Dig These Discs :: Jennifer Nettles, Mary Lambert, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, Yo La Tengo, Lucinda Williams
Country artist Jennifer Nettles -- most well known as lead vocalist of Sugarland, with Kristian Bush -- drops her solo debut album after a successful career, and Mary Lambert teases with her EP. Sharon Jones wins a battle with pancreatic cancer to drop her sixth studio album with the Dap-Kings, and Yo La Tengo cuts through all the bullshit for a simple, uncluttered album. The Queen of Americana Lucinda Williams celebrates 25 years with the re-release of her first, self-titled album from 1988, with a bonus album of live recordings. You are going to dig this Dig!
"Lucinda Williams" Lucinda Williams
The queen of Americana, folk and blues celebrates 25 years with the remastered re-release of her 1988 self-titled album "Lucinda Williams," which features the seminal hit "Passionate Kisses" (Mary Chapin Carpenter’s less soulful rendition won a Grammy Award for Best Country Song). Williams will celebrate her 60th birthday later this month, and this slow-working musical craftsman is literally a living legend. Although she works within a narrow vocal range, her brilliant mind churns out simple, uncluttered songs with sentiments that cut straight to the heart of the thing. Her sadness in "Am I Too Blue" is as deep as her longing in "I Just Wanted To See You So Bad," as she sings, "It didn’t matter what my friends would say, I just wanted to see you anyway." The album includes a second CD that features many of the same songs performed live in the Netherlands, with all of the warmth and humor that goes into concert gigs. The story of Sylvia, the waitress working in Beaumont but dreaming bigger is the stuff of "The Night’s Too Long." Her voice is sad but stoic when she bemoans, "How my gonna lose these ’Big Red Sun Blues?’" In "Changed the Locks," a song later covered by Tom Petty, she sings sad and defiant, "changed the number of my phone so you can’t call me anymore and you can’t say those things to me that make me fall down on my knees." She croons pure and deep in "Like A Rose," and captures loss and longing in "Something About What Happens When We Talk." Williams unleashes the rocking blues in "Factory Blues," and swings in "Happy Woman Blues," promising to buy a Cadillac or a Chevrolet, "as long as it takes me away." "You can’t fool me, I see it in your eyes, everything I thought we had has all been cast aside," she sings in "Abandoned." A New Orleans favorite, "Crescent City" hums as Williams croons about bon temps on the long bridge over the Pontchartrain. "Side of the Road" is a sad song with the twang of fiddle strings, and gets folksy with "Price to Pay," singing about losing the key to the door of her heart. Her songs on this album investigate love and heartbreak from every possible angle, taking us on a tour of the human condition. That’s one hell of a rocky road, and we all owe a huge debt of gratitude to Williams for taking us down a path we hate to travel alone.
"That Girl" (Jennifer Nettles)
Country artist Jennifer Nettles -- most well known as lead vocalist of Sugarland, with Kristian Bush -- drops her solo debut album after a successful career that includes a duet performance with Bon Jovi on their hit "Who Says You Can’t Go Home." This Georgia girl dishes up eleven country hits featuring acoustic guitar and Nettles’ fine voice. The album opens with the track, "Falling," starting sparely with just guitar, before the rest of the band chimes in. Nettles sings of becoming a woman and the man she’ll never forget, who took her there. She sings of loss a la Kelly Clarkson’s "Since You Been Gone" in "Me Without You," with the lyrics, "you left the cage door open and your pretty bird just flew/ and I never knew that I could fly so high and the sky could be this blue." The boys chime in on "Moneyball," a rocking tune in the vein of a Bonnie Raitt track, and Nettles staves off the rumor mill in "That Girl," complete with a reference to Dolly Parton’s "Jolene." She revisits this theme in "Know You Wanna Know," about a cheating country singer whose exploits show up on Twitter. Nettles voice soars to heaven in "This Angel" and gets bluesy in the following track, "Jealousy." She melds this bluesy vibe with a classic love song in "This One’s For You," and gives an old-time big band treatment to "Good Time to Cry," singing, "turn out the lights, pour the last drink of the night... if it’s half full or half empty, it’s still half all the same." She finishes up with Bob Seger’s "Like a Rock." Although it’s her solo debut, Nettles has a world of experience under her belt, and this rock-solid album will be a hit for fans of country music.
