I've been listening a lot this week to a CD by an affecting singer-songwriter named Ann-Marita. Originally from Norway, the singer lived a stint in the United States, got burned in Los Angeles on a false album deal and finally settled in Australia, where this nine-song, self-titled disc finally got made.
From the melancholy story of the downfalls of friends from the "Class of '93" to the upbeat life celebration of "Alive and Kickin'" to the gorgeous self-affirmation of "More Than Meets the Eye," Ann-Marita has penned a strong debut of countrified pop that is a joy to listen to.
The perfect execution of the evocative "More Than Meets the Eye" alone should score her a major label record deal. She covers a breadth of styles on this short debut; the easy waltz rhythms and delicate piano of "You Said Forever" is reminiscent of classic '50s country, while the pounding call-to-arms of "The Ex-Boyfriend Song" works in a modern Shania Twain twang rock style.
This is a Down Under gem that you won't find in your local Best Buy — so check out her Web site for information: www.annmarita.com...
Another independent singer with her own disc on the Web is Susan Robkin, an artist from Seattle. Robkin offers 13 folksy, blues-rock tracks on her latest CD Surfacing to Breathe. It's a lush, warm album that hints at influences of Sarah McLachlan and Julia Fordham, thanks to Robkin's rich contralto and layers of keyboards and guitars. For more information and song samples, check out www.susanrobkin.com.
Genius Loves Company
Just before he died, Ray Charles was recording with a number of artists to put together this album of duets. The result is Genius Loves Company, a 12-song posthumous release that serves as a bittersweet goodbye to one of the geniuses of R&B.
Charles pairs up with Nora Jones to open the disc with the slow, bluesy organ strains of "Here We Go Again," and later pulls in Natalie Cole to give a sharp performance on the classic "Fever," and Gladys Knight to rock the gospel house with "Heaven Help Us All."
Overall, this CD is not a great piece of work from Charles, whose voice sounds weak and, not surprisingly, old.
And the instrumentation is often just a bit too stiff and brightly polished — coming more from the school of elevator music, or Lawrence Welk television specials, than smoky R&B clubs (his duet with Willie Nelson on "It Was a Very Good Year" is particularly slow and stiflingly orchestrated).
But it's still great to hear Charles crooning with Bonnie Raitt on "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?" and B.B. King on the solid blues jam of "Sinner's Prayer." The album closes with a live recording of him and Van Morrison livening up a gospel-tinged version of "Crazy Love."
It's been eight years since Sammy Llanas and Kurt Neumann, the core singer-songwriters of the BoDeans, have produced Resolution, a studio album with bassist Bob Griffin.
Since 1996's Blend, the only sound from the BoDeans camp has been a pair of solo albums, which is a shame since Waukesha's (Wisconsin) favorite roots-rock sons turned out some of the best tracks of the '80s and early '90s in "She's a Runaway," "Good Things," "Closer to Free," and "Only Love."
Thankfully, the time off hasn't dulled their pens; the BoDeans' seventh studio album returns to the roots of this classic roots-rock band. Resolution focuses on simple-but-powerful songwriting and the sweet-and-sour vocal harmonies of Llanas and Neumann.
Opening with "If It Makes You," which features the BoDeans' trademark twining guitar lines, the album moves through a series of lovelorn stories, from the throwback roving roots bass of "Marianne" to the spartan sing-along simplicity of "(We Can) Live" and "Wild World," which stand musically with the band's earliest work like "She's a Runaway" and "Fadeaway."
The Cajun flavor of accordion punctuates "Crazy" and "Two Souls," while the layered yells of "Hello" and big guitars of "Said 'Hello'" make for a head-nodding heartland anthem.
With "Sleep," they pull off a heart-wrenching look back at the results of walking away from a true love, and the quiet ballad "Slipping Into You" is simple and beautiful.
But it's most of the way through the album that they hit the disc's best stride with "617," a mid-tempo rocker that has a perfect mix of roots and harmony, as Llanas and Neumann again look back at life — this time from within the walls of a claustrophobic apartment:
"yeah 617 that's where I'm living
apartment E up on the 6th floor
where you have to sleep with your decisions
where something inside of me just will not let go."
It's been a long time, but it's a good thing they didn't let go … the BoDeans
rarely have sounded better.