Dig These Discs :: Lovers, V V Brown, Pink Martini, Mary J. Blige, Panic At The Disco
Panic! frontman Brendon Urie and singer V V Brown find success by hitting their home studios to produce authentic new cuts.
Feminist outfit Lovers release their seventh album, and Mary J. Blige drops her first-ever collection of holiday hits.
Pink Martini releases an ambitious collection of 16 bilingual jazz tunes.
It's spooky how good the CDs reviewed in this edition of Dig These Discs are!
"A Mary Christmas" (Mary J. Blige)
Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Mary J. Blige is standing under the mistletoe early this holiday season as she drops her first-ever collection of holiday hits.
The album is a collaboration between the R&B talent and legendary producer David Foster of the Verve Music Group. "The past few months have been such an amazing time for me, the highlight being my work with David Foster," said Blige. "I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to make this soulful and classic Christmas album with David. David’s music has touched so many talented artists, and I am grateful to be a part of this collaboration. I am so proud of what we created, and I believe my fans will love the album as much as I do."
The album features a dozen holiday classics, among them the beautifully arranged "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," a swinging Big Band rendition of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "Little Drummer Boy" and "The Christmas Song."
The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul teams up with the legendary Barbra Streisand for "When You Wish Upon a Star" -- not exactly a holiday song per se, but like her haunting rendition of "My Favorite Things," a cherished standard. She meshes with Mark Anthony for a Latin explosion in "Noche de Paz," and gets Frenchified with her rendition of "Petit Papa Noel."
Blige gets square with The Clark Sisters in "The First Noel" and goes deep in her emotional solo cut, "Mary, Did You Know." Wild singer Jesse J. is a good match in the duet "Do You Hear What I Hear," and her spirited rendition of "This Christmas" is a welcome reminder of the holiday spirit. Sit back with the Queen and have a very Mary Christmas.
(Matriarch Records/Verve Records/Interscope Records)
"Samson & Delilah" (V V Brown)
This Jamaican/Puerto Rican singer from Northampton, England started performing when she was nine years old, and by 14, had been offered a record deal. She turned it down to finish her studies, but joined a punk band at 15 to tour Japan.
After turning down offers to sign with Bad Boy Records and London Records, she settled on Polydor/A&M, but her unofficial EP went nowhere. By 2007, she was "rediscovered" by Island Records, who produced her debut album "Travelling Like the Light," which garnered 1 million worldwide single sales.
Now, Vanessa "V V" Brown returns with her second studio album, "Samson & Delilah," hoping to strike gold twice. She has spent the interim performing with or opening for countless musicians, as well as modeling in fashion shows with her trademark retro fringe. This time, Brown goes for a darker, more edgy sound, thanks to co-production by Mercury Award-winning producer Dave Okumu.
Through these 11 tracks, Brown does a 180 on her breezy pop songs of yore in exchange for 11 brooding, dark tracks about love, loss, power and rebirth. Brown said the record tells the story of Samson and Delilah, about someone who lost all his strength and was deceived by the woman he loved, and gained that strength back over time. She draws parallels to her own struggle with major record labels, and eventually setting up her own record company, YOY (You Own You). She put off all restrictions about what would make for chart success and instead focused on being true to herself. She calls the album the "purest work I’ve ever made."
Now 29 years old, Brown has had some time to cast off the kid pop and move into something deeper -- in a recent Huffington Post interview, she drew parallels between herself and Janelle Monae. Her lead single "Apple" is defiant, as she sings, "Don’t patronize me, I’m not your clown/ Don’t cause me suffering, it’s over now." The opening track "Substitute for Love" is a slow and haunting electronic slow jam. Her electro-pop tracks "Faith" and "Nothing Really Matters" are similarly dramatic, with metered dance beats fit for more commercial play.
"Samson" is a brooding, insistent song with a cacophonous ending. The cacophony remains, but the tone is milder in her track "I Can Give You More," which morphs from its slow intro into a bouncing club track. The mounting insistence of "Igneous" is studded with a catchy rap break. The tension cedes to the theatrical track "Looking for Love," as Brown sings, "tell me what you’re looking for, tell me what you really need."
Piano chords open "Knife," which showcases Brown’s vocal range. The haunting track "Beginning" marks the ending of the album, which is an unquestionable triumph for Brown, and miles apart from the other commercial ventures in which she is involved. Brown will tour the UK through mid-October before kicking off a tour in January.
"A Friend In the World" (Lovers)
Carolyn Berk, Kerby Ferris and Emily Kingan have dropped their seventh album, another indie pop victory of beats and synthesizer melodies.
Throughout the 10 tracks, the band details the complex emotions around female friendship and love, from their first track "Tiger Square" to "Wander Through the Time of Hearts," about lost love and identity. "If the image gets all twisted, untwist it, if the door gets unlocked it’s unlocked/ if the singing lifts your spirit then sing it," they sing in "Tiger Square," the place mom told you not to go.
