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Oral Fixation Vol. 2
Any album with “Oral Fixation” in the title should start with a reading of “The Lord’s Prayer,” don’t you think? That’s just how “Oral Fixation Vol. 2,” Shakira’s long awaited English-language follow-up to 2001’s “Laundry Service,” begins. And yes, this CD did, in fact, get released already, but is now available with extra tracks, including the hit single “Hips Don’t Lie” featuring Wyclef Jean in an ass-shaking mix of Latin and hip-hop sensibilities. More or less it’s a song that proves that modern dancing and immodest dress do, in fact, stir sex desire. The other extra track is “La Tortura,” a track featured on “Fijacion Oral vol. 1” in a different version. Don’t let the title fool you, however, it’s largely in English. Shakira delves into both politics and disco on “Timor,” in which she strangely apes Cyndi Lauper’s “She Bop” on the chorus. But the majority of the album resides in the territory of the ups and downs of love. “I’m starting to believe it should be illegal to deceive a woman’s heart,” she sings on “Illegal” while Carlos Santana riffs in the background. “Your Embrace” features tear-jerking lyrics like, “What’s the use of a 24 inch waist if you don’t touch me?” Stop it, Shakira; you’re breaking my heart. No wonder I like it better when she sings in Spanish.
Erasure with no synthesizers? Isn’t that like Britney Spears with no boobs? While Britney would be hard pressed to maintain her stardom without a nice body, Erasure manage to pull off an impressive album without their electronic calling card. “Union Street,” named for the New York studio they recorded it in, is a collection of 11 album tracks and B-sides unplugged and virtually unrecognizable. But in a good way. Without the electro sheen it’s possible to see what good songwriters Vince Clarke and Andy Bell actually are. Smartly, the duo didn’t choose any of their biggest hits to redo here, which saves “Union Street” from coming across as self-parody. According to Bell, the purpose of “Union Street” was to “show that [these songs] could work on any instrument, synthesizer or guitar.” And for the most part, they do. The last few Erasure records felt stagnant. They seemed to be playing it safe and sticking to what they already knew worked. On “Union Street” they take a risk, but a worthwhile one. There are some missteps. “Stay With Me,” from the 1995 album “Erasure,” has a high-pitched pan flute or something in the background that could potentially open garage doors. But songs like “Home,” originally from 1991’s “Chorus,” and “Blues Away,” from 1994’s “I Say, I Say,” more than make up for it.
Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
There’s no voice quite like Neko Case’s voice, but it’s hard to explain why. Case is not unique in an “acquired taste” kind of way like, say, Bonnie Tyler or Nina Simone. The best I can do is to say think Patsy Cline meets Margot Timmins of The Cowboy Junkies. Truth be told, Case didn’t grab me immediately. I’ve listened to some of her pervious stuff and thought, “This is nice.” “Fox Confessor Brings the Flood” is the first Case CD I’ve really sat down with and listened to in full, multiple times. At first I wasn’t moved. But after a couple of listens my experience with “Fox Confessor” changed. I liken this experience to, say, meeting a pretty girl who at first doesn’t make a deep impression, but soon you find yourself thinking about her constantly. Perhaps you stalk her. Or not. In any case, “Fox Confessor” is an accomplished album. The term “alt-country” is often used in conjunction with Case’s solo work, but it doesn’t do this record justice. There are definitely elements of country here, but “Fox Confessor” touches on gospel and pop as well. Case has widely varied musical sensibilities. After all, she started out in punk bands and is a founding member of the power-pop group The New Pornographers. Case is also an accomplished lyricist. While her narratives are often loose and open to interpretation, she gives listeners enough to chew on and is adept at crafting a mood. Take these lines from “Star Witness” for example: “Trees break the sidewalk and the sidewalk skins my knees. There’s glass in my thermos and blood on my jeans.” On “Maybe Sparrow” Case emits a tangible yearning. Like the bulk of “Fox Confessor,” it’s beautiful without being overly pretty.
Stephin Merritt – the man behind the Magnetic Fields, Future Bible Heroes, Gothic Archies and the 6ths – does not sing on his latest record “Showtunes.” In fact, those familiar with Merritt’s more pop-based work might find “Showtunes” a bit surprising, and perhaps off-putting. “Showtunes” features selections of Merritt’s scores for three plays by Chinese theatre director Chen Shi-Zheng performed by members of the original casts and ensembles. If you’re looking for something that sounds like the Magnetic Fields, look elsewhere. But if you’re into Merritt more for the witty poetry of his lyrics and his clever melodies than his deep timbered voice, you’ll enjoy offerings like “Auntie Toothache” and “Ukulele Me!” Take these lyrics from “What A F–king Lovely Day,” for example: “Ah, the smell of despair! Is that blood in my hair? I don’t care, I don’t care. What a f–cking lovely day.” “Showtunes” melds musical elements from Chinese and Western cultures with mixed, yet interesting, results.
