Dig These Discs :: Toni Braxton & Babyface, Amy Ray, Jennifer Holliday, Mogwai, Nina Persson
Indigo Girls frontwoman Amy Ray goes deep country in one of her most authentic albums to date.
Jennifer Holliday, looking fit and fine, parts ways with gospel for a hot album of R&B and jazz hits.
Scottish quintet Mogwai delivers a full rasher of moody, shoegazing, instrumental tunes.
Nina Persson of the indie-pop band The Cardigans fame releases her solo album "Animal Heart," and this Swedish pop star continues to push the envelope.
Toni Braxton teams up once again with her longtime "musical husband" Babyface for a collection of R&B breakup songs.
Winter winds whistle in this week’s Dig These Discs.
"Goodnight Tender" (Amy Ray)
Former Indigo Girl Amy Ray drops her solo country album "Goodnight Tender," and critics are raving over its pure, sure-footed sound.
The album highlights Ray’s pure, deep voice, both smooth and raspy. She is the predator who finds the deer in the crosshairs in "Hunter’s Prayer," with requisite guitar and fiddle strings filling in the spaces between her lament.
In "Oyster and Pearl," she sings, "Skip to my Lou to the dubstep sound," while the rain fills the riverbed. She sings of the cup of the righteous in "The Gig That Matters," and implores you to give yourself up to the faith in "Let The Spirit Take Hold."
Her voice is honey in "Time Zone," as Ray sings, "I’m in your time zone but I’m calling to let you down/ Cause it don’t mean what I thought it would." The arrangement is spare and her voice signs in "Anyway," a song about her dog killing a copperhead, and of the death of other helpless critters. She sings of "whiskey swamps and vagabond clans" in a country-rock song to her musical hero, "Duane Allman," with excellent fiddle.
Ray’s heartache runs deep in "More Pills," and she sings of the Montana sky in the dead of winter in "Broken Record," which she wrote in ’04. The title song is a true love song, in classic country style. She hits the high notes in "My Dog," with a rollicking guitar line keeping pace.
She finishes the album off with the country gospel song "When You Come For Me," from her protégé Heather McEntire. Ray is a real old-school country outlaw, and in this authentic album, what she’s stealing is our hearts.
"Animal Heart" (Nina Persson)
Nina Persson of the indie-pop band The Cardigans fame releases her solo album "Animal Heart" and this Swedish pop star continues to push the envelope. With the help of her husband Nathan Larson and Eric D. Johnson, she wrote all the songs on the new album in their Harlem home, before hitting the studio.
"Come be my man, babe hang on to me," she sings in her fine, high voice in the title track. As her animal heart tells her to flee, the song looks at moving forward. This is the message of her second track, "Burning Bridges for Fuel." "Both with The Cardigans and A Camp, I have done everything with very driven, career-oriented musicians, but now I wanted to put my own instrument first. Honor the singer. I have also in my work understood that pop music is lodged deeper in me than I previously wanted to admit."
Several of the tracks have an ’80s sound to them, among them "Dreaming of Houses," which reminds one of the background music in movies like "Pretty in Pink." Persson explores fun with keyboards in "Jungle." "Last time I quit smoking, there was a flash of light/ then came a voice on the radio sent me into the night," she sings in "Food for the Beast," another keyboard stunner.
"Silver" also has some very interesting keyboard work that lends it a patina of yesteryear. "Clip Your Wings" is a catchy song about letting go of love, and "Forgot to Tell You" is an upbeat tune that lets Persson flex her harmonics. She gives a gimlet eye to past relationships in "Catch Me Crying" and "The Grand Destruction Game," a story song with an infectious rhythm. After too long, Persson makes a splash with her solo debut.
(The End Records)
"The Song Is You" (Jennifer Holliday)
Jennifer Holliday told you she was not going, and she meant it! This Grammy-winning "Dreamgirls" diva has briefly stepped away from her gospel music to release this collection of pop hits and jazz standards. She sets things in motion with "Love Dance," and follows hot on its heels with the Burt Bacharach hit made famous by Dusty Springfield, "The Look of Love." Her voice ripples and hits lovely, deep bass notes in this classic lounge lizard track.
