Dig These Discs :: Wynonna & The Big Noise, Jezabels, Lake Street Dive, Bonnie Raitt, Esperanza Spalding

by Winnie McCroy

EDGE Editor

Tuesday March 1, 2016

Direct from the New England Conservatory in Boston comes Lake Street Dive, the coolest quartet of nerds you'll ever have the pleasure of grooving to. Australian indie rockers The Jezabels release their third studio album, "Synthia," with all tracks written by band members Hayley Mary, Heather Shannon, Sam Lockwood and Nik Kaloper. The legendary Bonnie Raitt releases her 20th studio album, a meaty collection of R&B, blues and rock and roll. Her dozen songs are a combination of originals and covers on the theme of love. Country singer Wynonna Judd drops her eighth solo album since the Judds broke up in the early '90s, teaming up with a four-piece band to make the most of her 12 rollicking tracks. And four-time Grammy Award winner Esperanza Spalding presents a fresh artistic vision with her fifth studio album, "Emily's D+Evolution."

"Dig In Deep" (Bonnie Raitt)

The legendary Bonnie Raitt releases her 20th studio album, a meaty collection of R&B, blues and rock 'n' roll. Her dozen songs are a combination of originals and covers on the theme of love. She kicks things off with "Unintended Consequences of Love," singing about butting heads with her lover after a long and loving relationship, asking, "What happened to those brave and mighty lovers?" Bassist James "Hutch" Hutchinson swings, while Raitt sings, "Let's dig in deep and get out of this rut/ we'll get back to what brought us both together, baby, and find a way to resurrect our strut." Raitt and her touring band cover the '80s rock tunes "Shakin' Shakin' Shakes" from Los Lobos with a country vibe, and INXS's "Need You Tonight," slowing down this catchy tune and giving it her trademark scratch and sizzle, as well as an intense keyboard solo. In "I Knew," Raitt says she would have left, burned, flew, but couldn't, because she knew. How cruel that fate would find her, "All Alone With Something To Say," sings Raitt in this guitar ballad. A cascade of drums opens the excellent, "What You're Doin' To Me," a swinging jazz tune, with lyrics like, "After all that sturm and drang, I gave up long ago, there weren't too many too many turnarounds and nothing left to show." "There's a sword at the tip of my tongue that shows no mercy," she sings, admitting that she had the last fatal word in the sad ballad, "Undone." Deep bass drums imbue soul into the bluesy track "If You Need Somebody," about friends turned lovers, and the guitars scream and cry in her countrified cut, "Gypsy in Me," which is classic Raitt. She calls out a blusterer in "The Comin' Round is Going Through," singing, "You got a way of running your mouth, you rant and you rave and you let it out/ Thing about it little that you say is true." Raitt's voice is still strong, if scratchier, as seen in the guitar ballad "You've Changed My Mind." She finishes the album up with the piano-anchored break-up song, "The Ones We Couldn't Be." Raitt hits the road on tour this spring, playing multiple dates on the East Coast before heading to Canada.
(Redwing Records)

"Wynonna & the Big Noise" (Wynonna Judd)

Country singer Wynonna Judd releases her eighth solo album since the Judds broke up in the early '90s, teaming up with a four-piece band to make the most of her 12 rollicking tracks. This gritty blues sound has her more aligned with Bonnie Raitt than with modern country singers, and that's not a bad thing, especially in the hyper-twangy track, "You Are So Beautiful." Although you can anticipate where Judd is going before she arrives, there's still plenty to love, from soulful, dramatic ballads to up-tempo sizzlers. Judd credits her new spirit to her husband since 2012, Cactus Moser, who helped her put the album together. She bucks wild right out of the gate, with "Ain't No Thing," all screaming guitars and bass drums. The bottom line: there's more fish in the sea. "Nobody love you like I do," sings Judd in the off-kilter "Cool Ya'." Judd's voice is unassailable in the spare folk song, "Things That I Lean On" and the Carole King-esque ballad "I Can See Everything." In the sizzling, "You Make My Heart Beat Too Fast," he puts her through the paces, but she loves him nonetheless. Insistent snares pepper the excellent, "Staying in Love," and complicated acoustic finger-picking lends a backwoods feel to the twangy "Keeps Me Alive." One of the best cuts in the album is her single about coming to terms with loss, "Jesus and a Jukebox," that starts out, "They were two of a kind for the longest time, 'til not too long ago... now he's lonely as the night is long, with her gone." She ramps up the drama and the crafty percussion in "Something You Can't Live Without," singing, "that's how it's supposed to be, like something's missing, and it's hard for you to breathe without my kisses." The closest Judd gets to pop is her easy, breezy clichéd, "Every Ending (Is A New Beginning.)" The album ends with the saucy "Choose to Believe," a fittingly swinging cap for an excellent album. All grown up and out on her own, Wynonna Judd has never sounded better!
(Curb)

"Side Pony" (Lake Street Dive)

