Like most Americans, I love a good comeback. When Rocky pummels Ivan Drago in the last round, I’m throwing haymakers right there with him. When Jimmy Chitwood sinks the last-second jumper to defeat South Bend Central, I’m swishing the net from my La-Z-Boy.
In similar fashion, for the last few weeks I’ve been enjoying the comeback album from the Queen of Disco, Donna Summer. The new set is a contemporary-sounding collection titled “Crayons” that’s out now on Burgundy Records.
For the uninitiated, Donna Summer is a Dance Music Hall of Fame inductee and a five-time Grammy winner who has sold an estimated 130 million records worldwide. She exploded onto the music scene in late 1975 with “Love To Love You Baby” and followed it with a string of hit singles and albums that extended into the early ’80s.
In those years, Summer was a superstar and her disco and pop anthems were the soundtrack to American nightlife. However, after living in the glare of celebrity for a decade and a half, she released her last all-new studio album in 1991 and retreated from the spotlight.
She enjoyed home life, raised her family and worked sporadically during this time. Then everything changed two years ago, when Summer decided to tour again. “I was sitting around the house, like I say on stage, and fast becoming a desperate housewife,” she explains. “I needed to feel like I could connect again with the audience. And once I did that, I felt like I could put another record out.”
“Crayons” is a 12-track collection co-written by Summer and a handful of collaborators. One significant writing partner is Evan Bogart, son of Neil Bogart, the founder of Casablanca Records. Neil Bogart passed away from cancer at the age of 39, after releasing many of Summer’s earliest and most influential records.
Stylistically, the songs on “Crayons” run the gamut from lead single “Stamp Your Feet,” an urban banger, to poppy “The Science Of Love,” world music-flavored “Driving Down Brazil” and danceable “I’m A Fire.”
The album’s breadth is fully intentional. “I wanted this album to have a lot of different directions on it,” says Summer. “I did not want it to be any one baby. I just wanted it to be a sampler of flavors and influences from all over the world. There’s a touch of this, a little smidgeon of that, a dash of something else…like when you’re cooking.”
Remixes of “I’m A Fire” recently topped Billboard magazine’s Hot Dance Club Play chart, giving Summer her 13th #1 and making her the only artist to have a #1 dance hit in each of the past four decades.
Following the path blazed last year by multiple Grammy-winner Amy Winehouse, 23-year-old singer-songwriter Duffy has everything in place to similarly transition from U.K. creation to American sensation.
Her impressive symph-pop debut is called “Rockferry.” Listening to the album for the first time is like discovering a new project culled from lost tunes by Burt Bacharach, Carole King and Ellie Greenwich. Duffy’s singing furthers the illusion with its heavy influences from ’60s soul and the classic girl groups.
References to musical touchstones like the aforementioned are often employed to create hype or hipster credibility, but in Duffy’s case, they’re natural outgrowths of her isolated upbringing in the north Wales coastal community of Nefyn. As her bio notes, “a place too remote to be driven by style wars or opposing music factions (the nearest record counter was a bus ride away).”
Duffy’s musical tastes were cemented early on by a videotape of the ’60s TV show “Ready, Steady, Go!” that her father had. She recalls, “It had The Beatles, the Stones, the Walker Brothers, Sandie Shaw and Millie singing ‘My Boy Lollipop.’ So sexy and exciting! I played it again and again until finally it disintegrated.”
“Rockferry” producer Bernard Butler (ex-Suede guitarist) adds, “Duffy managed to grow up without any concept of what was cool or current, what she should or shouldn’t like, how to behave or even how to sing. For her, coming to London at all was the stuff of fairytales.
“It’s hard for cynical industry types to get their heads around just how far removed she was from our world, geographically and in every other way,” Butler continues. “But what you’ve got as a result is someone who acts and sings completely and unselfconsciously from the heart. That’s a rare and magical thing.”
Highlights from “Rockferry” include the swirling-strings title cut, wrenching break-up ode “Warwick Ave.” (watch the evocative video at YouTube), go-go boot scoot “Mercy” and soaring symphony “Distant Dreamer.”
Give these a spin: Robyn — “Robyn” (Konichiwa); Portishead — “Third” (Mercury); De Novo Dahl — “Move Every Muscle, Make Every Sound” (Roadrunner); Estelle — “Shine” (Atlantic); Heloise & The Savior Faire — “Trash, Rats & Microphones” (Simian/Yep Roc); Ferras — “Aliens & Rainbows” (Capitol).