She hits all the original notes on Etta James’ seminal hit, "At Last," telling the New York Times that she aimed to capture the late singer’s spirit. The title track gets a jazzy makeover with the help of Joe Gransen and The JG Big Band, and some scat by Holliday at the end. She tackles Lesley Gore and Ellen Weston’s "Love Me By My Name," and captures that feeling of longing and deep sadness.
Her voice is honey in Carly Simon’s "Nobody Does It Better" from the James Bond film, "The Spy Who Loved Me." Holliday punctuates several of her songs with short preludes that allow the listener to get a bit closer to her as a personality. A voicemail message prelude fronts the R&B track "Are You Leaving Me," a song by an unknown author that Aretha Franklin once recorded as a demo.
She also sings "The One You Used To Be," which she penned for Whitney Houston. Holliday also drops some new tunes, including, "Touch," which finds Holliday craving a lover’s caress, singing, "you give me a thrill when you call my name, you make me feel so real."
She also includes a rendition of "It’s Not About You" by neo-soul singer Gordon Chambers. It may be Holliday’s first non-gospel album in decades, but Effie takes us to church with these sultry hits.
"Love, Marriage & Divorce" (Toni Braxton & Babyface)
With 16 Grammy Awards between them, Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds teams up with longtime collaborator Toni Braxton for this album celebrating the strong bond they’ve shared since 1992’s duet "Give U My Heart." This album -- the first for Braxton in four years -- is a delightful look at relationships.
The collection of 11 R&B tracks investigates love via Babyface’s smooth tenor and Braxton’s gritty, soul-gripping vocals. They start things off with the harmonious "Roller Coaster," and then move on to the freaky cut "Sweat," with lyrics like, "if you really wanna scream, I can make you scream tonight."
They regret the heartbreak in "Hurt You" and share the blame for cheating in "Where Did We Go Wrong?" The two sing of reconciling in "Reunited," but that’s not the main gist of the album. Although there are some streets-to-the-sheets hits in the mix, Babyface and Braxton are primarily singing about the end of relationships and their own divorces in songs that give these emotions a deeper look.
Braxton walks away from insanity in "I’d Rather Be Broke," and Babyface gives a "peace, out" in "I Hope That You’re Okay," singing, "I hope that we are good."
Braxton is decidedly less cool with how things ended up, singing in beautiful, emotive, vindictive tones, "I hope she gives you a disease... not enough to make you die, but only make you cry, like you did to me," in "I Wish." The song is reminiscent of Marsha Ambrosius’ comic single, "Hope She Cheats on You (With a Basketball Player)."
She pushes her ex’s face deep into that cream pie in the dance track "Heart Attack," taunting him as losing her, the one that got away. Songs about love, failed or otherwise, always resonate with listeners, and with Braxton’s fine, smoky voice lending ballast, "Love, Marriage & Divorce" should prove to be a commercial success.
"Rave Tapes" (Mogwai)
Scottish post-rock band Mogwai releases their "Rave Tapes" with 10 moody, instrumental tracks to sink your teeth into.
The guys roll out the album with a louche, lazy starter, "Heard About You Last Night," with barely-there drums and a lot of reverb and gongs. This is pretty much in keeping with the standard operating procedure of these Glaswegians Stuart Braithwaite, John Cummings, Barry Burns, Dominic Aitchison and Martin Bulloch.
The blokes got together in 1995 to start rolling out their lengthy, guitar-based instrumental tracks, and over the years, they’ve just got better with their heavily distorted percussion and deep bass lines. "Simon Ferocious" has some interesting Moog-like keyboard distortions, and "Remurdered" relies more heavily on a clipped guitar riff before finishing up with intense keyboards.
"Hexon Bogon" is a deeply (and fittingly) distorted tune, while "Mastercard" hews more closely to standard rock with a metal edge. "Deesh" moves forward on the power of a persistent drumbeat, and "No Medicine for Regret" is an intense piece reminiscent of a later song by The Cure.
There are only three songs with lyrical elements. "Blues Hour" is moody, with whisper-soft cryptic lyrics like "going nowhere, no destination found." In "Repelish," a spoken word element parallels the song to subliminal satanic messages in "Stairway to Heaven." And in the final track, "The Lord is Out of Control," the lyrics are distorted, as if spoken through a harmonica. Both effects are otherworldly and slightly creepy.
These shoegazers have released another moody, broody album of instrumental chillers. Sit back and enjoy, largely sans those pesky lyrics to get in the way of the music.