Dig These Discs :: Ciara, Sara Bareilles, Cody Simpson, Brendan James, Twin Peaks
Glamorous Ciara launches her fifth studio album full of R&B hits, while Chicago glam-rock outfit Twin Peaks drop their new debut album, "Sunken." "The Sing-Off" judge Sara Bareilles jockeys for more Grammy nods with her third collection of hot vocal tracks that move from harmonious to whimsical. Aussie heartthrob Cody Simpson croons for the tween set in his new album, "Surfers Paradise," and singer/songwriter Brendan James lets loose with another collection of mellow piano tracks. Hot fun in the summer sun, with Dig These Discs!
Ciara Princess Harris launches her self-titled fifth studio album with a bang, debuting the top-ten R&B hip-hop single "Body Party." Teaming up with Atlanta singer-rapper Future and B.o.B., Ciara shakes her stuff in a song that is made for the dance floor.
The spoken-word intro leads into the slow jam snap track with Ciara crooning, "Baby put your phone down you should turn it off/ ’Cause tonight it’s going down... We in the zone now don’t stop." The two even star as blushing lovers in the video for the song.
Future also joins in for the electro dance track "Where You Go." She kicks things off with the slow electro jam/ auto tune track "Sophomore," with its allusion to sex education. An unidentified rapper lays down the intro for the fast-moving gotta have it track "Keep On Lookin.’ "
Ciara asks for a wild night at home, girl-band style, in "Read My Lips." The lyrics are flirty, and the repeating chorus is catchy. This, and "Keep On Lookin’" are among the best of the album. She dips back into the ’70s porn movie sound effect bag of tricks for her single "DUI," and gets all breathy and sensual. "I’m driving under the influence of your touch, I might have to pull over," she sings.
She goes for a mod disco feel in the silly tune, "Overdose," and tries for flirty in "Super Turnt Up." She gets some help from filthy, big-mouthed rapper Nicki Minaj in "I’m Out" and "Livin’ It Up," which reaches back to a ’90s Erasure sound.
These flashy additions from Minaj and Future add a lot to Ciara’s very restrained body of work. Despite her tendency to keep her feelings close to the vest in her music, Ciara has eight Billboard Hot 100 top-ten singles under her belt, and has sold seven million albums worldwide. The whitewashed but enjoyable "Ciara" should fare the same.
"The Blessed Unrest" (Sara Bareilles)
Multi-platinum singer/songwriter Sara Bareilles releases her third studio album, and it’s better than it has any right to be.
The first track and single "Brave," was co-written by Jack Antonoff from the band fun., and is a catchy, made-for-radio release. Bareilles sings strongly and without holding back, "Let your words be anything but empty, why don’t you tell them the truth / Say what you want to say, let the words fall out, honestly, I want to see you be brave."
In "Chasing the Sun" she sits in a cemetery in Queens and sings of a "really old city, stuck between the dead and the living."
Bareilles made waves in 2007 with her widely successful hit "Love Song," from her debut album "Little Voice." Her voice is anything but; her harmonies are full-throated and heart-warming. Her Grammy nomination in 2010 led to her job as a judge on the NBC show "The Sing-Off," and her fellow judge Ben Folds has helped her with her work, releasing her critically-acclaimed "Once Upon Another Time" EP.
She works with John O’Mahony and Mark Endert in this collection of a dozen songs that are smooth as silk. Piano chords open "Hercules," a plodding tune that has Bareilles searching for a warrior to help her through it. She pleads for a lost love in the piano torch song, "Manhattan," bequeathing the island they shared to her beloved, singing, "You can have Manhattan, cause I can’t have you."
Piano and drums mash up in an early-’90s vibe in "Satellite Call," her song for the lonely and broken-hearted child, running wild like a broken satellite, singing, "This is so you’ll know the sound of someone who loves you from the ground." She goes for the girl-band sound of The Supremes in her perfect, simple "Little Black Dress." Electronic distortions add an interesting patina to "Cassiopeia," and counterbalance its sing-songy lyrics.
She promises eternal love in "1000 Times," singing sweet and pure, "I don’t mind, I’ll come back a thousand times," and sings on a similar theme in "I Choose You," a pop ballad with quirky percussion.
Bareilles veers into Sheila E. territory with the pop-fabulous "Eden," and shows her singing skills in the sparse, stoic "Islands." She finishes things up with "December," a soaring song that lets the best of Bareilles vocal skills shine. Her work has let to three Grammy nods so far; look for a few more out of "The Blessed Unrest."
"Surfers Paradise" (Cody Simpson)
With his sweet smile and his jacked-up blond hair, Cody Simpson is the boy next door -- provided you live next door to a bunch of surfers hanging ten in a beach town.
This Australian pop star first made waves, so to speak, by winning two gold medals at the Queensland Swimming Championships. He began to record songs in his bedroom in the summer of 2009, and was discovered on YouTube by Grammy-nominated record producer Shawn Campbell.
