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New & Noteworthy
by Andrew Elias
Fans of Melody Gardot know her as the consummate singer, one who seamlessly bridges the boundaries between pop and soul and jazz. Her highly acclaimed recordings exude contemporary class, a combination of sultry vocals, intelligent songs and first-rate musicianship. Her concerts are legendary.
Live in Europe presents Gardot with a small band (often only Gardot and stand-up bass, which is brilliant throughtout the album), making for an intimate performance that features her fantastic voice. Not that the instrumentation is unimportant. In fact, the band gets the opportunity to really stretch out and experiment, with most songs extended longer than recorded versions. A highlight of the album is March for Mingus, which is more than ten minutes longer here.
Other highlights include a rousing performance of The Rain and her hits, Our Love Is Easy, Baby, Im a Fool and My One and Only Thrill, as well as her Latin-tinged take on Over the Rainbow.
Very much a unique artist, both in sound and style, Gardot will quickly win over fans of Adele, Alicia Keys, Diana Krall, Nora Jones, Cassandra Wilson, and Lady Gaga unfamiliar with her. Live in Europe, at more than 100 minutes long, is an excellent introduction to the range of her repertoire and the depths of her soul.
What happens when you match Betty LaVettes powerhouse voice with Bob Dylans powerful lyrics? You get greatness. Covering songs that span Dylans career, from the early-1960s (It Aint Me Babe and Mama, Youve Been On My Mind) to the 21st century (Aint Talkin and the title track), from the well-known (The Times They Are A-Changin) to the obscure (Political World from Oh, Mercy, Seeing the Real You At Last from Empire Burlesque and Going, Going, Gone from Planet Waves), and even from Dylans gospel years (Do Right To Me, Baby (Do Unto Others) from Slow Train Coming).
LaVette has been making hit records since the mid-1960s, but has enjoyed recent, newfound popularity and appreciation for her ballsy, bluesy style of funky soul music. Backed by a top-tier studio band, and helped by special guests Keith Richards (Political World), Trombone Shorty (What Was It You Wanted), and Dylans one-time guitarist, Larry Campbell, Lavette blasts through the songs, singing with the weathered soul of a veteran entertainer while allowing the listener to hear the genius of Dylans poetry clearly.
Some things have changed, but Betty LaVettes ability to make raucous, rockin soul music thankfully has not. At age 72, she is better than ever.
After listening to Sunny Wars new album for just a minute youll be thinking, Oh, this is different. After another minute or so youll be saying, Oh, this is good. It might be her heartbreaking vocals, a delicate balance of vulnerability and toughness, or it might be her incredible and original guitar picking. Either way, youll be enjoying a bright new star on the Americana music scene. The album is a strong collection of bluesy folk music, usually just War playing acoustic guitar, sometimes sprinkled effectively with added strings (the gorgeous lament, Gotta Live It), fiddle (an oddly upbeat jig, Til Im Dead), or tasteful electric guitar (Come Back).
Somewhat in the tradition of Joan Armatrading, Tracy Chapman, and Rhiannon Giddens, Sunny War is a new and unique voice worth hearing as a singer, songwriter and guitarist. The opening track asks the question, How would you know you had a heart / If it wasnt broken? If this album doesnt have at least one song that breaks yours, perhaps you dont.
The Wailin Jennys
The Wailin Jennys Ruth Moody, Heather Masse, Nicky Mehta are an acclaimed Canadian group that has twice received the Juno award (substantially the Canadian Grammy) for Best Roots & Traditional Album of the Year. On Fifteen, their beautiful three-part harmonies wrap around a collection of songs they have performed over the past 15 years, as well as a few other personal favorites.
There is no better tribute to the late, great Tom Petty than the Jennys cover of his Wildflowers. And their versions of Emmylou Harris beautiful Boulder to Birmingham and Warren Zevons heartbreaking Keep Me in Your Heart would make them proud. Songs by the likes of Dolly Parton, Patty Griffin, and Hank Williams also show the reverence the Jennys have for these songs and showcase the extraordinary skills they have as singers. Yet it might be their take on Paul Simons Love Me Like a Rock, a surprising choice, and sung acapella, that stands out.
Im With Her
Im With Her is sort of an Americana super-group, made up of Sara Watkins (founding member of the band Nickel Creek) on violin, Sarah Jarosz on banjo, mandolin, guitar, and Aoife Donovan (of the band Crooked Still) on guitar. See You Around, their debut together, showcases their amazing three-part harmonies and virtuosic musicianship. And the songwriting aint bad, either the title track, Game to Lose and Aint That Fine being the best of the bunch. A great version of Gillian Welchs wistful Hundred Miles closes the album.
If you like gorgeous harmonies and incredible fiddling and mandolin playing, you are sure to enjoy See You Around, and will soon confess that youre with them.
Melody Gardots music
Sunny Wars bluesy folk music