SONiA & disappear fear
Blood, Bones & Baltimore (Disappear Records)
A friend played me a recording of SONiA's 2009 Kerrville Folk Festival set, which included fan favorite "Biggest Baddest Heart," a swaggering blues vamp. For a committed folkie, SONiA can play the blues, so I was pleasantly surprised to see that song and other blues-y tunes turn up on this disc. SONiA pushes them beyond typical folk/blues fare by using instrumentation not associated with the blues—clarinet, flute, and violin (not fiddle!)—and exploding some of the genre's myths. Can you, for instance, imagine Howlin' Wolf or Muddy Waters singing, "So you're in a bad mood, are you gonna let it kill the day?" Me neither. But SONiA pulls it off, by reimagining this music and claiming it as her own. And ending the disc with a Woody Guthrie cover ("Worried Man Blues") is a nice touch.
David Byrne & Fatboy Slim
Here Lies Love (Todo Mundo/Nonesuch)
Over the course of his 30-plus-year career, former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne has certainly created his share of head-scratching moments—from that wacky big suit to "playing buildings." (He attached devices to building structures that produced sounds as the building swayed, settled, heated, and cooled.) But Byrne, who's come a long way from his Lansdowne High roots, outdoes himself on this two-disc set of songs inspired by Imelda Marcos. It's actually a song cycle that loosely tells how a former beauty queen became first lady of the Philippines and, at the same time, tries to humanize Marcos by getting beyond her much-publicized shoe collection. The lyrics were gleaned largely from quotations and are sung by a revolving cast that includes Nellie McKay, Cyndi Lauper, Sharon Jones, Santigold, and Tori Amos. Because Imelda enjoyed partying at Studio 54, Byrne weds this material to Fatboy Slim dance beats, with predictably uneven results. And Steve Earle sings a song from Ferdinand Marcos's point of view. What else do you need to know?
Night Falls (Birdnote)
This CD arrived with a hand-written note of advice: "Play Loud." It's advice worth heeding, because this local quartet crafts towering, reverb-drenched melodies that thunder alongside Anna Conner's vulnerable and sweet voice. It's a compelling contrast. But after cranking it up, you'll notice that, as Casey Harvey's guitar maelstrom grabs your attention, it's a nimble rhythm section that actually holds it. Rachel Harvey's bass lines don't just ripple, they flow pools of pulsing rhythm through the songs, while Matthew Davis's drumming anchors them with robust, muscular determination. Because the disc is excellently produced and mixed, you can hear these parts coalescing into a powerful whole, especially at top volume.