Now living in LA with his family, Simpson has snagged Justin Bieber’s manager Scooter Braun, did a tour of middle schools and has his own doll... er, action figure. He now works to cement his tween-demo success with this new album.
In the title track, "Paradise," he mmm-bops his way through a love song about finding paradise in a girls’ kiss. "I want to know what it feels like to run my fingers through your hair / I want to know what drives you wild, cause baby we could drive it there," Simpson sings in "Got Me Good." Classic guitar licks and drum backing add a simple, radio play feel to "Be The One," a classic pining-for-your-love song.
In "Hello," he gets that Bieber feel with this song about Simpson trying to talk a girl out of leaving, and combines this boy-pop sound with that Beach Boys vibe in "Tears On Your Pillow," in which he promises only sunny days ahead.
It’s pure sugar pop in "Wish U Were Here," a song that’s set for radio play, as he sings, "Music’s better and lights are brighter when you’re near." His "I Love Girls" is formulaic boy band fare, and "Back to You" is saccharine stuff, as he croons, "Let me know what I have to do to get back to you."
He seizes on an island beat in "Summer Shade," a "Boys of Summer" for today’s generation, and ends the 10-track album with "Gentleman," a simple song with a snap track and acoustic guitar licks. This cute blonde boy is sure to be a hit with the tween set.
"Simplify" (Brendan James)
New Hampshire singer/songwriter Brendan James put his case before the world when he launched a Kickstarter campaign in March to raise money to promote his new album, "Simplify."
This 12-song album was inspired by James’ rock idols, namely James Taylor Paul Simon and Bob Dylan. He raised nearly $40,000, and with any luck, will put it to good use promoting his new piano-based album.
" ’Simplify’ represents me finding a clarity I have been searching for years," said James of his fifth album, his most elegant and emotionally direct album to date.
James is a strong supporter of equality, speaking out for Marriage Equality and playing for the USO and our troops. He speaks out against violence in his sad ballad, "The New Plan," examining our culture’s obsession with guns. "These prized possessions, these killing machines they deafen the sound of a trillion dreams," he sings.
He taps into the sound of Taylor with "He Loved," a tune written years before at Carly Simon’s home in Martha’s Vineyard. She left abruptly for six days, leaving him with the keys, and when she returned, she gave the song her stamp of approval.
The title track "Simplify" is a melodic jam in which James tries to slow down our collective technological evolution, to allow some animal essence to bleed through.
James isn’t your average torch song balladeer. He combines his piano prowess with a modern sound, to create music accessible for today’s listener. "Letter of Apology" starts with the tinkling of piano keys and then, James’ sotto voce intro, painting the picture perfect scene, with a chip in the armor.
In the fast-moving but melancholy "Windblown," James bemoans what was, singing, "My body’s aging fast, my mind ain’t coming back, my sweet dreams for tomorrow happened years ago." He is an old hand at singing about lost causes, evoking strains of Tracy Chapman’s "Fast Car" in "The Skeptic," and again in "Hillary." He pulls on your heartstrings in the mellifluous "Constellations," and finds the silver lining in "The Good In You."
James is a talented singer and wordsmith, and puts his skills to good use in this album.
James tours this summer from Ohio to Virginia, through North Carolina and Georgia before heading to the West Coast in mid-August. For a singer who’s easy on both the eyes and the ears, catch James while he’s in your town!
(Noble Steed Music)
"Sunken" (Twin Peaks)
The Chicago rock and roll outfit Twin Peaks releases their debut album "Sunken."
This outfit of four 19-year-old rockers walks the line between glamorous and scuzzy, chock full of youthful braggadocio. And these youngsters have come out with a bang. The anthem "Stand in the Sand" has been making waves since it was released in April, and the guys raise hell in the video for "Fast Eddie." This is very much a "dude rock" song, reminiscent of early Violent Femmes tracks -- sloppy, pounding and viscerally enjoyable.
They show their softer side with the dreamy "Irene," with shuffling drums and dreamy guitars. Their track "Baby Blue" is a ragged, rollicking rock tune that embodies the idea of young musicians making their way. It is very pop meets punk. "Natural Villain" song is a slower, more introspective tune with a propelling bass beat that battles restrained guitar licks, creating a tenuous balance. The band’s lyrics are garbled and indecipherable here, but that works, too.
The echo distortion in the vocals gives "Out of Commission" the distance it needs to unwind as a punk-influenced screamer, with gritty guitar breaks. And "Stand in the Sand" makes for a great drum jam sound, with a slight undertone of "beach rock" vibe that it needs for cohesion.
Slow and steady wins the race in their formulaic "Boomers," a mid-tempo rocks song that goes up and down the scale. They wrap up with the muddy but enjoyable "Ocean Blue," singing, "I’ve been waiting for the longest time." We’ll see how long they have to wait before the listening public checks out these Twin Peaks.
(Autumn Tone Records)