Dig These Discs :: Bright Light Bright Light, Susan Surftone, Shura, Sean McConnell, Jack & Amanda Palmer
Openly lesbian singer/songwriter Susan SurfTone releases her fourth solo album (after 15 albums with her band the Surftones) this month, a six-song EP. UK singer/songwriter/producer Shura has her debut release, "Nothing's Real," putting forward her unique blend of '80s pop, R&B and synth. Vocalist and producer Rod Thomas, aka Bright Light Bright Light, releases his third album, a dirty dozen of dance tracks. Amanda Palmer and her dad, Jack, team up to release "You Got Me Singing," a collection of 12 cover songs that span decades. And fresh from Lafayette, Louisiana, Sean McConnell releases his self-titled album, 10 tracks of countrified rock recorded in his adopted hometown of Nashville.
"The Magician" (Susan SurfTone)
Openly lesbian singer/songwriter Susan SurfTone (nee Yasinski) releases her fourth solo album (after 15 albums with her band the Surftones) this month, a six-song EP. It's been a long haul from her '80s gig as an FBI agent in New York City to an easy-going purveyor of chill surf sounds, but she does it with aplomb. Critics compare her sound to Debbie Harry meets Chrissie Hynde, and SurfTone is definitely a product of her time. Top cuts include her first track, the single "Little Bit Lied To" with its rollicking vibe, singing, "We both know there comes a day, when it's what you do and not what you say/ It's not enough to make me mad, it's just enough to make me sad." Her steady rock guitar always comes through in the clutch. She shreds up and down the scales in the instrumental tracks "Rumble," and gets go-go-licious in "Sunburn." Just try not to do the wipeout dance to this one! "Trying to Get To You" is cut from a classic cloth, with a rockabilly sound that has SurfTone singing, "I've been traveling all the day, I've been running all the way baby, trying to get to you." Drums make "ShadowLand" a bit tougher, with SurfTone's fast-moving electric guitar setting the pace, and she finishes an excellent EP with "Blue Moon of Kentucky," giving the full country treatment as she entreats, "Blue moon of Kentucky keep on shining, shine on the one that's gone and left me blue." There's some fast-moving acoustic plucking going on here that will leave you with no doubt to SurfTone's prowess.
(Acme Brothers Records)
"Nothing's Real" (Shura)
UK singer/songwriter/producer Shura has her debut release, "Nothing's Real," putting forward her unique blend of '80s pop, R&B and synth. This young Londoner a.k.a. Aleksandra Kenton had luck with her breakout track, "Touch," with a special rework by MC Talib Kweli. You'll get into her groove from the title track, "Nothing's Real," as she sings, "I see my heart beat inside a television screen/ my body's not connected, no." She doesn't want to give you up, or let you love someone else, so "What's It Gonna Be," asks Shura. It's been three years; now when she sees you, it's bittersweet, she sings in "Touch." In a slow jam, Shura sings about how she can't believe you broke up; she thought you'd be married, with "Kidz 'N' Stuff" by now. A cool synth sound rocks her tamped-down dance track "Indecision." He's peacefully reading a magazine with his back to her in her memories of "What Happened to Us." Just say that you want me, pleads Shura in "Tongue Tied," and wonders if her man ever wakes up in the night to just "Make It Up." The shimmery effects add soul as Shura sings, "We could be more than friends, maybe I'm just '2Shy.'" She wraps up a truly excellent debut album with the danceable cut, "White Light." Shura just kicked off a tour of Europe, Ireland and the UK; she'll hit Canada and the U.S. by September.
"Choreography" (Bright Light Bright Light)
Vocalist and producer Rod Thomas, aka Bright Light Bright Light, releases his third album, a dirty dozen of dance tracks. He gets help from Elton John, Ana Matronic, and Jakes Shears in the first track, "All In the Name," singing, "all in the name of being somebody that somebody cares about." In 2014, he toured with Elton John for his "Life Is Easy" album. "On a good day, I can see forever, I can take my time and know you all," he sings in "Symmetry of Two Hearts," with help from Elton John to riff on how real love takes time. He slows things down the with soulful "How Does It Feel," and "Running Back to You," featuring Elton John, singing "It's true, the oceans and me we're the same, we both come in waves/But you learned how to sail these blues until they welcome you." The Scissor Sisters Jake Shears helps out in the sultry "Kiss For Kiss," singing about recovering from a broken heart, and learning to be independent. "Someone broke your heart; I will never do that to you," sings Thomas in "I Only Want to Please You," with Scissor Sisters Ana Matronic screaming out the chorus/title. He promises not to be jealous in "Into the Night" and is looking for a way to say 'I love you' in "Little Bit." Alan Cumming adds his whispery vocals to "Home" singing, "if only you knew what I'd do to make you stay." In "Careful Whisper," Thomas sings. "I'll love you to the end of days but I can't show what I'm feeling." Take that, Wham! Mykal Kilgore lends a hand in "Won't Do," promising that he won't break. He wraps up the album with "Where Is The Heartache," with the old adage that 'holding on is letting go.' Thomas kicked off his U.S. tour on May 25.