(Universal Music Group/Mercury Nashville)
"Welcome to the Age of My Body" (Mary Lambert)
Mary Lambert, the plus-sized Seattle beauty who thundered into the public eye during her work writing and performing with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s "Same Love," releases her second EP this winter. Lambert is a full-throated singer in the vein of Adele or Tori Amos, and sings of her experiences growing up as a lesbian in a Christian upbringing. It’s not always a fun time in Lambert land, as she tends to sing about early childhood trauma, sexual abuse, bipolar disease and sexuality -- both hers, and her mother’s, who came out when Lambert was six, causing the family to be expelled from their local Pentecostal church. This former spoken-word star (check her Jan. 2013 book of poetry "500 Tips for Fat Girls") now promises her debut album will drop in Spring 2014. But for now, you can enjoy the four songs on her EP, among them "She Keeps Me Warm," a piano-based ballad that uses the chorus from "Same Love," and which Lambert calls "the other side of the story." The related video presents visuals of romantic love and devotion experiences in a same-sex relationship. "The video is about love and it’s about visibility," said Lambert. "I could be wrong, but I’ve never seen a relationship like mine accurately portrayed in a music video." Other songs on the EP include "Body Love," a powerful song about the objectification of the female body, which is broken into two parts and features a spoken-word singing style with the chorus, "I know I am because I said I am." Also featured is a new song, "Sarasvati," another slow piano ballad in which Lambert croons, "You are Sanskrit on my skin, peel me open ’til I am nothing but a whisper." Lambert sings her truth to become a fearless and outspoken gay voice in contemporary culture.
"Give the People What They Want" (Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings)
The funk/soul outfit led by the powerhouse artist Sharon Jones releases their sixth studio album, slightly delayed by Jones’ struggle with Stage II pancreatic cancer. Jones beat cancer, and her new 10 tracks show that she continues to experiment while continuing to give the people what they want. Her first track, "Retreat!" is an experiment of sorts, with an unusual guitar line that reminds one of a ’70s soul album’s B-side track. She brings a strong Motown sound to "Stranger to My Happiness," as if the Supremes rose from the ashes to record a new instant classic. She urges people to come together in "We Get Along," and replicates that early Motown sound in "Making Up and Breaking Up." "No one can know that you are here, for you I shed so many tears," sings Jones in "Get Up and Get Out," a tune about kicking it with the ex. The funky anti-love song "You’ll Be Lonely" shines in its horn break, and the bluesy "Now I See" benefits from its Memphis-style horn info. "Slow Down Love" is a louche lounge song with an intriguing electric guitar break and warm horns. The Dap-Tones bring on the funk in "Long Time, Wrong Time," and speed things up in "People Don’t Get What They Deserve." Critics have already dubbed the album the band’s best since 2007’s "100 Days, 100 Nights." Let’s hope that Jones and crew get what they deserve for keeping funk alive.
"Fade" (Yo La Tengo)
The Hoboken-based rock outfit Yo La Tengo started out the New Year with a new release: their thirteenth full-length album. This album features 10 songs by producer Jon McEntire (rather than longtime producer Roger Moutenot). The 10-song album is their shortest since the ’90s, but packs a complex punch. Their first cut, "Ohm," shuffles along for six minutes with its claptrack before devolving into its namesake mantra. "Is That Enough" has an early ’70s feel with its singsong verses, with a droning guitar buzzing in the background adding a patina of hopelessness. The electronic organ intro in "Well You Better" cedes to what sounds like a lost Lou Reed track with Ira Kaplan’s muted lyrics, "better make up your mind before it’s too late." "Paddle Forward" offers the promise of screaming guitars, but peters out into emo rock before it delivers. Their mid-album track "Stupid Things" is a mélange of sounds both familiar and exotic, with a roll and buzz that both repels and attracts. Fancy fretwork whets the appetite for bluegrass in "I’ll Be Around," and constant short strumming marks the dreamy "Cornelia and Jane," with Kaplan singing "too many sirens they keep you up at night/ sit back and close your ears." It meshes seamlessly with "Two Trains," a moody masterpiece. Rising harmonies and acoustic guitar mark "The Point of It," a song that unwinds at its own pace. Yo La Tengo goes out with a bang with "Before We Run," a soaring tune with a big brass and string retinue. "Fade" is like that perfect pair of denim blues that just keeps getting better every time you pull them on.