Dig These Discs :: Barbra Streisand, Cher Lloyd, Tori Amos, Beth Orton, The Script
Folk music abounds in this edition of Dig These Discs. La Streisand thrills with a collection of classic covers, and folkie Beth Orton releases her best album yet. Irish folkies The Script make a big splash, Tori Amos reworks her best hits and UK singer/rapper Cher Lloyd showcases her dynamic voice.
"Release Me" (Barbra Streisand)
The Babs takes pity on us lowly hoi polloi as she releases her new album, "Release Me," a collection of 11 classic covers never previously recorded, from her private vault. She guffaws her way charmingly through the intro of her first track "Being Good," singing, "Being good, won’t be good enough/ When I fly I must be extra high and I’ll need special wings/ so far to go from so far below." It’s a sacrilege to doubt Streisand’s amazing vocal range, and it’s all on display from the get-go, complemented with full orchestration. She laments the near miss of love in country music artist Lee Greenwood’s "Didn’t We," and keeps the sadness flowing in the 1932 jazz standard, "Willow Weep For Me." "Try To Win a Friend," is a sad tune made popular by Johnny Mathis, as Streisand sings of the end of relationships, singing, "After you’ve lost a lover, try to win a friend. The parting’s easier when they are smiles instead of tears." If only it were so easy, Babs! In Randy Newman’s "I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today," the dialogue intro gives you a peek into the studio, where rich piano chords pick out a tune about human kindness overflowing. Both Nina Simone and Bette Midler did a fine version of this song, and Babs does as well. She tackles Paul Williams, "With One More Look at You," featured on the album "A Star is Born," singing, "With one more look at you, I’d learn to change the stars/ And change our fortunes, too. I’d have the constellations paint your portrait, too/ So all the world might share this wondrous sight/ The world could end each night with one more look at you." She seizes upon a Brazilian bossa-nova sound in "Lost in Wonderland," which seems like the less pretty and far more talented version of "The Girl from Ipanema" as she sultrily sings her story, "I took a walk and I lingered there." She belts out "How Are Things in Glocca Morra," asking each weeping willow and brook along the way, and segues into "The Heather on the Hill," both from the classic movie "Brigadoon." A music-box intro sets up "Mother and Child," a nice vehicle for Streisand’s peerless pipes to shine, as she duets with herself as both mother and child. She employs theatrical metaphors in "What Matters Most," singing, "Why was there no applause, that was our best performance, all in all I thought our last night went quite well." The song is redolent with a deep sadness, as she sings, "some things are just too good to be true." She closes out the album with "Home," originally recorded in the ’80s for "The Broadway Album." This barn-burning powerhouse is a great way to end a stunning album of covers. Now if only we had an extra $600 lying around for a ticket to see her perform them live...
"#3" (The Script)
An intense burst of drums and guitar opens the Script’s third album, "#3," as the Irish trio of Danny O’Donoghue, Mark Sheehan and Glen Power attempt to replicate the success of their 2010 album, "Science and Faith," which hit #1 in the UK and Ireland. In their first track, the pub song "Good Ol’ Days," they sing of chilling out with cigars and whiskey, talking trash, because, "Ain’t no shame in the game that’s just how we were raised to always sing of the better days." Their hit single, "Hall of Fame," featuring will.i.am, debuted in London during the Olympics. It is a rap-style pop song with the chorus, "The world’s gonna know your name." Said Sheehan, "We wanted to capture as much emotion in the track’s sound as there is in the lyrics, which are definitely some of the most positive and upbeat we’ve ever written." They recalled how they played it cool upon working with will.i.am, waiting until they left his hotel room with the finished track to fist-pump and hit the bar to celebrate their get. The band has a piano-heavy, pop melodiousness that resonates well with listeners here and in their home of Dublin. They will put this to the test as they kick off their North American tour with an Oct. 9 concert at Radio City Music Hall. They’ll hit cities between New York and California, before returning for a final show in Camden, NJ, to promote "#3." "There’s a synergy to three," said frontman O’Donoghue. "We’re all extremely different people, but magic happens when you mix us together." A heartfelt