Out singer/songwriter Chris Pureka has been peddling her brand of moody folk music for nearly 10 years. Think Mary Gauthier, minus the twang. With each album, including the fittingly named and most recent “How I Learned To See In The Dark” (Sad Rabbit), Pureka continues to mature as both a songwriter and performer. Opener “Wrecking Ball” sets the atmosphere with its mournful fiddle, courtesy of Merrill Garbus, and songs titled “Hangman” and “Shipwreck” maintain the aura. But by “Barn Song,” the darkness begins to show signs of lightening, although the rhythmic “Broken Clock” casts a shadow. The bouncy “Lowlands” shows a Springsteen influence.
Renowned for her work as a touring and session musician, drummer Allison Miller steps up with her instrumental jazz effort “Boom Tic Boom” (Foxhaven). Surrounding herself with other outstanding musicians, Miller capably drums her way through a set that includes four originals and four covers. Highlights include Miller’s own experimental “CFS (Candy Flavored Sidewalks)” and sexy “Big Lovely,” as well as her intimate reading of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Rockin’ Chair.”
Produced by TV On The Radio’s Dave Sitek, Holly Miranda’s album “The Magician’s Private Library” (XL) would be right at home alongside the latest by Gorillaz, Broken Bells or Mumford & Sons. The hot and cool vibe is strong throughout, beginning with the organic shuffle of “Forest Green Oh Forest Green” and continuing through the dreamy and loose “Joints.” “No One Just Us” has a faintly exotic whiff, “Sweet Dreams” recalls ‘60s pop and “High Tide” surfs sublime. Holly Miranda knows she has the right to make indescribably magical music.
Tender Forever (a.k.a. Melanie Valera) is an artist with an appreciation for electronic beats. The beats are present on “No Snare” (K) with tracks such as “Like The Snare That’s Gone,” “Nothing At All,” “But The Shape Is Wide” and “When I’m In The Dark and You Take The Light.” The feel is organic rather than programmed. Like the tree and grass on the album cover, “No Snare” sounds like a musician going green while keeping things fresh for the listeners.
The busy queer music scene in Chicago is exemplified by Katie Todd and Shelley Miller. Both women can regularly be found performing live throughout the city. The gorgeous title track on “Mumbled Speech” (Level It), the latest disc by Katie Todd, is a perfect example of her near flawless pop ballad songwriting skills. She also shows admirable taste in cover material with her rendition of Leonard Cohen’s oft-recorded “Hallelujah.” Shelley Miller, sounding like Chicago’s answer to Chris Pureka and Mary Gauthier, returns with her solid and strong “When It’s All Gone, You Come Back,” on which she strikes the right balance between torch and twang.
As original and unusual concepts go, you’d be hard-pressed to find one that can top all-female trio Girl In A Coma’s “Adventures In Coverland” (Blackheart). Consisting of three seven-inch vinyl singles, whose jackets join together to form a game board, the set features Girl In A Coma covering the Beatles (“While My Guitar Gently Weeps”), Joy Division (“Transmission”), Velvet Underground (“Femme Fatale”) and Patsy Cline (“Walking After Midnight”) and others, all performed in the band’s distinctive garage-punk style.