"Sean McConnell" (Sean McConnell)
Fresh from Lafayette, Louisiana, Sean McConnell releases his self-titled album, 10 tracks of countrified rock recorded in McConnell's adopted hometown of Nashville at Sound Emporium B and The Compound with producers Ian Fitchuk and Jason Lehning, who also contributed drums and keyboards, respectively. The album features McConnell on guitar, Tony Lucido on bass, Danny Rader on guitars, banjo, mandolin, and bouzouki, and background vocals by Alyssa Bonagura. The album was mixed by Ryan Hewitt. In "Holy Days" he's headed to Mexico, listening to "Tangled In Blue" on the radio. In "Ghost Town," he "drove past your place, swore if I could peek in I'd find us breaking bread and saying grace," as he rolls through his old stomping grounds, stirring up memories. It's got a rockabilly folk twang that gives it the patina of an old Indigo Girls cut. He's sick and tired of living in between the lines, and vows to go down to the "Bottom of the Sea" in a music scored with banjo. He takes another trip down memory lane in "Beautiful Rose," singing, "I remember Barefoot Creek and rolled-up huckleberry jeans," before admitting that life isn't what he thought it'd be, but "he'll take the thorns, for this beautiful rose." He invites her to sleep it off at his place while he takes the floor in "Hey Mary." The strummer "Best We've Ever Been" gives McConnell a chance to show the higher registers of his voice, and sings about being born in Massachusetts, "in a little house on Lake Street, second child of four" before finding love in Nashville, in "Queen of Saint Mary's Choir." Bass drums add texture to "Running Under Water," a song about a drought. He's only got a rusty pickup truck duct-taped together, but he's got "One Acre of Land," and he wants to share it with you. He finishes up with "Babylon," with its catchy hook. McConnell kicked off his 2016 "Ghost Town" tour on July 8 in Texas, and will hit the West Coast in mid-August.
"You Got Me Singing" (Jack & Amanda Palmer)
Amanda Palmer and her dad, Jack, team up to release "You Got Me Singing," a collection of 12 cover songs that span decades. Jack, a professional choral singer, plays guitar, while Amanda sings, plays piano and ukulele. "The main inspiration behind this record was to share songs and time with my dad," said Amanda, who was separated from her father when she was less than a year old. "It was a really good reason to spend healing time together, sharing our musical histories, all poetically punctuated by the fact that I was seven months pregnant when we recorded." They start out with the title track by Leonard Cohen, a perfect father/daughter collaboration. They cover the Victorian nursery rhyme "Wynken, Blynken and Nod," by the Simon Sisters, and the Scottish lullaby "Skye Boat Song," an ode to her Isle of Skye grandmother. Amanda's second soprano comes through in the simple ballad "Again" and the piano keywork is excellent in Richard Thompson's "1952 Vincent Black Lightning," a solid story song, pairing well the father and daughter's voices, ending with, "he gave her a last kiss and died, and gave her his Vincent to drive." They sing Tom T. Hall's "Louise Was Not Half Bad," made famous by Bonnie Raitt's heartbreaking rendition, but not half bad with Jack's deep "Johnny Cash" voice. Amanda's ukulele brings a light touch to the screed against Margaret Thatcher, Sinead O'Connor's "Black Boys on Mopeds," inspired by the 1983 killing of a young black man by British police. They retune Phil Ochs' somber protest song, "In the Heat of the Summer" for the Black Lives Matter movement, adding the lyrics, "another black kid face-down in the road, whose life did not seem to matter." A pregnant mother sings in Kimya Dawson's "All I Could Do" with Amanda on ukulele, and they cover Kathleen Edwards guitar track, "Pink Emerson Radio," warning, "there's no time to waste." They even include a modern-day gay rights anthem "Glacier," advising, "don't you become paralyzed with fear," and finish with "I Love You So Much," written by Noah Britton, a hometown friend of Amanda's. The Palmers tour this July in DC, Massachusetts and New York.