song about smiling through the pain of a relationship ending is "Six Degrees of Separation." The song lyrics borrow from AA’s 12 steps, as they chart O’Donoghue’s recovery after breaking up with his longtime girlfriend earlier this year, singing, "And the third is when your world splits down the middle, in the fourth you’re gonna think that you face yourself, fifth, you see that it was someone else." "Glowing" is another song about a lover leaving. The band’s other slow tune is "No Words," a string-heavy orchestration with a secret Irish banshee shriek in its ghostly chorus that sounds like, "No words." The lyrics outline the many topics the guys can talk about endlessly; yet when it comes to their girl, there are no words. "This is about those moments when you need to tell someone how you feel about them, but you can’t find the words," said O’Donoghue. A cool echo filter opens "If You Could See Me Now," a hip-hop/pop amalgam that looks at the death of Mark’s parents and Danny’s father, with lyrics including, "would you still be disgraced or take a bow, if you could see me now?" "As writers, we’re used to venting everything in song," said Sheehan. "But that was the one topic for two albums we always shied away from. One night, I’d brought in a number of whiskies I wanted the guys to try -- that was the porthole. We had to be drunk to tackle that song. Danny and I sat in opposite corners of the studio, writing our verses. "I’ll remember that night for the rest of my life," said O’Donoghue. "Emotionally, we achieved exactly what we got into music for, what we’re all still in it for. Not the No. 1 singles or the fame, but to capture an emotion in three and a half minutes that we know will mean an awful lot to other people." "Give the Love Around," is a song about good karma, with lyrics, "if you treat a man wrong he’s gonna pass on it down to the next in line who’s probably his wife/ bringing up his kids, watch their mama cry." "Broken Arrow," looks at the old adage, "winners never quit, quitters never win," and a host of others. O’Donoghue asks for it all, no holds barred, in "Kaleidoscope," and sings about living good despite living the hard life in "Millionaires." The Script’s sound is like Eminem meets The All-American Rejects: total dude music, but with some heartwarming, emotional touches for the ladies. Welcome to America, boys. You’re sure to be a hit in college bars across the country.
"Sugaring Season" (Beth Orton)
English singer/songwriter Beth Orton releases another deep, moody collection of 10 tracks that is a follow-up to her 2006 hit, "Comfort of Strangers." The album was recorded in Portland, OR, and produced by Tucker Martine with keyboardist Rob Burger, drummer Brian Blade, bassist Sebastian Steiberg, guitarists Ted Barnes and Marc Ribot and folk singer Sam Amidon. Orton has left behind her early ’folktronica’ label and gone full folk, but her soft voice continues to pack a wallop, rising and falling beautifully in "Magpie," parroting a bird call as she sings, "What a lie what a lie what a lie what a lie looks like." She moves through "Dawn Chorus" with quick syncopation, with stellar accompaniment on guitar and clarinet. In her darkest song, "Candles," she sings with urgency about moving forward despite the pain, singing, "What’s done is done you just find another way to cry." Slow drums build up in "Something More Beautiful," and move up and down with Orton’s voice as the anchor, singing, "You ought to learn the trick to turn what’s not so pretty into something more beautiful." She goes full folk in the song, "Call Me the Breeze," channeling Neil Young with her steam engine-guitar accompaniment to her request to call her the fire, air, grass, birds, bark, stone, day, night and wind. There is a real Woodstock feel to the whole affair, very earthy and rooted. Folksy guitar opens "State of Grace," another song about regret and forgiveness, with a simple folksy feel. In "See Through Blue," there is a very organ-grinder, circus feel, à la Gogol Bordello. She sets William Blake’s "Poison Tree" to music as an intense story-song, singing, "I have watered it in fears, night and morning with my tears/ And I sunned it with smiles and with soft deceitful wiles." Amidon joins Orton for this track, but cedes his power to her voice, making it shine even more so. Among the best of her songs are "Last Leaves of Autumn," which features a beautiful instrumental accompaniment. As she sings the chorus of, "alive" in her fine, high voice, she stuns with the slow track, "Mystery." Critics have already labeled "Sugaring Season" as Orton’s best album yet. And you can add this critic to that list.
