The Body Acoustic Cyndi Lauper (Sony – Copy Protected)
The last time we got a new release from Cyndi Lauper was 2003’s “At Last,” a collection of standards. Lauper’s latest is another covers collection, of sorts. “The Body Acoustic” is a collection of Lauper classics redone with a host of A-list guests. The album is at times stronger in concept than in execution. Lauper’s duet with Sarah McLachlan on “Water’s Edge” works well as does “Time After Time”, a fine but unnecessary re-recording of one of Lauper’s best. Lauper’s duet on “All Through the Night” with Shaggy, the pop-reggae voice behind songs like “It Wasn’t Me, makes far less sense and feels random at best. Without Shaggy this would’ve offered nothing new, but would have been imminently more listenable. Likewise, the new “Money Changes Everything” is a bumpy way to start out. Lauper’s voice sounds a little worse for wear and Taking Back Sunday’s Adam Lazzara doesn’t help things. More successful is “She Bop.” With its new dirge-like tempo the lyrics lose the mindless quality they took on in the original. The transformation results in an oddly poignant ode to masturbation. Lauper’s collaboration with guitarist Jeff Beck, “Above the Clouds,” is beautiful in the tradition of “True Colors,” which receives a nice treatment here. Other guests include Vivian Green, Ani Difranco and Puffy Ami Yumi.
The Inner Beauty Movement Lina (Red Urban Records)
I screwed up. Look, a lot of CDs come across my desk every week and I listen to them all, but sometimes it takes me awhile. Somehow Lina’s “The Inner Beauty Movement” got lost in the shuffle. And that, my dear readers, was a mistake on my part and I owe you an apology for not bringing your attention to this brilliant record sooner. Lina is a breath of fresh, jazzy, old school meets new school air. Positive and confidant, “Inner Beauty” is one of the most compelling R&B records to come out this year. Unlike many chart-topping artists, Lina doesn’t rely on production wizards to prop up her sound. The production on “Inner Beauty” is great, often sampling jazz-era riffs and other retro sounds giving the record a very timeless feel. However, Lina carries this album herself. If you stripped the music out “Inner Beauty” would be a strong acapella joint. It’s tough to pinpoint her voice because Lina is quite versatile, but India Arie, Mary J. Blige and label-mate Jill Scott come to mind. Highlights include the playful “It Could Be,” the gorgeous “On My Own” and the independence anthem “Leaving You.” Fans of smart, positive R&B where lyrics matter would do well to join Lina’s “Movement” ASAP. Listen at http://lina-music.com.
Oxygen & Love Charles Green
You may have heard Charles Green’s voice before, but you probably didn’t know it. He’s done backing vocals for Garth Brooks and is the voice behind some uber-gay dance floor anthems. “Oxygen & Love” isn’t anything you’d hear in a honkey tonk bar or bumping and grinding on the dance floor, though. It’s an introspective collection of well-crafted piano ballads, often forlorn but never without hope. “These are stories of an insecure, scared teenager from Lubbok, Texas making his way to Nashville for college and questioning his sexuality,” says Green, “and growing into a gay man chasing dreams of music, love and his place in this world.” The result is compelling. “Oxygen & Love,” for the most part, is earnest without being precious. Green has a crisp, handsome voice reminiscent of Richard Marx. In fact, Green’s “Someday” recalls hit ballads of the 90s like “Hold Onto The Nights.” Other highlights include album opener “Falling.” Green, who was assaulted in college for being gay, pays tribute to Matthew Shepard with “Chasing Angels.” It’s touching, if not a tad too sentimental. The same goes for “Empty Promises,” which has the feel of an off-Broadway musical number. But Green is a man who wears his heart, a talented one at that, on his sleeve. Get it Here from CDBABY
Speak for Yourself Imogen Heap (RCA – Copy Protected)
American ears will perk up at the sound of Imogen Heap’s familiar voice. You’ve heard her as the singer for the cool electro-pop outfit Frou Frou, her side project with Madonna producer Guy Sigsworth. Frou Frou got massive attention thanks to the film “Garden State.” The group contributed to the “Shrek 2” soundtrack as well. But the heart of Frou Frou was definitely Heap, which “Speak for Yourself,” her U.S. debut, illustrates. Her voice is ethereal yet gritty; haunting and hearty. Though she doesn’t really sound like anyone else, there are similarities to Dido with a little Tori Amos and a dash of space age Rickie Lee Jones. Heap wrote, produced and recorded the CD herself. But where hip production made Frou Frou shine, Heap occasionally slips into a slightly dated sound, like on “I Am In Love With You.” The ever-hip musical ears for “The O.C.” chose Heap’s “Hide and Seek” for last season’s show finale. The irresistible “Goodnight and Go” appears on “The O.C. Mix 4.” Heap also contributed a short and sweet piece to the second “Six Feet Under” soundtrack. The result has been a high profile, and well-deserved, introduction to American pop fans who would do well to scoop up her debut. Listen at www.imogenheap.com.
