Autumn is to album releases what Summer is to movie releases — the season that matters more than any other. As a result, every year the Fall musical harvest yields a cornucopia of projects spanning from potentially star-making debuts to superstar juggernauts seeking to extend their chart reigns to heritage artists looking for a big comeback.
I’ve recently been enjoying a diverse group of albums from across this whole spectrum. Read on for a sampling of the CDs I’ve had on repeat the last few weeks.
Barbra Streisand — “Love Is The Answer” (Columbia). The best-selling female artist of all time is a restrained wonder on her record ninth “Billboard” chart-topping collection. “Love” is an exquisite set of jazz standards performed with Babs’ signature emotive singing but without her trademark vocal pyrotechnics. The result is an intimacy that makes Streisand seem real — a virtuoso vocalist still, but not a legend apart from the world. The credit for this understated triumph should probably be given to album producer Diana Krall, who has herself recorded a string of low-key jazz classics.
Human Nature — “Reach Out” (Sony). To this hunky Aussie quartet the Motown catalog must be Heaven’s songbook because they perform it like a chorus of pop angels. After attaining super success Down Under with their interpretations of ‘60s classic rock and soul, none other than Motown legend Smokey Robinson has now brought the group to the U.S. This is a “circle of life” kinda thing since he wrote four of the 16 songs Human Nature covers so well on its American debut.
Mika — “The Boy Who Knew Too Much” (Casablanca). Thanks to his operatic pop voice and gift for writing earworm hooks, Mika gives music writers much more to focus on than his ambiguously gay sexuality. Following up his sterling 2007 breakthrough, “Life In Cartoon Motion,” Mika strikes gold again straightaway with “We Are Golden,” the quirky lead single and first track from “Boy.” The song’s caffeine-overdose video is four minutes of the singer jumping, prancing and mincing around in his boxer shorts.
Meshell Ndegeocello — “Devil’s Halo” (Mercer Street). Ndegeocello – openly bisexual, bassplayer extraordinaire and an uncompromising musical auteur – continues to blaze her own path on her latest outstanding release. Ndegeocello spices the alt-R&B of “Halo” with pulsating rock, slippery funk and sultry soul to produce a savory sonic stew that sticks to your ribs. Now six albums strong, Ndegeocello’s catalog appears
destined to stand with the best of her Hall of Fame influences.
Noisettes — “Wild Young Hearts” (Mercury). The crackerjack pop and funk of Noisettes second album was inspired by the music of the wild young hearts referenced in the group’s album’s title: Early Prince, Queen, Talk Talk, Fleetwood Mac and others. The British trio – dubbed “the best live band in Britain” by The Guardian newspaper – road-tested some of the early material last year and the response assured them they were on the right track. Lead single “Don’t Upset The Rhythm” is one of the year’s brightest pop gems.
La Roux — Self-titled (CherryTree/Interscope). This electro-pop debut makes British duo La Roux look like the ones to beat in the Next Big Thing sweepstakes. Traces of Human League, Yazoo and Eurhythmics can be detected in the singing of 21-year-old Elly Jackson and the computer soundscapes of instrumentalist Ben Langmaid. Lead single “Bulletproof” made ripples at radio but the album is deep with potential chartbusters to complete the job. When ‘80s music fans have a listen and a look at Jackson’s sculpted red hair and her unique personal style, they’ll think time has rewound to 1983.