It's unlikely that record companies consult on this sort of thing, so it's notable that most of this week's more interesting releases are by female artists.
Even more of interest is that most of them appear to have gotten their respective record deals on the basis of musical talent rather than--how to put this politely?--their looks.
But as the recent smash success of hot videos by Heidi Montag and Tila Tequila makes all too clear, musical talent no longer enters the equation when it comes to making great new records.
And it's been a long time coming!
Janet Jackson: Discipline (Island Def Jam) Let's add the "Jackson" to her name, even though some of her people want us to drop it--you know, shouldn't the name "Janet" alone be sufficient? Sheesh! I've got enough trouble wondering what'll happen if Joe ever gains weight and ends up in the same room as Fat Joe! Anyway, her first album for her new label is chockfull of tunes--22 of them--and chockfuller of some wacky concept about discipline being "a defining aspect" of her character! The thing is, I actually find myself rooting for this gal, against my better judgement, and wish she, her brother, and every onetime giant superstar stopped thinking about each new album as some super-sized conceptual thingie and simply recorded stripped-down pop music without these moronic commercial aspirations. While I don't think she'll ever top 1986's ultrafab "When I Think Of You," I do think her previous label could've made a hit out of "Enjoy" from her last flop album--and that that unexpected success might've given her a kick in her once-Controlled, now-Disciplined booty. Next album title: Full-out Bondage!
Erykah Badu: New Amerykah, Pt. 1: 4th World War (Motown) I know when I make my albums, I like to give 'em titles that roll off the tongue like this one! Let's be frankish: Ms. Badu is one classy lady, a warm and very convincing singer who garnered boatloads of attention a few years back not just for her voice but for intriguing headgear ensembles--and she'll never release a Pt. 2 of this thing for all eternity! Featuring the late J. Dilla , Bilal, Madlib, and a bunch of other well known guys who appear on albums like this, NAP14WW--not a postal code but an acronym!--continues her distinguished and singular tradition of fine albums by Erykah Badu! Buy it and keep her favorite millinery supply house in business!
Seventh Tree (Mute) A significant step forward for Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory--who comprise Goldfrapp in this beautiful non-sexist world!--Seventh Tree is a warmer, lusher Goldfrapp than the Goldfrapp we've come to expect from their previous three Goldfrapp albums! Play this for anyone and they'll like it, guaranteed! Movie soundtrack music? Deep, thoughtful probings of the inner psyche? Nope, just a goldier, frappier Goldfrapp! It tingles when you touch it!
Cowboy Junkies: Trinity Revisited (Zoe/Rounder) Short weeks after Michael Jackson releases a special 25th Anniversary edition of Thriller comes this exciting CD/DVD package, in which the Cowboy Junkies celebrate the 20 years that have passed since making their classic The Trinity Session album by making it all over again! "Our goal was not to re-do The Trinity Session, but to re-interpret it," the band candidly says on their website, and more power to 'em! Recorded in the same church that the original album was taped in--voyeuristic headphone wearers can hear some pretty scathing muffled confessions in their left ear if they listen carefully!--it's a fine and dandy set worthy of your cash. Plus, this time out the DVD will actually play; 20 years ago, they weren't invented, so it was kind of odd!
Webbie: Savage Life 2 (Trill Entertainment/Asylum/Atlantic) I suppose if I was named "Webbie" and some of the people involved in the making of my new album had names like "Mouse" and "Birdman," I would want to call it something--I don't know--kind of macho like Savage Life 2 instead of the expected Chilli Willi Is My Favorite Penguin or Augie Doggie Has A Brand New Hat! That said, I'm sure new track "Fly As An Eagle" (featuring Foxx and Pimp C!) must have Steve Miller wondering if he missed something important back in grammar school!
Missy Higgins: On A Clear Night (Reprise) This disc has been out for a while in Australia, and I believe it also made its rounds in one of those special coffeehouse/iTunes deals, but that doesn't mean it's old news! An excellent singer-songwriter whose star is still rising--please quote me!--Miss Missy has a knack for melody and lyrics that grab you by the brain stem and gently massage it until you could swear you've just written a paragraph describing her! A highly respected artist with a conspicuously growing fanbase, Missy Higgins is the one for me! In a manner of speaking!
In And Out Of Love (Bad Boy/Atlantic) Reviewing an album on the basis of an attractive hairstyle really isn't my thing--at least not yet!--but I must admit to finding this package mildly compelling, sort of Destiny's Child-light for non-fans of Destiny's Child, if you get my drift. With producers Rodney Jerkins and Soul Diggaz on hand--not to mention the illustrious Yung Joc and Gorilla Zoe, who I'm certain must know Webbie!--this set is so pleasant you're likely not to notice that none of your friends have called you while you're listening to it! Come to think of it, they really don't call you much anymore, do they?
Tift Merritt: Another Country (Fantasy/Concord) An excellent third album from the young, Grammy-nominated Ms. Merritt, this package shows her spreading her stylistic wings--as opposed to the ones oddly attached to her back--and moving at least partly into rock and r&b-ish climes. With producer George Drakoulias making the scene, and guitarist Charlie Sexton riffing around, it's a mature effort that you'd probably like a lot if it was the only CD you had, the radio didn't work, and you had to drive a couple of hundred miles to find a job or something. She's quite good!
Bringing Home The Ashes, Space Flower (both Wounded Bird) Could not let pass without mention the dual reissue of two of the finest albums in all of '80s rock--and those would be these two discs by Liverpool's Wild Swans, whose unique and commercially accessible approach to pop music went sadly unheard by millions of humans who could've purchased them and made this world a better, more gentle place. I would rate the first disc a 10 out of 10 and suggest you buy it today before it goes out of print once again. And I would rate the second, weirder one a 9 out of 10, and also suggest you buy it today. Then I would wonder what I was doing buying Bon Jovi records back in the late '80s, and why my hair looks so funny in all those pictures from back then!
Beach House: Devotion (Carpark) Saw this unique, male/female, spacey drone duo opening for the Clientele a few months ago and was captivated by their dreamy approach. I think you will be, too. Not just because they're from Baltimore, not just because they cover Daniel Johnston, and not just because they sort of sound something like Mazzy Star or Galaxie 500. No, I think you'll like them because I've seen your actual music collection and know where you live! Nah, not really. Would've been cool, though!