Memoir (Jazz Grrl)
A former City Paper columnist, Asirvatham abandoned a novel-in-progress to focus on composing and performing her own music. Although Asirvatham is an award-winning writer, it's hard to argue with that decision when considering the merits of her debut disc. Over the course of a dozen songs, she walks a fine line between singer/songwriter and jazz chanteuse with some Tin Pan Alley in the mix, smartly turning phrases and crafting peculiarly appealing melodies. On tunes such as "Friday Night with the Elephant Man," "Sleep," and the title track, she makes the most of a limited vocal range with poetic, personal lyrics richly underscored by her idiosyncratic piano playing and tasteful accompaniment by players such as drummer Frank Russo and guitarist Chris Kennedy. A lovely rendition of "(Sometimes I Feel Like a) Motherless Child" and a melancholy take on "Smile," the classic tune written by Charlie Chaplin, dovetail nicely with the gravitas and bittersweet lure of Asirvatham's originals.
Bruce Springsteen with the Sessions Band
Live in Dublin (Columbia)
Late last year, the blogosphere was abuzz about Springsteen's European concerts, especially the shows in Ireland that ended the tour. Much of the talk focused on the muscular and spirited performances by Springsteen's 17-piece-band, a group that included former Baltimoreans Jeremy Chatzky on bass and Marty Rifkin on pedal steel guitar and mandolin. I can attest to the fact that the Dublin stop was truly magical—I saw the November 18th show—and this new CD/DVD set documents just how special the concerts were. Revamped versions of Springsteen originals such as "Atlantic City" and "Growin' Up" benefit from the additional instrumentation and take on new, sprawling dimension, much like the folk songs in the set. Other standouts include the jaunty "American Land," a Katrina-inspired take on "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live" (with lines such as "I got family scattered from Texas to Baltimore"), and a dirge-like "When the Saints Go Marching In," sung as a show-stopping duet with Marc Anthony Thompson. Springsteen hasn't sounded this inspired in 20 years.
J Roddy Walston and the Business
Hail Mega Boys (self-released)
Full of swaggering, melodic material, this disc is one of the most enjoyable indie rock releases of the year. A step up from the local quartet's debut EP, it weds Walston's barrelhouse attitude and shout-along choruses to Billy Gordon's ripping guitar licks and a rock solid rhythm section. Walston's piano single-handedly distinguishes a few of these songs from most standard indie rock fare, as he interjects crippled chords and trembling notes into "Mommie Bomb" and "Go Malachi." Those understated flourishes contrast nicely with the euphoric catharsis of "Go For It" and "I'll Tell You What." But "Nineteen Ought Four" might be the biggest surprise of all, with its sublime Beatles-esque harmonies and nods to the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904.