"Gold Dust" (Tori Amos)
With her high, ululating mezzo-soprano voice backed by an insistent piano, Tori Amos has always seemed to be sort of choirgirl, a prophet of the Church of Lilith, if you will. In her new CD, "Gold Dust," she teams up with longtime collaborate John Philip Shenale and the renowned Metropole Orchestra to re-record a collection of 14 handpicked songs from her catalogue. Her 13th studio album, "Gold Dust" commemorates 20 years of hits for Amos, whose music touched the lives of millions of fans. It all began in 1992 with the release of her seminal debut album, "Little Earthquakes." She covers some of those first, unforgettable hits on this compilation, among them what is probably her most well-known song, "Silent All These Years." She also gives an ethereal version of "Precious Things," with rapid-fire piano punctuations and a screaming banshee break and its sordid view of a love, as she sings, "So you can make me cum that doesn’t make you Jesus." She covers "Winter," a song about her father, and his message, "you must learn to stand up for yourself cause I can’t always be around." In "Snow Cherries From France," she writes about her relationship with her husband. Amos covers the lesser-known "Flying Dutchman," but sadly, "Gold Dust" does not feature her other big hit, "Crucify," which can be viewed either as on oversight, or an obvious sidestep. The album starts out with her lesser-known hit, "Flavor" singing about the view of Earth from space, with the lyrics, "What does it feel like, this orbital ball from the fringes of The Milky Way/ Raining flavor." She moves on to "Yes, Anastasia," from her 1994 sophomore album "Under the Pink." With sweeping, lush orchestration backing her, she sings, "I know what you want the magpies have come, if you know me so well then tell me which hand I use/ Make them go, make it go." She writes about her relationship with her mother in "Jackie’s Strength," the second single from her album, "From the Choirgirl Hotel," her voice rising and falling as she tells of her feeling old at 21, dealing with anorexia and death. Amos is endeared to the lovelorn and damaged for this confessional style of songwriting. "Cloud on My Tongue," with its story of feeling inferior and craving what someone else has, is one of these songs. She sings, "Someone’s knockin’ on my kitchen door, leave the wood outside/ what all the girls here are freezing cold, leave me with your Borneo/ I don’t need much to keep me warm." Amos "Star of Wonder" is from her first holiday album, in which Amos plays a muse who descends from heaven to guide the Magi. The insistent strings mirror the journey, and add a Middle Eastern flavor. She molds herself to her man in "Programmable Soda," from "American Doll Posse," singing, "Think of me as programmable soda/ Too much cherry? Baby then you can just add cola." "Marianne" is a sad song about suicide, with the lyrics, "And I knew you pigtails and all/ Girls when they fall. And they said Marianne killed herself/And I said not a chance, not a chance." "Girl Disappearing" is on a similar theme, as she sings, "In my own war blood in the cherry zone when they pit woman against feminist." "Gold Dust is about celebrating over 20 years of all the conversations that have happened which inspired many of these songs and it’s a collection of new recordings of where they are now and who they have become," said Amos. After two decades of confessional songwriting hits, it’s time for a retrospective of this sort.
(Deutsche Grammophon / Mercury Classics)
"Sticks & Stones" (Cher Lloyd)
Singer and rapper Cher Lloyd rocked her native U.K. as a contestant on Britain’s version of "The X Factor." Her single, "Swagger Jagger" debuted at No. 1 on the U.K. charts, an unlikely bass-driven hit that has Lloyd commanding, "Get on the floor! Swagger Jagger, you should get some of your own...you’re a hater, just let it go." The style is very reminiscent of the Black Eyed Peas. Her first U.S. single, "Want U Back" was hailed by critics as a cheeky slice of alternative urban pop. "Unh!" she grunts at the opening, singing of her loyalty to a man who has moved on, with lyrics like, "Boy you can show me anything you wanna, I don’t give a shit; no one else can have you, I want you back." Outspoken and talented, Lloyd’s dynamic voice and songwriting talent led her to be signed with Syco and Epic Records soon after her TV appearance. Even perennial hater Simon Cowell loved her. Her style is mutable, and she says of the album, "It sounds a bit like a jukebox. Each track is different; there’s just a massive amount of variety." Her cut "With Ur Love" is a pop gem featuring Mike Posner, as she sings bouncily about feeling like she is on top of the world. "Behind the Music" isn’t a sordid exposé, it is Lloyd’s ode to quality control, with rap breaks. Lloyd said she was driven to become a performer since a young age, and was inspired by Nicki Minaj and Lil Wayne to include rap in her songs. She delves into dubstep in "Playa Boi," one of the best songs on the album, produced by RedOne and featuring a reworking of Neneh Cherry’s monster hit, "Buffalo Stance," including its singular, unmistakable hook. Strings meet a dubstep sound in "Superhero," a song about being saved by love. "End Up Here" is a sad pop tune about a cheating man, and "Oath" is an upbeat ditty about staying loyal to your best friend. In "Grow Up," Lloyd plays her Peter Pan, vowing to never grow up in rapid-fire rap, singing, "I got the flow that’ll make your mother and your father call the cops." The addition of an island beat is odd, but somehow works. She finishes up with the ballad "Beautiful People," featuring Chad Wolf of alt-rock band Carolina Liar. In this tune, beauty is skin deep, as Lloyd sings, "it’s beautiful people like you who suck the life right outta my heart." According to Lloyd, "If you’ve got a recognizable voice, you can sing any style and people will know it’s you." After the success of her U.K. tour, Lloyd is looking to break into the U.S. music scene. With her fast-paced rap and savvy sampling of hooks like "Buffalo Stance," she should fit in just fine.