Funky ABBA by Nils Landgren (Jusin Time Records)
Funk, R&B, and hip-hop isn’t usually what one associates with ABBA, the Swedish pop band of the 70s who brought the world sugary-sweet yet strangely timeless songs like “Dancing Queen.” Nils Landgren, who recorded with ABBA in 1979, has changed all that with the best ABBA tribute album since Erasure’s “ABBA-esque” in 1992. “Funky ABBA” has all the funk sensibility of an Earth Wind and Fire album. The sound is authentic 70s, a result of Landgren and his Funk Unit using real drums, horns, guitars, keyboards, and bass. “Funky ABBA,” surprisingly, works quite well most of the time. “Knowing Me, Knowing You” and “Money, Money, Money” with rap interludes? Yes, courtesy of Magnum Coltrane Price, whose smooth and measured delivery makes the spoken word sections seamless additions to the songs. The completely re-imagined “SOS” is an album highlight. The only song that truly tanks is the bonus track “When All Is Said and Done,” which features Benny Andersson, one of ABBA’s primary songwriters, who gave his blessing to this project. The overwrought piano ballad doesn’t fit the sensibility or the tone of the rest of the album and would have been better left off entirely.
Grab That Gun by The Organ (Mint Records)
Sounding like the spawn of The Cure and The Go Go’s, Vancouver’s The Organ make music that’s simultaneously sad and catchy. The Organ is Jenny Smyth on Hammond organ, vocalist Katie Sketch, Ashley Webber on bass, drummer Shelby Stocks, and Debora Cohen on guitar. Yes, an all-girl band, and a “family-friendly” one no less – they’re going to be on Showtime’s “The L Word” in February and Stocks occasionally spins at a Vancouver lesbian club called Lick. Sexuality aside, The Organ make new-wave indie rock with a flair for minimalism. Their sound fits well with bands like The Stills and Interpol in today’s pop landscape, though Smyth’s organ gives them that little something extra. Sketch’s vocals sound vaguely like Deborah Harry, with matter-of-fact delivery of the often brooding lyrics about love, death and everything in between. “Sometimes I close my eyes and you’re not very pretty, something I can’t believe I’ve had those thoughts before,” Sketch sings on “Memorize the City,” an album highlight. Another is the ominous “Brother.” Listen for yourself: www.theorgan.ca.
Rhapsody in T by Athens Boys Choir (Daemon Records)
The Athens Boys Choir is not a choir in the traditional sense, nor are they boys in the traditional sense. But Katz and Rocket, the gender-queer duo that comprises the Athens Boys Choir, are not interested in being “traditional” in any sense. Katz and Rocket are two “jeans wearin’ sailor swearin’ bend and tuckin’ gender f—-n’ dudes” doing “straight-up spoken word from the heart and the gut.” Their debut record, “Rhapsody in T,” is 47 minutes of smart, snappy, angry, and witty ruminations on politics, gender, race, and sex. Many pieces tackle what it’s like to be queer in today’s society. In Katz’s piece “Queers in Kentucky,” he says, “We unzip in men’s rooms wondering only how the hell we’re going to pee with our feet facing the right way.” Or Rocket’s “Biological”: “Playing football with the neighborhood boys I had no idea I would eventually destroy all that’s called biological.” Katz and Rocket are passionate and their searing critique of conservative politics just got another four years of sad relevance. However, 21 tracks is a bit much at once, and “Rhapsody” is probably best enjoyed a few tracks at a time.
One Love by Kimberly Locke (Curb)
When it comes to “American Idol” also-rans, who really cares? Kimberly Locke was one of the last three finalists with “winners” Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken – which means she lost to a guy named after a sandwich and an elf who sings creepy songs about stalking. Okay, that isn’t fair. “American Idol” gave this country hope and brought thousands of families together to watch TV. Or not. Seriously, “American Idol” is to music what Tang is to orange juice. As for Locke, her debut is a mixture of bland radio-friendly pop, R&B, and sappy ballads like “Without You,” a duet with Aiken that probably wasn’t intended to be ironic. “8th World Wonder” has a Jann Arden meets Michelle Branch feel and contains strikingly original lyrics like, “Your love’s like a summer rain.” More original is “It’s Alright,” which deals with reaching out to ostracized friends: one’s pregnant after she “made out on a mattress,” the other has just come out of the closet. The message is better than the actual song. Another nod to gay fans is a forgettable cover of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Locke seems well-meaning, has a decent voice, and is likely to be embraced by the junior high set – and grownups with questionable taste.
Let the Music Play by Shannon (Sony)
Named for her biggest career hit and million-selling single, “Let the Music Play” is a greatest hits collection spanning the career of 80’s dance floor diva Shannon. Besides club hits like “Give Me Tonight,” this collection also includes songs from her 90s comeback career, including her cover of Foreigner’s “Urgent.”
Latter Days Soundtrack – Various Artists (Centaur)
The “Latter Days” soundtrack is as much a product of C. Jay Cox as the film he wrote and directed. Unfortunately the music is mostly schmaltz sung by people you’ve never heard of (except “Windmills” by Toad the Wet Sprocket) along with techno-lite and the occasionally pretty instrumental by Eric Allaman.
Corduroy Boogie by Ivana Santilli (Brown Records)
She’s sexy, soulful, Canadian, and she plays the trumpet. Ivana Santilli’s sophomore record “Corduroy Boogie” is a fusion of funk, jazz, soul, and hip hop with huge broad-based appeal potential. From hot dance numbers (“Deserve”) to cool chill-out (“You’re So You”), “Corduroy” has it all. www.ivanasantilli.net.
Hummin’ To Myself by Linda Ronstadt (Verve)
“Hummin’ To Myself,” Linda Ronstadt’s new collection of American standards and first Verve release, is appropriately titled. This record was clearly a labor of love. Her smooth, confidant delivery shines on “Tell Him I Said Hello” and “I Fall In Love Too Easily.” Mellow and mature, “Hummin’ To Myself” is a fine record.
Where Our Love Grows by Swing Out Sister (Shanachie)
Described as “Lounge Motown,” “Where Our Love Grows,” Swing Out Sister’s first U.S. release in seven years, pops cinematically with smooth, soulful vocals and bright jazz and pop melodies. Songs like “Let the Stars Shine” and “Caipirinha” would be equally at home in an Old Navy commercial or as the backdrop to a hipster cocktail party.
Twice the Speed of Life by Sugarland (Mercury Nashville)
Kristen Hall made quite a name for herself as a lesbian folkster before becoming part of the Atlanta-based trio Sugarland. Hall wrote most of the songs on “Twice the Speed of Life,” a collection of bright, accessible country that will surely make Sugarland the darlings of country radio, long overdue for an out lesbian artist.