CAT POWER “JUKEBOX: DELUXE EDITION”
(Matador Records, $18.98) www.myspace.com/catpower
Back with a second collection of cover songs, Cat Power’s "Jukebox" is a stellar example of how few singers can interpret other people's songs with immense grace and utter ease. Cat Power, a.k.a., Shawn Marshall, and her Dirty Delta Blues band kick things off with a two-minute version of Frank Sinatra's signature tune "New York, New York". Hers is an all-too brief, slow sultry tribute that evokes a swelteringly hot summer night in midtown Manhattan, circa 1975. Marshall continues the laconic bluesy style on Hank Williams "Ramblin' (Wo)man" and conjures up some jazz on Joni Mitchell's "Blue". She takes her time to master the feelings behind each word and orchestrates the instruments to glide effortlessly along. Like Billy Holliday, whose “Don’t Explain” she tackles, Marshall evokes a wealth of deep sadness and enough emotion for more than one lifetime. Things kick up a notch thanks to electric guitars on Bob Dylan's "I Believe In You" and she even reinvents two of her own Cat Power tunes, elevating the heartfelt and lovely “Metal Heart” to even greater heights. Just when you think she couldn’t get wreck your heart more, she saves the best for last with a phenomenal cover of Patsy Cline’s "She's Got You".
LIAM FINN “I’LL BE LIGHTNING”
(Yep Roc Records, $14.98) www.liamfinn.tv
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and that’s a great thing when you consider Liam Finn’s dad is Crowded House frontman Neil Finn. Liam’s debut disc, “I”ll Be Lightning”, is a lovely, organic piece of pop, ringing with honey-soaked harmonies and orchestration reminiscent of The Beatles in their later years. The 24-year old Finn produced and wrote all 14 songs and played the majority of instruments. Liam’s creativity shines on the fuzzy rocker “This Place Is Killing Me” and gets introspective on the singable dirge “Gather To The Chapel” and the love song “Wide Awake On The Voyage Home”. Not only does he have an ear for a humable hook, he’s got an eye that can take a decent picture. The CD booklet contains only photos, most taken by Liam, of what looks like his weather-hued home town of Auckland, New Zealand, life on the road and his bandmates. (There’s a sweet one of Liam and his dad sitting with guitars at a studio console.) The cover shot on “I’ll Be Lightning” gives the impression that Liam, in mid-air jump, is a witty, artistic soul who, when he lands, will do so firmly, in to a long and prosperous career.
(Rhino Records, $13.98) www.foxsearchlight.com/juno/
Delightful and charmingly innocent is the soundtrack to the motion picture “Juno”. Rather ironic when you consider the film centers on the moment a snarky teenager discovers she’s pregnant and the crazy, hormonal-infused nine months that follows. The songs are an indie music lovers dream! Soundtrack stalwarts Belle and Sebastian (“Piazza, New York Catcher” and “Expectations”) and Cat Power (“Sea of Love”) pop up, along with exceptional child-like tunes from The Velvet Underground (“I’m Sticking With You”) and tween sensations Antsy Pants (“Vampire”) that underscore the lead character Juno’s complicated yet still innocent adolescence. The first cut over the opening credits is from kids’ songwriter/author Barry Louis Polisar and his1977 song “All I Want Is You”. With its skippy, up-tempo folk sound, audiences know they’re not in for a cautionary tale about the dark side of teen pregnancy. The film’s score is based on anti-folk singer/songwriter Kimya Dawson’s diary-like musings while Dawson’s old band, The Moldy Peaches, makes an appearance with one of the simplest and most endearing love songs, “Anyone Else But You”. The film’s stars, Ellen Page and Michael Cera, duet on a version, volleying verses to express their characters’ affections, that will melt every cynic’s heart.
