Just in time for the start of the new season, we have three helpings of what summer could sound like.
After anchoring the harmonies of the family congregation known as The Corrs and conquering the world, it was little surprise when Sharon Corr dropped her solo debut, Dream of You ( Warner Bros ) in 2009 and went on to forge her own success. At best, the surprise hit "It's Not A Dream" may have caught the public off-guard, but her sophomore effort comes with a degree of expectation. What Corr hasapart from all that classical trainingis a near-perfect voice with a slight Irish brogue that lilts and pirouettes delicately as well as a solid mid-range tone that feel like luxury. In her case, it doesn't matter what the song is since just hearing her is a pleasure in itself. The new The Same Sun ( Bobby Jean LTD ) certainly delivers the goods with no questions asked.
"Upon An Ocean" is the kind of sophisticated pop worthy of prime Sondheim while "Take a Minute" is bare, relaxed, elegant and disturbingly intimate. "We Could be Lovers" is even better but, to me, "The Runaround" is the guilty pleasure here, with its loopy hook and seamless melody. This is a song that makes my cold, cynical heart open up to the promise of summer romance with red roses, red wine, and crisp starched doilies.
At her recent sold-out show at City Winery, Corr celebrated the end of her tour by cutting loose and acting out. "Listen to the Radio" was exquisite but "Cooley's Reel" saw her grab a violin and turn all that fragile elegance into a wild Irish hoedown. The hard bop "Love Me Better" could have stolen the show if not for Corr's ethereal take on the Bronski Beat's "Smalltown Boy" which turned that '80s floor-stomper into a haunted lullaby.
Too True ( Sub Pop Records ) is the fourth go-round for Dee Dee Penny ( aka Kirstin Welchez ) and her band, Dum Dum Girls. Although I really wanted this to be the soundtrack for my summer, I now cringe that this could be the shape of things to come.
After evolving out of her girl-group phase into a sort of '80s femme fatale wave visage, Penny seems to have gotten lost in Richard Gottehrer and Sune Rose Wagner's production and a flood of weak music. The opener, "Cult of Love," is the tip-off, with its velvety smooth wave of guitars. Unfortunately, as soon as Penny plops the lyrics off her tongue she projects a politeness that is disengaging at best and downright bland at worst. I never thought I would hear a boring Dum Dum Girls song but "Lost Boys and Girls Club" and "Too Good to be True" come with dull hooks and melodies while Penny can't ( or won't ) muster the bite that they need to make them stick.
"In the Wake of You" is a showcase for the band and, though Penny manages a brittle edge in her voice, it's too little too late. The worst of Too True is "Rimbaud Eyes"not for how it's presented but for the unshakable fact that you're forced to wonder what Debbie Harry or Chrissie Hynde would have done with it.
This is not to say Too True does not have one bona fide classic. The lovely, lilting acoustic "Are You Ok?" is so sincere, sheer and elegant that it makes the rest of the CD sound superfluous.
If the act Dum Dum Girls sounds defeated by its production, new Chicago band Landmarks seem to thrive on its. The impression that I get from the just-released Landmarks ( on Manic Static Records ) is that this quintet knew exactly how it wanted to sound and wisely roped in producer Dave Vettraino as a sixth member.
Landmarks, the band and the tape, are really all about a specific sound and it's clear that the songs are not meant to jump out. That may sound arty and pretentious, but the Landmarks tape is the best argument I've heard yet for bringing back the eight-track tape; this is a recording that should be played non-stop and should be looked on as a healthful, happy drug.
What is fascinating about the recording is the architecture of the band's sound. It can't be denied that vocalist/front man Stephan Simko, guitarist Drew McBride and Vettraino probably whipped it up like a bunch of drunken mathematicians brainstorming over Boone's Farm apple wine in the kitchen at 2 a.m. The sound of the tape is layered with engaging "found sounds" and a sonic template that reeks of intelligence, skill and a disarming relaxed airiness that is simultaneously spontaneous and deliberately crafted. The kicker is that the tape does not build up or downit keeps a middle ground and constantly morphs/remodels/remakes itself in what seems like an endless configuration.
Yeah, I know, I'm making this sound like work or that you SHOULD listen to it because it is IMPORTANT, but the reality is that Landmarks is a major gas ( I've been listening to it for days on end ) and only after repeated listenings did I get a clue as to what is going on here.
The core of the band ( Kevin Sager, Matt Thomas and Andrew Manktelow ) set a consistent foundation while McBride slices what sounds like a Chinese jigsaw puzzle of articulate ethereal guitar figures that seem to continuously ramble. ( Think of what Jaco Pastorius did with Joni Mitchell on Shadows and Light [A & M Records, 1980] and you get the picture. ) Then Simko glides into view with a thin voice that sounds like a choir boy trapped in the hereafter. I couldn't care less that half the time I couldn't tell what the hell he was saying and I don't think he cared, either. Landmarks seems to delight in taking the listener to the hinterlands and the impression I get is that it doesn't care if that destination is an actual place or an idea. I can groove with that.