The Woods Sleater-Kinney (Sub Pop)
If you’re not a fan of the whole riot-grrrl rock thing, then you might not have ever had reason to get into Sleater-Kinney. But now, with the release of “The Woods,” Sleater-Kinney is ready for their close up. They still have the political and sexual sensibilities that made them riot-grrrl goddesses, but on “The Woods” they put the rock first. Hell, sometimes they even dispense with the roll all together. “The Woods” is one of the hardest rocking albums of the year by any band, anywhere. If you love rock and roll for all its dirt and grit and all its loud drums and screaming guitars, then get thee into “The Woods.” Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker trade vocals and guitars, both sounding like they’ve been listening to a lot of Led Zeppelin, Sonic Youth and Patti Smith. Janet Weiss holds the sound together on the drums, so dead-on it’s like she’s pounding you directly in the skull. “The Woods” is by far Sleater-Kinney’s most courageous, experimental, and complex album to date. Highlights include the haunting “Jumpers,” about suicide jumpers from the Golden Gate Bridge, “Entertain,” a big F-you to modern culture, and the 11 minute improvised opus “Let’s Call It Love.” Listen at http://www.sleater-kinney.com.
Anniemal Annie (Big Beat)
If the disco-electro-pop of Scandinavian artist Annie were food, it would be cotton-candy. “Anniemal,” Annie’s U.S. debut, is sweet and totally addictive. As soon as one track melts on your tongue you can’t help but want another, and another, even after your teeth start to hurt. Her voice is light and airy, floating over the club crowd like the pina-colada scented emissions of a smoke machine. Evoking Kylie Minogue and early Madonna, Annie is pure dance floor joy. Standout tracks include the Royksopp-produced “Heartbeat” and “Greatest Hit,” a track she recorded with her musical partner and boyfriend Tore Korknes before his 2001 death. It’s a song that, once you know the back story, is as hard to listen to without getting a tear in your eye as it is to not move your body to its electro-house beat. “You make me feel I’m you’re only star. When we’re together darkness seems so far,” she sings. Further cementing the Madonna comparison, “Greatest Hit” samples Madonna’s “Everybody.” Annie is a hit overseas and will be a hit here with pop fans sick of the excess of today’s stars. Unlike Britney Spears, Annie isn’t just a pretty girl holding a microphone as producers pull the strings. She’s a pop artist, not just a pop singer. Listen at http://www.anniemusic.co.uk.
The Essential Barry Manilow Barry Manilow (Arista)
Say what you want about Barry Manilow, but he wrote the songs. He did. And if you don’t believe there is such thing as “essential” Barry Manilow, think again. This brand new, two disc, remastered collection really does manage to get all the Barry essentials in one place. Almost. Sadly absent is the 1982 hit “Let’s Hang On,” as well as fan favorite “Bermuda Triangle.” But Barry standards like “Mandy,” “Could It Be Magic,” “Trying To Get the Feeling Again,” “Can’t Smile Without You,” “Copacabana” and “Looks Like We Made It” are all here. And that’s just on disc one. Disc two includes “Somewhere In the Night,” “One Voice,” “I Made It Through the Rain,” “Somewhere Down the Road,” “Some Kind of Friend,” “Read ‘Em and Weep” and “I Don’t Want to Walk Without You.” Some songs here aren’t essential, but not many. My biggest complaint: I want the original album version of “Daybreak,” damn it (though the live version here is pretty close to the original), and I could have lived without the live version of “New York City Rhythm.” All of the “essential” Manilow was released between 1973 and 1987 and this collection truly reflects the best of that era. Casual Manilow can buy this and be done with it. Die-hard fans will want to pick it up for the remastering alone. Barry’s never sounded better.
