a record deal. “PCD,” their first record, isn’t revolutionary, but it proves the Dolls are more than six pretty faces and 12 nice legs. Or, at least, it proves they’ve got good producers (like Jimmy Iovine) and songwriters (Timbaland, and Will.I.Am from Black Eyed Peas). The sound is R&B flavored dance pop. Think the Spice Girls all grown up mixed with Destiny’s Child. On the playful “Beep” the dirtiest lyrics are the ones that aren’t said. “Hot Stuff,” a Donna Summer tribute, or rip-off depending on your take, is a fun dance number with a retro disco feel. Lesbian fans will appreciate “I Don’t Need A Man” while gay men may prefer the Broadway musical feel of “Right Now.” The cover of “Tainted Love,” however, is sadly tainted, indeed.
Wowiezowie Superchumbo (Twisted)
“House music is supposed to be fun, and I don’t really get it when it gets very serious, as a lot of progressive house sometimes does,” Tom Stephan, the U.K.-based DJ/producer/remixer better known as Superchumbo told Time Out New York in June of this year. But don’t let him fool you. While “Wowiezowie” may carry light lyrical fare, Superchumbo is deadly serious about his beats. Don’t expect the day-glo sonic hues of so much of today’s diva-driven dance music. Superchumbo’s jerky tribal beats and nearly sinister sounding synths command you to dance (the industrial band Nitzer Ebb is one of Superchumbo’s favorites, after all). The lyrics and the music strike a strange balance on “Wowiezowie,” like spinning cotton candy onto a chrome pipe. “This kind of music is about escaping to a better place,” Stephan says. “Even though it might be dark and twisted at times, it’s still supposed to be fun.” “Wowiezowie” cements Superchumbo’s reputation as a house force to be reckoned with, and a man with quite the Rolodex. Guests include 80s sexpot Samantha Fox purring, “Anything for you Sugar, anything for you” on “Sugar” and Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys (and one of Stephan’s ex-boyfriends) adding the perfect vocal touch to “Tranquilizer.”
Ever Since Lesley Gore (Engine Company Records)
Best known for hits like “It’s My Party” during the 60s Girl Group era, Lesley Gore is all grown up. Intimate and understated, “Ever Since” evokes the lyrical tenacity of Carly Simon and the vocal equivalent of Lucinda Williams doing an act in a smoky nightclub. Piano and acoustic guitar create a delicately somber soundscape on album highlights “Ever Since” and “Better Angles.”
Brasil Salome de Bahia (Tommy Boy)
When you hear “Brasil,” the bossa nova, samba, salsa, mambo, dance club party that is Salome de Bahia’s debut CD, you can thank French producer Bob Sinclar for discovering her 11 years ago in a French jazz club. For world music fans, “Brasil” is paradise whether you come for the world music-infused club hits like “Outro Lugar” or the Brazilian classics like “Lanca Perfume.” She even does “Copacabana” – in Portugese!
Bloom Sarah McLachlan (Arista)
In the same spirit of “Sarah McLachlan Remixed,” “Bloom” offers up yet more remixes, most of which are of songs from 2003’s “Afterglow.” Highlights include the Junior Boys remix of “Fumbling Toward Ecstasy,” the Thievery Corporations’s mix of “Dirty Little Secret,” and “Just Like Me” by DMC of Run DMC, featuring McLachlan singing Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s In the Cradle” and remixed by Will.I.Am of the Black Eyed Peas. (Copy Protected)
You Broke the Circle Royal Jones
Yes, the strangely soulful falsetto of Royal Jones really does come from a middle-aged, blue-eyed, white guy. Think Nina Simone mixed with Mick Hucknall. In fact, much of the well-produced “You Broke the Circle” sounds like “A New Flame”-era Simply Red, especially on “Epiphany.” Royal Jones is an acquired taste but he’s a man doing his own thing, modern tastes and musical fads be damned.
The World Is Your Balloon: The Decca Singles 1950-1951 (Decca)
Newly remastered and available for the first time on CD in the U.S. is Ethel Merman’s “The World Is Your Balloon,” a collection of singles cut by Merman for Decca Records between 1950-1951. This must have for Broadway collectors includes duets with Ray Bolger and Jimmy Durante. Songs like “I Said My Pajamas (And Put On My Prayers)” and “(If I Knew You Were Comin’) I’d’ve Baked A Cake” are sure to put a smile on the faces of Merman fans who know there’s no voice like Merman’s voice.