SHELBY LYNNE “JUST A LITTLE LOVIN’”
(Lost Highway, $13.98) www.shelbylynne.com
Blazing her own path outside the walls of Nashville for most of her career, one-time country darling Shelby Lynne takes on the monumental task of a covers album devoted solely to the late, great Dusty Springfield. Apparently, the idea came from Barry Manilow! “Just A Little Lovin’” is a low-key, stripped down production featuring 10 songs from Springfield’s catalog including “I Only Want To Be With You” and “The Look of Love”. (Lynne smartly avoids Springfield’s signature “Son Of A Preacher Man”.) Recorded in Hollywood’s famed Capitol Records building with legendary producer Phil Ramone (who worked with Ray Charles, Carly Simon and Madonna), Lynne delivers a restrained, slow tempo performance throughout the disc, resulting in a soundscape fitting to a small-town, bar lounge. Lynne’s plaintiff voice works well to suggest heartbreak without ever overdoing it and without ever losing her tough cookie persona. “Just A Little Lovin’” and “You Don’t Have To Love Me” fit like gloves and her laconic version of “Breakfast In Bed” rounds out a very respectful and respectable tribute to a music legend.
ALABAMA “THE LAST STAND”
(Cracker Barrel, $11.98) www.thealabamaband.com
Just like Starbuck's, America's old country store restaurant Cracker Barrel has gotten into the record business and on the menu is Alabama's "Last Stand", a collection of previously unreleased tracks recorded during the band's 2003 farewell tour. Recorded in various cities across the U.S., their biggest hits are featured, "The Closer You Get", "Feels So Right" and "The Fans", along with nine others, including the "greenest" song they've ever done, the global warming warner "Pass It On Down". Live in concert, Alabama's warm, family-friendly music shines through with clear, crisp harmonies and showcases perfectly what propelled the group to Entertainers of the Year status, 8 times over.
BECK “ODELAY: DELUXE EDITION”
(Geffen Records, $29.98) www.beck.com
It’s been 10 years since Beck released his landmark album “Odelay”, the one that gave the world “Where It’s At”, and in honor of its diamond anniversary, the whole thing has been remixed and re-mastered in to a 32-song, two CD set featuring the original hits as well as b-sides and soundtrack work. Beck’s songs have long been prime material for interpretation and “Devil’s Haircut” gets not one but two remixes, courtesy of Aphex Twin and original “Odelay” producers The Dust Brothers. The first pressing is a bit of a collector’s item because the CD booklet contains incorrect lyrics. Apparently, no one bothered to proofread the layout.
BETH NIELSEN CHAPMAN
(BNC Records, $16.98) www.bethnielsenchapman.com
Having Archbishop Desmond Tutu write your liner notes trumps a 5 star rating in "Rolling Stone" any day. His inclusion in Beth Neilson Chapman's new album is fitting since the 2 CD set is a collected work inspired by the teachings of every religion you can think of - Buddhism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Shaker, Muslim, Judaism, etc.. It's quite the theological undertaking for Chapman who, when she could, worked with scholars and language experts to reintroduce ancient sacred texts into new songs, including the hymn “Darrow”, which she sings in Welsh, and “Masibule Ku Jesu”, a favorite of Tutu’s sung in Zulu. What “Prism” results in is the idea that all religions, no matter how different, share the universal idea of love and compassion.
RADIOHEAD “IN RAINBOWS”
(ATO Records, $13.98) www.radiohead.com
I finally got my hands on a copy of “In Rainbows” and it was well worth the wait! The band weaves its signature swirling notes around Thom Yorke’s haunting vocals for a rich, profound album that will satisfy diehard fans. Standout tracks include the distorted guitar driven “Bodysnatchers” and the dramatic “Nude” and “Faust Arp”, which finds Yorke singing over simple, elegant instrumentation. An array of guitars and digital effects abound, as do over-echoing vocals, in particular, on the pop tune “House of Cards”. The bonus disc contains 8 more Radiohead songs and, whether you downloaded it for free or paid full price, it’s nice to know the band won’t let price wars dictate quality.