Playing the Angel Depeche Mode (Reprise/Wea)
For those who thought Depeche Mode was dead after 2001’s disappointing “Exciter,” fear not. With “Playing the Angel” Depeche Mode rises again. After 25 years making darkly brooding synth pop and the creation of the genre’s best record, 1990’s “Violator,” lesser brooding Brits would have given up (and have). “Playing the Angel” is half great. Songs like “A Pain That I’m Used To” (which I’ll admit I initally thought was a reference to the crashing guitars at the outset), “John the Revelator” and “Precious,” the first single, are all danceable conduits of DM’s trademark pain and suffering. My money is on “John the Revelator” for the next single. Less successful is the second half of the album, which gets bogged down in more moderate tempos. Martin Gore penned the majority of “Angel” but singer Dave Gehan gets credits for the first time here with the impressive “Suffer Well.” Gehan also wrote “I Want It All” and “Nothing’s Impossible.” Though Gehan handles the bulk of the vocals, Gore takes the mic on “Macro” and “Damaged People,” both of which are slower tempo tracks, though not in the vein of DM ballads like “Somebody” or “Home.” Gore’s voice is good, but it sounds quite fey next to Gehan’s trademark growl. “Angel” proves that DM is both suffering and aging well.
Rent Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Warner Bros/Wea)
Nearly ten years after its off-Broadway debut, “Rent” is making the leap from stage to screen. The film version sees virtually the same cast with the addition of Rosario Dawson. For those who are “Rent” obsessed, the soundtrack has been released with eight different covers featuring different cast members. Though different from the Broadway soundtrack, with two discs of nearly 30 selections, this one should keep the faithful happy as well as win over new fans.
Life Goes On Terri Clark (Mercury Nashville)
Terri Clark may just be the Rhoda of modern country (think a more butch but still beautiful Shania Twain) but if “Life Goes On” is any indication, Clark isn’t worried one bit. Clark’s churns out up-tempo pop-country hits-to-be like “Damn Right” and “Bigger Windows.” She sings about falling in love, getting your heart stomped on and imbibing to forget about it all like on “Not Enough Tequila” and “I Wish He’d Been Drinking Whiskey,” a cry into your beer gem.
Simplified Simply Red (Verve Forecast)
Mick Hucknall, the voice behind Simply Red, takes 20 years of classics like “Holding Back the Years” and “Something Got Me Started,” gives them a Latin flair and strips things down production-wise. The result is aptly titled “Simplified.” Hucknall has written many strong, timeless songs but some of the production, hot at the time, hasn’t aged well. “Simplified” gives these songs a new life. Keep your ear out for the remix of the new track “Perfect Love” in the clubs.
Rise Anoushka Shankar (Angel Records)
Anoushka Shankar is the daughter of legendary sitar player Ravi Shankar. This is both a blessing and a curse. But at only 24, “Rise” is Anoushka’s fourth album. Composed, produced and arranged by Anoushka herself, “Rise” is anchored by her classical training as she experiments with composition, using traditional Indian instruments alongside electronic ones. The result is haunting and, at times, surprising. “Rise” is an uplifting global journey from a promising young artist.