January 5, 2007
Fresh music from the Indigo Girls and Ani DiFranco join an �L Word� compilation
With a new year, it�s time for some new music in the old CD player, computer or MP3 player.
Three releases show that it�s not necessary to stray far from the tried-and-true to get a nice blast of new tunes.
First, though, a bit of trivia: What do the bands Breaking Benjamin and the Plain White Ts have in common with Jesse McCartney and Hilary Duff? What connects Pink and Brandi Carlile?
Well, for the first question, they�re all on Hollywood Records, the current home of the Indigo Girls. As far as the second question goes, both make guest appearances on Despite Our Differences, the Indigo Girls� latest album.
�Rock and Roll Heaven�s Gate,� the track featuring pop-R&B-dance madwoman Pink, is a startling up-tempo song from a duo (well, in this case a trio) most people write off as too mellow.
�It didn�t happen for you, no one wants to hear the truth, coming from three political queers,� they sing. One would beg to differ: people do want to hear the truth, especially coming from these three political queers.
Of course, Pink is just returning the favor from the Indigo Girls� appearance on �Dear Mr. President,� a song that absolutely was political. �Rock and Roll Heaven�s Gate� deals more with the politics of the record biz than the politics of the country at large.
�Last Tears,� the song on which Brandi Carlile lends her voice, is pure Indigo, which means that there�s some classic country, some folk influence, and a lot of harmonizing.
Despite Our Differences is, simply put, an Indigo Girls album. Amy Ray and Emily Saliers are kind of like that favorite neighborhood restaurant: it�s not flashy, they�re not trying to put crazy pan-Asian fusion dishes on the menu in the hopes of bringing in a couple more people, but you could eat there every day. There�s always a little something for whatever might strike your fancy, and you always smile a little when you leave the waitress her tip.
Ani DiFranco�s Reprieve should, if nothing else, get an award for album art and design. After birthing 20 albums in the last 17 years, one might forgive her for just numbering the darned things by now, but fans are greeted instead by a raw paper slipcover with an artist�s rendering of a tree blasted by the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki in 1945.
Inside, a tree in full bloom hides a baker�s dozen songs from the Righteous Babe herself.
The first three tracks are pretty slow, mellow, with an almost sedative effect. Going into track four, �Nicotine,� she takes a turn for the dark, changing up the sound a bit and segueing into some more creative production work on �Decree� and �78% H2O.�
Her song �Half-Assed� is anything but, notable for a wry tone in her voice but the complete absence of her stock formula of lilt-sharp voice-lilt-sharp voice. It�s hard to say when her vocals have been so engaging.
Her vocals, however, don�t really seem to do justice to the guitar work on �A Spade,� which is a shame. Had she stuck with the �Half-Assed� singing style on �A Spade,� it might have been the song of the album.
Regardless of which Ani one likes the best--sharp/lilt/sharp, sweet-tongued or spoken word--she delivers by the truckload on this album, definitely making it one to buy. As the fine print on the back says, �Unauthorized duplication, while sometimes necessary, is never as good as the real thing.�
Her spoken word on the titletrack is interesting, illustrating just how versatile DiFranco can be behind a microphone.
Of course, for those who don�t necessarily want an entire album of one artist, there is L Tunes: Music from and Inspired by the L Word on Columbia Music/Music with a Twist.
Released on January 2, the album is the first for Music with a Twist, the brainchild of Matt Farber, co-creator of the Logo LGBT cable network. His Wilderness Media created the brand, which is working with various Sony labels.
The freshman effort really does have something for everyone, with artists ranging from Tori Amos and Nina Simone to Da Brat and Peaches. And yes, Pink is on here too, because one Pink song in a review is never enough.
The 14-track CD features a funky Kirsten Price song, �Magic Tree,� as well as Fiona Apple and PJ Harvey�s big hits �Sleep to Dream� and �Down by the Water,� which in a way is disappointing. For a record label that is going to give queer artists a mainstream venue, they could have picked some more daring songs from those two chanteuses.
Of course, the Tori Amos song, �A Sorta Fairytale,� is far from her best-known work, and Nina Simone�s �Do I Move You (Version 2)� is not the song that springs to mind when one thinks of the jazz great. Also interesting is the complete avoidance of Kelis� big hit �Milkshake� for a song almost diametrically opposed to it, �Living Proof.�
The timing of the album is perfect, as is the variety of songs on it. With the new season of The L Word debuting on January 7 at 10 pm on Showtime, throwing the record to the starving masses shows some good business savvy.
One has to wonder, though, if they will later release a season four album as was done with season three. That disc, which came out on Tommy Boy (why, I will never know) was a two-CD set of music from that season, and seemed a bit heftier than this compilation, although the inclusion of Nina Simone can forgive any sin.