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(Merge Records, $13.00)

Actress Zooey Deschanel and Indie musician M. Ward join forces for what they call a “love letter to the musicians who inspired it”, namely Les Paul and Mary Ford, Linda Ronstadt and The Ronettes. The two met in 2006 when they were asked to cover a Richard and Linda Thompson song for a film. Deschanel, who sang for years in a cabaret act, shared her home-recorded demos with Ward and he liked what he heard. “She & Him – Volume One” is a fresh and very appealing debut plump with girl group pop, torch songs and two Beatles covers. Deschanel takes the lead with her distinct, clear-as-a-bell voice on all the songs while Ward mans the production with simple, sparkling clarity. Layered harmonies and backing refrains on “I Was Made For You” and “This Is Not A Test” revive a 60s groove that nails the sweet sentiment without ever being campy. Ward lends his haunting voice to a couple of tunes, including a lone guitar cover of The Beatles “I Should Have Known Better”, while the gifted Deschanel skillfully handles every genre including the lilting country crooner, “Got Me”. Given that the disc is titled “Volume One”, one can only anticipate the music they’ll be mining for Volume Two.



(Zoe Records, $17.98)


Canadian singer/songwriter Kathleen Edwards seems to have matured on her latest effort, “Asking For Flowers”. Gone is the tough chick whose lyrical hooks exploded out of “Back To Me”, her sophomore disc released three years ago. Sure she swears from time to time, most notably on the melancholic “Sure as Sh*t” (a title her mom complained about) and ramps it up on “The Cheapest Key” and “Oh Canada”, but Edwards seems far more tempered on the rest of the tracks. Her artistry shines in her lyrics, telling stories of working class people in bittersweet relationships (title track), the complicated life of a musician (“Buffalo”), and a young man’s desire to live and marry (“Oil Man’s War”). Edwards gets pokey on “I Make The Dough, You Make The Money” with lines like “You’re cool and cred like Fogerty/I’m Elvis Presley in the 70’s” and brings out the hooks on the catchy “Run”. “Asking For Flowers” ends with the six and a half minute “Goodnight, California”, a sleepy song with only two verses and dreamy instrumentation. The result is a lush songscape befitting the laziest of Sundays.



(Yep Roc, $16.98)


Singer/songwriter Jim Lauderdale nails it when he calls his backing band “The Dream Players” because the line-up is a “Who’s Who” of rock n’ roll. Elvis Presley’s guitarist James Burton and drummer Ron Tutt, Flying Burrito Brothers pedal steel player Al Perkins and Glenn D. Hardin, piano player for Buddy Holly’s Cricket’s. Lauderdale is up to the challenge of providing these stellar musicians with quality songs that pack a country punch. The band flies like a bat out of hell on the rocker “Stingray” and gets as country as you can get on “Molly’s Got A Chain” thanks to Lauderdale’s high lonesome voice and a soft shuffle anchored by Tutt’s steady drumming. Perkin’s pedal steel and Hardin’s piano shine poignantly on the heartbreaker “It’s Finally Sinkin’ In”. The Dream Players are rounded out vocally by Patty Loveless and Emmylou Harris, who cement “I’m Almost Back” into a timeless classic. What Lauderdale does for country music, and more importantly for these brilliant veteran musicians, is to give those who laid the foundation of American music a hand in its continuing evolution.



(Rykodisc, $16.98)


On this, his debut solo album, The Jayhawks front man Gary Louris drives straight to Laurel Canyon and settles in for an inspired, lush jam session with his thoughts and talented friends. Rolling piano, sparkling guitars, pedal steel and a choir of backing vocalists (including Susannah Hoffs of The Bangles and Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis) make for a brilliant mix of songs you can’t help but sing along to. “To Die A Happy Man” overflows with haunting poetry, cresting to a handclapping, Sunday gospel sing-a-long featuring the voice of Chris Robinson of The Black Crowes, who serves as Louris’ producer and singing partner on the weighty “I Wanna Get High”. What Robinson adds is a big dose of southern rock to Louris’s country-folk leanings, best exemplified on the heavy “Omaha Nights” and the multi-layered “Black Grass”. Louris’ trademark harmonica intros the title cut, a 70’s Southern California-style rocker, while the languid “She Only Calls Me On Sundays” hits the country nail on the head. He’s introspective in a mid-life pondering kind of way, especially on the wistful “D.C. Blues” and the last song “Meandering”. Whatever Louris may be pondering, “Vagabonds” is a stellar achievement that should be heard live.


(Carpark Records, $13.98)


Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally are Beach House, a pair of vintage-wearing musicians whose dreamy, neo-60’s songs have a cinematic quality, that is if said movie starred two American hipsters whose childhoods were spent in Baltimore, Philadelphia and France. Their sophomore effort “Devotion” is sparkly and ethereal, thanks to the vocal stylings of Legrand, whose singing on the track “Gila” recalls Nico’s work with The Velvet Underground. Her tom boy-like vocals, especially on the love song “Heart Of Chambers”, adds strength to her yearning, giving the impression that she’ll be okay. With influences like Brian Wilson and Big Star, Beach House is perfect for your summer listening pleasure.



(Yep Roc, $15.99)


After a 13-year musical absence, the daughter of June Carter Cash and honky tonk singer Carl Smith returns with a dozen solid songs of love and life-affirming surviving, inspired by her husband of two years. Carter’s voice resembles her mother’s but with an edge that never conveys her hard partying days of the 1970s. Her softness seeps through the tender “Spider Lace” while her boundless energy exudes jubilantly on “The Bitter End”. The title track has Carter proclaiming herself a “hell-raising angel” who sings “what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger”, in regards to the death of her sister Rosey in 2003. That same year, she lost her mother, stepfather Johnny Cash and boyfriend Howie Epstein (Tom Petty’s bassist). “Stronger” is a testament to overcoming life’s most heart-wrenching moments with grace and purpose.



(Red Beet Records, $15.00)


Best known for her harmonies on Emmylou Harris’ earliest recordings, including “Luxury Liner”, singer/songwriter Fayssoux McLean returns after a 30-year absence with her debut album, a collection of songs mined from the traditional ones sung to her by her grandmother (“Amen Children”, “Weepin’ Mary”), favorite covers (“California Earthquake” by Rodney Crowell) and two originals. Joining in on this inaugural outing is none other than Emmylou, who sings on the Fayssoux-penned heartbreaker “I Know It’s Over”, Ricky Skaggs and one-time pedal steel player for The Byrds, Lloyd Green. With her warm, unhurried delivery, Fayssoux’ “Early” is a lovely, front porch performance of country ballads and folk songs made even sweeter thanks to the gathering of talented, old friends.



(Virgin, $18.98)


Seems all we need is love, according to Lenny Kravitz. With his signature sonic 70s sound, he informs us via laundry list that he doesn’t need “no plastic surgery…no butlers, cooks or maids…no marijuana…no ecstasy”, etc. Nope, he doesn’t need any of that cause he’s got “Love, Love, Love”, the fourth track on the disc. He’s a one-man band throughout, playing everything from guitars to drums to handclaps to a Moog synthesizer. The song “Good Morning” hints of The Beatles “Sgt. Pepper” with a bit o’ Irish tossed in, thanks to its “top of the morning”-worded chorus, and the guitar solo on “If You Want It” brings Led Zeppelin in to the mix. Though he has his musical inspirations, Kravitz owns his musical style, turning heartbreak into musical salvation, producing yet another inspiring, solid rock record. / Issue 80 - September 0339
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