Threesome Michelle Shocked (Mighty Sound)
Proving that when you’re on your own record label you can do whatever you want, Michelle Shocked has released three full length albums at the same time. Though you can buy each one separately, “Threesome” puts them all together in one package, albeit a cheaply constructed one. It’s an ambitious trilogy, but one that will thrill Shocked fans who’ve been waiting for new material for ages. The first of the new Shocked albums is “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” a rock album heavy on the blues and largely inspired by her recent divorce. This is the record most likely to appeal to listeners who are not already fans. “Evacuation Route,” “Fools Like Us” are standout tracks. The next album, “Mexican Standoff,” is half Latin and half blues, a tribute to her Texas and Latin roots. Though she occasionally over-reaches vocally and crosses the line into caricature, she handles both genres well. “Lonely Planet” is an album highlight. The third disc, “Got No Strings,” is an entire disc of Disney songs done Shocked-style with an eye on western swing. As strange as it sounds, it works, and Disney songs serve her playful tendencies which manifest themselves on the other discs to sometimes annoying effect. Listen and order at http://www.michelleshocked.com.
It’s Time Michael Buble (Reprise)
Crooner Michael Buble (pronounced “Boo-blay”) opens his sophomore CD with the Nina Simone classic “Feeling Good,” but you’d never guess it from his pictures on the front and back covers of “It’s Time.” With a voice as gorgeous and a face as handsome as Buble’s, you’d think the man would have something to smile about. If you’re into standards sung by a modern-day Sinatra, “It’s Time” will bring a smile to your face.
X&Y Coldplay (Capitol)
Coldplay’s critical acclaim has outpaced their actual greatness as a rock and roll band. They’ll get there though, and “X&Y” is another step closer. The trick is they’re so darn easy to like. Though his lyrics are seldom poetically stunning, Chris Martin’s haunting tenor instills almost everything that comes out of his mouth with urgency. Highlights include the bombastic “White Shadows” and the pretty “Fix You.”
Classic Moments Patti LaBelle (Def Soul Classics)
Grammy-winning Patti LaBelle’s latest record shows that the R&B veteran isn’t slowing down even after 40 years in the business. On “Classic Moments” LaBelle covers modern day classics from the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. If slick production and star-studded duets are your thing, check out key tracks “Ain’t No Way” with Mary J. Blige, “Land of the Living” with Kristine W. and “Your Song” with none other than Elton John.
Whipped Cream and Other Delights Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass (Shout Factory)
Some records actually do seem to get better with age, as Herb Alpert’s “Whipped Cream and Other Delights” is proving 40 years after its original 1965 release. Nearly as famous for its cover as its music, the remastered anniversary edition of this classic album includes the smash hit “A Taste of Honey,” the Dating Game theme song “Whipped Cream” and two previously unreleased studio tracks: “Rosemary” and “Blueberry Park.”
Can’tneverdidnothin’ Nikka Costa (Virgin)
The title song from Nikka Costa’s 2001 record “Everybody Got Their Something” was truly inspired. Uplifting and funky, it lights up the soul. Nothing, and I mean nothing, on “Can’tneverdidnothin'” comes close to that brilliance. In fact, Costa seems to have run in the opposite direction. “Can’tneverdidnothin'” is 45 minutes of cliche-ridden pseudo-soul that leaves you hoping Costa will get her “Something” back soon.
Dido Live Dido (Arista)
“Dido Live,” her concert DVD was filmed by director David Barnard last August at London’s Brixton Academy over the course of three nights. It’s fine and a good momento if you went to – or missed – her “Life for Rent” tour. But the bonus live CD is the real reason to buy this release. The CD includes 12 of the 17 songs featured on the DVD, including hits from Dido’s debut “No Angel” and her 2003 follow up “Life For Rent.”
Pride 05 DJ Julian Marsh (Centaur)
After ten years DJ Julian Marsh is hanging up his headphones, but he’s leaving on a high note. “Pride 05,” his eighth Pride compilation for Centaur, is sunny, upbeat and a whole lot of fun. Marsh includes current hits like Erasure’s “Breathe” and a dance rendition of Journey’s 80s classic “Don’t Stop Believing” and Roxy Music’s “More Than This.”