"Lover, let me in," they croon in "Girl in the Grass." "There’s something very cosmically powerful about choosing love over and over and over again, recommitting to people, cooperating on creative endeavors," said Berk. "We wanted to make an album that reflected our commitments to supporting each other’s creative processes. There is something so pure and magical about true friendship love, and we wanted to pour that into this album."
These feminist darlings seize on an early ’90s sound with "Purple Sage," singing dreamily, "hey my purple sage can I say it to your face/ my mother’s eyes, my sisters face, I’m hypnotized and shifting shape." The girls give their all on "Oh Yeah," and have some fun with it, but Berk’s deep vocals can at times seem monotonous. This sonic flatlining does them no favors.
The clever wordplay in "The Modern Museum of the Modern Kiss Goodbye" is admirable. Their punk-pop track "Oh Yeah" is catchy and sticks with you, and the melodies soar on "Wander Through the Time of Hearts." The track "Lavender Light" tries to break free, but keeps getting pulled back by the reins. "There’s a streetcar named desire now, there’s a secret place to meet/ keep your head up to the wire now, for transmissions from the street," they sing in "Rocketship."
They play coy in "James Baldwin & The Diagonal Trance," and finish the album up with "Wild Horses," a quiet song with fabulous bass drum accents. Lovers will tour the UK and Europe this fall, and return to the U.S. in the spring.
"Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die!" (Panic! at the Disco)
With band members dropping around him like flies from dissent and substance abuse issues, Panic! frontman Brendon Urie hit his home studio to write the majority of tracks for this new album.
Although he stopped short from calling the new album a solo project, he did admit that he is now the driving force in the band. Twenty-six-year-old Urie describes the album as primarily a party and dance record, but there is also a confessional aspect. He details his personal shortcomings on tracks like "Miss Jackson" featuring Lolo, and "This is Gospel," their fabulous first track, which is underscored by a strong bass drum beat.
This former Mormon from Las Vegas has moved his work from emo/baroque pop back to the theatrical pop rock they began with. His track "Vegas Lights" is an electronic homage to excess with a catchy backbeat. Urie said he loves the anti-love track "Nicotine," with the lyrics, "I taste you on my lips and I can’t get rid of you, so I say damn your kiss and the awful things you do, yeah you’re worse than nicotine."
The quirky Devo-esque intro to "Girls/Girls/Boys" gives a firm foundation to this song about love outside the conventions. And "Casual Affair," with its snare-fueled bass line, is anything but casual. "Far Too Young to Die" has a keyboard line like an Erasure tune, and "Collar Full" is a full-bodied rock song. The album closes, fittingly, with "The End of All Things," a somber tune with theatrical piano flourishes.
Panic! will tour Europe with Fall Out Boy on the Save Rock and Roll Arena Tour, and will take their show on the road in January, kicking off in Seattle, heading through the Midwest to Ohio, then meandering down the East Coast.
(Fueled By Ramen)
"Get Happy" (Pink Martini)
Sixteen tracks of bilingual glamour jazz are pretty sweet, especially when you’ve got the legendary Phyllis Diller singing in what would be her final recording!
In January 2012, Thomas Lauderdale and Dave Friedlander flew to L.A. and bought a dozen of Diller’s brightly colored paintings. While there, they recorded Charlie Chaplin’s "Smile," beginning what would become an 18-month odyssey to "Get Happy." But Diller wasn’t the only guest singer to share her voice. Cabaret sensation Meow Meow joined in, Frenchy Philippe Katerine, radio superstar Ari Shapiro, the sibling troupe The von Trapps and even Rufus Wainwright got in on the action.
Although they are from Portlandia, vocalist China Forbes and co-singer Storm Large have churned out an impressively large collection of songs in German, French, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, Farsi, Turkish and Romanian. In the first track, "Ich dich liebe," Forbes sings, "someday she’ll come, she’ll come along, the one you love, she’ll do you wrong, she’ll break your heart and you will feel the pain I felt when love was real."
Sultry Latin sounds are the stuff of "Quizas quizas quizas," and the English-language classic "Sway," though a piano and classical vibe comes through "You te queiro siempre," featuring Shapiro. The Asian invasion comes in "Zundokobushi," which sounds like theme music for "Green Lantern," and via cabaret singer Meow Meow’s purrs among a screaming trumpet in "I’m Waiting for You." Singing in French is Katerine in "Je ne t’aime plus," a tantalizing tune with a ’50s sound. The girls croon in the Iranian tune, "Omide zendegani," and "Uskudar" has the urgency of a chase scene in a foreign movie. Ditto for "Pana cand nu te iubeam."
Although Wainwright wins in the soulful "Kitty Come Home," written by his aunt Anna McGarrigle as a plea to his mother after her split with father Loudon Wainwright, the moody sound doesn’t quite fit the timbre of the rest of the album. Fortunately, he also chimes in on the following track, the classic "Get Happy/Happy Days," which benefits from its interesting, overlaid Round Robin presentation. The "Heliotrope bouquet" is a chill segue to Diller’s memento that is "Smile." Hope they’re smiling in heaven, Phyllis.