Rabbit Fur Coat
Jenny Lewis with The Watson Twins
Listening to “Rabbit Fur Coat” it’s evident that Jenny Lewis loves herself some Laura Nyro, Dusty Springfield and Loretta Lynn. Their influences are everywhere on this first solo record by the front woman of the indie-rock group Rilo Kiley. Lewis, teamed up with Kentucky gospel singers The Watson Twins, whips up a blend of gospel, soul, country and folk on a Southern front porch complete with whiskey-spiked lemonade, a dog-eared Bible, lonely afternoons and long, humid evenings. “Rabbit Fur Coat” does not sound like an album written and recorded over the last few years. It sounds like the kind of record that would have come out on vinyl and tussled for chart placement with Johnny Cash and Tammy Wynette. Lewis is a fine lyricist and the songs on “Rabbit Fur Coat” are full of colorful narration and hard life lessons. On “Rise Up With Fists!!!” Lewis sings, “You can wake up younger under the knife. And you can wake up sounder if you get analyzed. And I better wake up.” On “You Are What You Love,” a standout track, she sings, “I’m in love with illusions so saw me in half.” “Rabbit Fur Coat” is a record that is both personal (the title track is about her mother) and accomplished. Listen at http://www.jennylewis.com.
The Little Willies
The Little Willies
(Milking Bull Records/EMI)
It takes a group of confident men to name their band The Little Willies. But then, when one of the band’s members is none other than Norah Jones, well, they can afford the risk. The self-titled debut from this band is anything but small. The Little Willies are the favorite country bar-band you never had or never knew you wanted. The group started as five friends getting together to jam their favorite Hank Williams and Willie Nelson songs. Soon the band started penning their own and, thankfully for fans of classic country, decided to cut a record. The result is this collection of covers like Nelson’s “I Gotta Get Drunk” and Townes Van Zandt’s “Best of All Possible Worlds” and originals like the sublime “Roll On” and the absurd “Lou Reed.” The Little Willies shine brightest when Norah Jones is at the mic.
State of The Ark
Think The Darkness meets Franz Ferdinand meets Queen meets The Scissor Sisters and you have an idea of what to expect from Sweden’s The Ark. Fun, funky, sexy and sassy, “State of The Ark” has finally made it to the U.S. just in time to benefit from a resurgence of glam and pomp rock. Suddenly it’s cool to be over the top and sexually ambiguous again. “Girl You’re Gonna Get ‘Em” has an early Devo feel. “Trust Is Shareware” feels a little forced lyrically, but its driving classic rock feel vindicates it. Album highlights include opening track “This Piece of Poetry Is Meant To Do Harm,” the pretty “No End” and the David Bowie/Elton John tinged “One Of Us Is Going To Die Young,” which is creepy if you think too much about it, but a hell of a lot of fun.
Fans of Beth Orton, Over the Rhine and Sarah McLachlan would do well to check out Ohio husband-wife duo Tasha and Justin Golden, a.k.a. Ellery. “Lying Awake,” their first nationally distributed record after several independent releases, is a smartly crafted, gorgeously sung collection of alt-folk pop. Many of Ellery’s songs touch on the subtle nuances of relationships and the emotional confusion that results from falling in or out of love. “It’s quiet in Kentucky. You never ask about me,” Tasha sings on the melancholy “Know Better Now.” Other album highlights include “Be Like This” and “Inside My Head,” which evokes a quieter, gentler Alanis Morissette. Listen at www.ellerymusic.com.
Carnegie Hall 4.6.02
Fans of Ani DiFranco already know that you can order “official bootlegs” off her Righteous Babe Records site. But that’s because only die-hard fans would want them. That’s not to say DiFranco hasn’t made some good live recordings. Anyone who has ever seen her live knows she’s a dynamite performer. This is evident throughout “Carnegie Hall 4.6.02.” Recorded in front of a sold out crowd only seven months after Sept. 11, there is urgency to this show that will have fans and casual listeners rapt. “Angry Anymore” and “Self Evident” are highlights. “I will always remember this performance of ‘Self Evident’ as being one of the most intense moments I have ever experienced on stage,” DiFranco said. “Carnegie Hall 4.6.02” will also tide over those waiting eagerly for DiFranco’s June 23 show in Ann Arbor and the July 11 release of her next studio album “Reprieve.”