The song “I Heard of a Girl” by Swedish pop singer Miss Li (a.k.a. Linda Carlsson), from her album “Dancing The Whole Way Home” (Minty Fresh/National), takes on more significance following the suicide of bullied 15-year-old student Phoebe Prince. The track opens the disc on a solemn note and it’s hard to shake. “Dirty Old Man” also tackles a serious subject, but presents it in a more upbeat setting. Throughout the disc, Miss Li gives listeners plenty to think about, but she does it so that you don’t feel like you’re being lectured. Miss Li isn’t all work and no fun, as you can hear on “Stuck In The Sand.”
When it comes to harp-playing freak-folk goddess Joanna Newsom, you either love her or hate her. There doesn’t seem to be much room in her vocal range for a middle ground. With her ambitious new triple-disc set “Have One On Me” (Drag City), I find myself in the former camp. An acquired taste, Newsom occupies a sphere in which early Kate Bush, early Joni Mitchell and Martha Wainwright merge. The project is epic in scope, and many of the tracks are six or more minutes, qualifying them as near-epic in their own right. All in all, “Have One On Me” has its own unavoidable charms. Emphatically recommended numbers include “Easy,” “Good Intentions Paving Co.” and “In California,” among others.
Brooke Waggoner sounds like a more spiritual musical cousin of Newsom. She is said to make “Christian music for people who are tired of Christian music.” If Waggoner can keep the attention of this staunch atheist, then she has a convert, musically at least. “Go Easy Little Doves” (Swoon Moon) is lushly orchestrated. With only one overt mention of God (“Body”), the disc is ultimately intended as a celebration of finding a mate and (straight) marriage.
“Boudoir Rouge” (lekatmusic.com) by Le Kat could be a soundtrack for the burlesque revival burning up the globe. Well-versed in what makes a tune sizzle, Le Kat’s originals such as “Talk To Me” and the especially seductive “Desire” steam up the red zone. Le Kat revives the vamp with her own dizzying spin on a tasteful and titillating selection of covers, including Eurythmics’ “I Need A Man,” Esthero’s “Wikked Lil’ Grrrls” and Madonna’s “Hanky Panky.”
April Smith possesses an impressive set of pipes and knows her way around a vintage-sounding tune. A first-rate belter who is in complete control of her instrument, Smith and her band The Great Picture Show perform an irresistible set of original, timeless tunes on “Songs For A Sinking Ship” (aprilsmithmusic.com). From the bouncy Erin McKeown-like opener “Movie Loves A Screen” to the mean blues of “Drop Dead Gorgeous” and the sass of “Wow and Flutter,” this is a vessel worth boarding.
Finally released domestically, “Love Tattoo” (Verve Forecast) by Imelda May leaves a mark. May’s emotive voice growls one minute and purrs the next. It is a fine fit for the swinging rockabilly sensations “Wild About My Lovin’” and “Watcha Gonna Do,” as well as the jazzy “Meet You At The Moon.”
Former Wild Colonials lead singer Angela McCluskey’s 2004 “The Things We Do” disc remains a personal favorite. The divine Ms. M returns with “You Could Start a Fight In an Empty House” (Bernadette). As you could guess from the title, there’s domestic unrest at work on songs such as “End of My Rope,” “You Let Me Down,” “I Was Looking For A Fight” and the percolating electronic “Handle With Grace” (on which she is reunited with Telepopmusik). But it’s far from a downer and for that McCluskey deserves to be praised.