X-Ray Yankee Zulu Tango (self-released)
A few weeks ago, I was out for a ride with this CD playing in the car. Ostensibly an ambient (background music) disc, it proved to be anything but that—I drove 10 miles past my exit, completely absorbed in Leyh's hypnotic grooves. Leyh crafts moody soundscapes that sneak up on the listener and take hold. If you're familiar with Leyh's closing theme for The Wire—he's also the show's music supervisor—you already know he can work wonders with just a few bass notes, sparse percussion, and the pass of a bow over violin strings. Throw in some electronic flourishes, oceanic guitar, dub echoes, Tango Nuevo, and an occasional field recording, and you have an entrancing, cinematic hybrid that brings to mind Adrian Sherwood's On-U Sound recordings and the Gotan Project. It's no wonder Leyh's work has turned up in films by the likes of Julie Taymor and the Coen Brothers, but, as this disc proves, his music deserves to be heard on its own terms.
Feather/Step Lightly (Alberta)
Channeling Mildred Bailey, with some of Dusty Springfield's genre-defying tendencies in the mix, Carter cozies up to various torch songs, jazz standards, blues tunes, and similarly spirited originals on this two-disc set. Part of the local music scene since the 1990s, Carter kicks off the proceedings with 10 of her own songs on Feather, the first disc. Alternately sparkling and elegant, brassy and playful, dreamy and brooding, these tunes hold their own with the classics featured on Step Lightly, the second disc. The first four cuts ("Hurricane," "Golden," "Louise," and "Lorelei") set an impossibly high standard, as Carter navigates the melodic nuance of each tune and her all-star backing band—which includes pianist Bob Butta, drummer Frank Russo, and bassist/violinist Amy Shook—richly underscores her performance. And I wouldn't be surprised if "Hurricane" and "Golden" start turning up in the repertoires of other vocalists around town.
Felicia Carter plays two shows, 8 pm and 9:30 pm, at An die Musik on March 7.
Songs from a Charmed City (BSA)
This compilation of material by members of the Baltimore Songwriters Association will appeal to anyone with a soft spot in their heart for earnest lyrics and strummed melodies. The sort of direct, folk-y vibe that infuses many of these songs never really goes out of style, and despite the occasional Mighty Wind-ism, the performances are solid throughout. And the tunes by Karyn Oliver ("America"), OHO ("Spin the Blue Fix"), and Paul Iwancio ("Open Heart Story") might even inspire visits to MySpace and CD Baby for additional songs by those artists.