Direct from the New England Conservatory in Boston comes the coolest quartet of nerds you'll ever have the pleasure of grooving to. The band skyrocketed to success after appearing on "The Colbert Report" to perform cuts from their 2014 album "Bad Self Portraits," and are still flying high with their classic pop and swing-era jazz vibe. On their seventh album, lead singer and ukulele master Rachael Price's big, booming voice is the thing here, with Mike Olson on trumpet and guitar, Bridget Kearney rocking the standup bass, and Mike Calabrese on drums, although all pitch in with the vocals. The new title, "Side Pony" refers to Kearney's '80s-era hairdo, as well as being slang for something that "unexpectedly diverts the mind's attention." The title song is a jazzy pop confection, with the quip, "all I need is a clip or a scrunchie, and I'm ready, 'cause I rock a side pony." Their single, "Call Off Your Dogs" is the album's frontrunner, with its poppy, string-augmented beats, and her rueful line, "This is what I get for being civilized." They open the album thanking the good Lord for those "Godawful Things" that brought you back to her, with a deep bass beat and Olson's banging guitar solo. At the bottom of it all, however, is Price's voice, way more soulful than anything you'd ever expect to come out of her whitebred mouth. With the instrumental intensity of a Led Zeppelin song, but with a deep bluesy vibe, Price warns you not to get too "Close to Me." Bobby can't tell his elbow from his ass, he's completely inept at romancing, sings Price, noting, "you'll never nail her, what a 'Spectacular Failure.'" They swing it deep and heavy in "I Don't Care About You," remarking off the cuff that she doesn't care what you say, doesn't even listen to you at all, and would tell you to your face, if she knew you could take it. Ouch! Hurts so good. Stay where you belong, don't go, she pleads in the country-tinged "So Long," with its excellent brush on snare sound, but does a 180 in the next track, singing, "I'm having so much fun by myself I want the whole world to know that I don't need anyone else to row my boat," in "How Good It Feels," to have nobody. At least before she remembers how nice it is to have a friend. It's a shame you can't see how much she digs you, in the anthem "Hell Yeah," and sultry horn allows the introspection you may need to see your "Mistakes." They go for a disco beat in "Can't Stop," a must-listen, and finish up the album with the jazzy cut, "Saving All My Sinning." The band takes off for a tour all through March.
(Nonesuch Records)

"Synthia" (Jezabels)

Australian indie rockers The Jezabels release their third studio album, "Synthia," with all tracks written by band members Hayley Mary, Heather Shannon, Sam Lockwood and Nik Kaloper. The 10-song album was again produced and engineered by their stalwart guy, Lachlan Mitchell, and features their "intensindie" mix of alt rock, indie and disco pop. They open the album with the spacey instrumentals of "Stand and Deliver" slowly unfolding, as Mary sings in a '90s-era Pat Benatar vibe, "Daddy, let's go out to the island... let me be the one." Rapid-fire drums from Kaloper fuel the erratic "My Love Is My Disease," with Mary's voice running high as a kite, like Kate Bush running up that hill. You can call her sexy, whisper in her ear, turn her on -- just don't tell her to "Smile." For all you know, she sings, she could have just buried mom. The electro keyboards get distortion in the excellent "Unnatural," and she warns, in "A Message From My Mothers Passed," that "if you go out tonight, child, watch your back, because something's happening." Deep synth beats pair well with Caribbean steel drums and bass drums, and shredding electric guitar in "Come Alive," a warning to the young and lovely not to get pulled down by the voices. In their hit single "Pleasure Drive," Mary sings, "I got a 66 baby and I'm born to rock/ I got a one track mind just to get me off." This creepy track is backed by an equally creepy but also beautiful ballad, "Flowers In The Attic." They're back to the indie grind with "If Ya Want Me," painting the scene of a smoking bad boy who shoots her down. Things whisper to a close with "Stamina," showcasing Mary's fine soprano. The whole album comes across as an indie fever dream, one you won't want to wake from.
(Dine Alone Records)

"Emily's D+Evolution" (Esperanza Spalding)

Four-time Grammy Award winner Esperanza Spalding presents a fresh artistic vision with her fifth studio album, "Emily's D+Evolution." Co-produced by Spalding and Tony Visconti, the album is an electrifying take on the power trio, adorned with backup singers and touches of synthesizer. Spalding gathered a new band for this project, including guitarist Matthew Stevens and drummer Karriem Riggins. The result is a collection of a dozen songs filled with cosmic soul that bursts with energy and life. The album jumps from the first decisive bass drum beats of "Good Lava," where this delightfully off-kilter singer begs you to "watch this pretty girl flow." The jazzy syncopation is reminiscent of the early work of Spyro Gyra, and really sizzles. She goes a bit deeper in the slower, "Unconditional Love," in which you can really assess the timbre of Spalding's excellent voice. The funk is ramped up in "Judas" with excellent stand-up bass and a patter that is reminiscent of the songs Joni Mitchell recorded with Charles Mingus. Life is sobering in "Earth to Heaven," and Spalding keeps things moving with her delightful soprano in "One." Drums move the onomatopoeic "Rest in Pleasure" along. "Ebony and Ivy" launches with a spoken word poem delivered at breakneck pace, acoustic guitar softens "Noble Nobles," and a cascade of chimes intros the spare "Farewell Dolly." "Honey don't interrupt me... honey don't make me turn this thing around," says Spalding in the oddball "Elevate or Operate." Distortion is ramped up in the sonic cut, "Funk the Fear," which sounds closest to the last, android-centric album Spalding released. She finishes the album with "I Want It Now," from "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." Time will undoubtedly reveal that Spalding is one of the foremost musical geniuses of our time. She hits the road to promote her new album, headlining at the historic Apollo Theater on April 14, and hitting venues from Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.
(Concord)

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.