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Mostly a Jem

By |2008-09-11T09:00:00-04:00September 11th, 2008|Entertainment|

Jem, “Down to Earth”
Jem’s sophomore disc is a reflective genre-skipper that does two things remarkably well: establishes the Welsh-born singer as more than an airy-voiced Dido clone while also boasting multiple personalities. The latter – not such a good thing. Not that the songs aren’t check-plus work – in fact, many of them are, especially the spirit-lifting, gospel-y “Keep on Walking,” breezy “Got it Good” and very-gay-sounding “Aciiid!” “Down to Earth,” which exercises a heartbeat-lined hip-hop, and piano-led “You Will Make It,” an ethereal ode to a friend-in-need punctuated with a pretty poem and South African Vusi Mahlasela’s voice, are also down-on-your-knees worthy. But as a whole, the follow-up to more-cohesive “Finally Woken” feels, even with songs this solid, much like watching Lifetime and ESPN simultaneously. B-

Sugarland, “Love on the Inside”
Jennifer Nettles is a lot of people. Third disc “Love on the Inside” finds the honky-tonk duo of Nettles and Kristian Bush balancing goofy pleasers – see the riotous “Steve Earle” – with life muses, like on “Very Last Country Song.” On a fistful of them, Nettles, who co-wrote the album, convincingly slips into the shoes of a man grieving his dead wife, a woman on the tough road to self-discovery – and, most entertaining, a hooky-playing woman getting some morning nookie. Best of all is the friend whose drunken buddy is killed in an auto accident on “Joey,” a heartbreaking number where Nettles’ gymnast-like vocal muscles are flexed to the max, pouring enough emotion into the chorus to quell a forest fire. Save for marred-sound mixing – like a jarring, amped-up background vocal from Bush at the tail-end of decent-but-generic current single “Already Gone” – Sugarland’s third charmer is every bit as lovable as the last two. B+

Patty Griffin, “Live from the Artists Den”
To have a Patty Griffin live 2006 concert – released earlier this year on sonically solid, but disappointingly non-cohesive DVD – is like stumbling upon a pot of gold. And with something this rich in sound, it’s as valuable to the ears as money is to your bank account. Tracks from her latest studio album, “Children Running Through” – including a soaring gospel number “Up to the Mountain,” heartbreaking “Trapeze” and piano parable “Burgundy Shoes” – hog the set list. But the 16-song digital-only release also manages to squeeze in old and previously-unreleased champs – like the poignant death-downer “Top of the World,” debut album standout “You Never Get What You Want” and stunningly bittersweet French-lullaby “J’irai la Voir un Jour,” which is sonically equivalent to watching melted snowflakes gently slide down a windowpane. A-

HMO Approved: Singles Edition

“So What,” Pink
Another day, another “eff you.” On her raucous first single, the cig-laced punk-pop singer references her split with Carey Hart, nonchalantly launching the kiss-off with, “Guess I just lost my husband.” She hasn’t lost her spark, though. Much like career-resuscitating “U & Ur Hand” – also produced by pop-hit-maker Max Martin – Pink, on the lead single from “Funhouse” (out Oct. 28), finally found a satisfying middle-ground between rocker chick and pop siren. And it has nothing to do with rubbing one off. (iTunes)

“I Can’t Give You Up,” Kathleen Edwards
Unreleased cuts are typically axed for good reason: But why the heck this one was killed remains a “Murder She Wrote” mystery. It irrefutably fits the downer vibe of the Canadian’s latest set, “Asking for Flowers,” with its quiet lullaby-like melody, and lyrical can’t-let-go musing. And the lovely violin accompaniment? Just stick the knife in deeper, already. (Available at www.kathleenedwards.org)

“Just Stand Up,” Various artists
Every diva-loving gay man’s dream: To have 15 female singers playing voice-wars with each other. With this Babyface-produced uplifting anthem, recorded to raise funds for cancer research, we’ve got the all-girl gaggle – but their voices, including those of Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey and Beyonce, shockingly work in unison without vying for gold at the Vocal Olympics. Gliding from one voice to the next with the smoothness of a twink, there are growly ad-libs from Melissa Etheridge, Mariah’s trademark high-notes, Rihanna’s Caribbean lilt – and an ear orgasm waiting to happen. (iTunes)

“U Want Me 2,” Sarah McLachlan
Never mind the very-Spice Girls-esque title: The lesbian-loved songstress nails another Zoloft-deficient pop addiction with her pure-as-a-baby pipes. Musing on a spider-webby relationship with a not-so-snail-sounding mid-tempo mix of drums and guitar, the first single from her greatest hits collection, due Oct. 7, makes us miss the on-leave singer even more. (iTunes)

About the Author:

Chris Azzopardi
As editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBTQ wire service, Chris Azzopardi has interviewed a multitude of superstars, including Cher, Meryl Streep, Mariah Carey and Beyoncé. His work has also appeared in GQ, Vanity Fair and Billboard. Reach him via Twitter @chrisazzopardi.