Dig These Discs :: David Bowie, Drake Jensen, Megan Hilty, Madeleine Peyroux, Devendra Banhart
Rock legend David Bowie drops his first album in a decade, proving he only gets better with age. Chanteuses Madeleine Peyroux and Megan Hilty belt out the tunes. Devendra Banhart releases his eight studio album, and out country star Drake Jensen looks to make his mark. Good things are blooming in Dig These Discs!
"The Next Day" (David Bowie)
On the short list of history’s best rockers, David Bowie sits at the top, a study in punk, funk, new wave and glam rock. Now, after 10 years of radio silence, Bowie adds to his impressive catalog with "The Next Day."
Bowie’s classic voice would never be confused with anyone else’s. In "Here I am, not quite dying," he sings in the title track, a tightly formulated pop tune with keyboard and electric guitar. The chorus is reminiscent of The Talking Heads’ classic "Once in a Lifetime." Among the best tracks are his strutting "You Will Set the World on Fire" and "Dirty Boys," in which Bowie’s sotto voce delivery" reminds one of an early Doors release, without all those dusty mystics. A late horn break gives it a real ’80s feel. Sometimes this feels dated, like in "The Stars Are Out Tonight," but at other points, as in "Love is Lost," the pounding intensity of drums and guitar give an intensity to haunting lyrics like, "your country’s new, your friends are new, your house and even your eyes are new." Like the dual colors of his eyes from acquired heterochromia, Bowie has always presented a Janus-faced look at his music. In some songs, like the discordant "If You Can See Me," or the death-obsessed "Where Are We Now," he comes across foreboding and forlorn. In others, like his new track "Dancing Out In Space," he is a dreamy optimist. He makes the most of percussion in the catchy "Valentines Day," the upbeat tempo of which belies the tale of a teen who dreams of gunning down his schoolmates. He tackles war in "How Does The Grass Grow" and "I’d Rather Be High," an anti-war tune with the lyrics, "I’d rather be dead or out of my head than training these guns on those men in the sand." He comes close to a rock ballad in "Boss of Me," singing, "Who’d of ever thought of it, who would ever dream that a small-town girl like you would be the boss of me?" The album peters out at the end with the "You Feel So Lonely You Could Die" and the lethargic "Heat." At 66 years old, Bowie could have easily rested on his laurels. But as they say, the cream rises to the top. "The Next Day" isn’t just good for an aging rock icon. It’s good in its own right.
"The Blue Room" (Madeleine Peyroux)
Jazz singer and songwriter Madeleine Peyroux is a Georgia-born chanteuse whose vocal style has often been compared to Billie Holiday. She counts the singer among her long list of influences, in good company with Edith Piaf, Leonard Cohen, Bessie Smith, Patsy Cline and Bob Dylan. Her 1996 album made waves for her startlingly good covers of classic songs, and she continued to rise toward critical acclaim with a new album about every other year. Producer Larry Klein helps put together this seventh studio album, what some critics have called a moody mix of rootsy favorites. And to truth, some of the selections are a bit sad and sleepy for everyday use, borrowing as they do from Ray Charles 1962 classic "Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music," with tracks from Leonard Cohen, Warren Zevon, Buddy Holly and more. Notwithstanding, "The Blue Room" debuted as number one jazz album on iTunes and Amazon, and continues each month in the top 100. And with good cause. Peyroux makes these classic songs her own, imbuing them with her own brand of élan. A string orchestration opens her cover of Zevon’s "Desperadoes Under the Eaves," giving it a sad, slow patina, as she sings, "I was thinking that the gypsy wasn’t lying and all the salty margaritas in LA, I’m going to drink ’em up." She meanders through Cohen’s signature song, "Bird On the Wire," but gets things a bit more swinging in Hank Williams "Take These Chains." She moves through Eddy Arnold’s often-covered classic "You Don’t Know Me" with few alterations, but faithfully revives Glen Campbell’s old cowboy chestnut, "Gentle on My Mind." She sings slowly through "I Can’t Stop Loving You," gently pulling on those heartstrings with a moody keyboard backing her. She brings deep blues to Patsy Cline’s "I Love You So Much It Hurts," singing, "I’m afraid to go to bed at night, afraid of losing you." Peyroux’s voice is stunning, a blues powerhouse that somehow fell into the lap of this unassuming white girl. But her arrangements on this new album leave something to be desired, a bit too slow and melancholy, lacking the necessary longing and ache even to be blues. The only song that even comes close to imparting this urgency is her cover of Newman’s "Guilty," miles removed from the crushing song of heartbreak that Bonnie Raitt took it to, singing, "I got some whiskey from the barman, got some cocaine from a friend...it takes a whole lot of medicine for me to pretend I’m somebody else." At the end of the day, is there much anyone can add to the overworked, "Bye Bye Love"? Peyroux is blessed with a voice that made artists like Holiday and Smith legends, and let generations of listeners tap into their visceral pain. So why not let it swing, sister?
"It Happens All the Time" (Megan Hilty)
With the success of the NBC show "Smash" and her March 8 Carnegie Hall debut with the New York Pops, the timing couldn’t be better for Megan Hilty to release her new album, "It Happens All the Time." With this dozen new songs, Hilty shows that she is Broadway-tested and true, although her songs lean more to the acoustic and mature pop than Broadway standards. Her sense of urgency is palpable in "It Happens All the Time," a classic love story. Her voice soars in "Be A Man," a slow track with crisp acoustics, with the no-nonsense lyrics, "It’s gonna hurt but you make it worse when you keep hanging on/ Just be a man about it, don’t try to dance around it, just have the decency to say to me that you got other plans." A country vibe surfaces in "No Cure," and the no-excuses song "Walk Away." Her vocals cascade in the survival song, "Safe and Sound," as Hilty sings, "Just close your eyes the sun is going down/you’ll be around, no one will hurt you now." Well-orchestrated strings flesh out this track. "I can’t take my eyes off of you," she sings in "The Blower’s Daughter," and belts it out with a bouncy pop sound in "Hopin’." Hilty continues to dish her sage advice to a boozehound "Wise Up," and sends out a wide net in "Dare You to Move," with its plinky acoustic orchestration and the lyrics, "Dare you to lift yourself off the floor...like today never happened." She is reserved in her cover of Don Henley’s "The Heart of the Matter;" Hilty would have hit her mark better by belting out this impassioned song about self-love and acceptance. Overall, she comports herself well in this new album, which is sure to seal the deal on her reputation as a Broadway stage to small screen star.