Graced with one of the richest, most expressive voices in pop music, K.D. Lang brings a special flair to love songs. And so when she takes on a gossamer tune like "Summerfling," the first single on her new album, she gives the melody all the warmth and languor of a sweet summer breeze. Ooh-la-la.
It's the perfect sound for an album about falling in love. Writing and recording in her new hometown of Los Angeles, Lang takes the local influences—Bacharach, the Beach Boys, techno—and melds them into her own kind of majestic pop. And while producer Damian le Gassick adds some sleek textures to the songs, he's smart enough to keep lang's voice prominent in the mix.
So if lang acknowledges the risks of romance in "Curiosity" ("...basking in the sun/ seems dangerous and fun"), the joy in her voice is infectious. And inspiring.
Bottom Line: An album to fall in love with—and to
Lucy Pearl (Pookie/Beyond)
Supergroups are almost unheard of in R&B, so when former members of big-name acts combine forces, it's news. And when that group consists of innovative performers such as Raphael Saadiq (formerly of the vocal group Tony Toni Toné), Dawn Robinson (late of En Vogue) and A Tribe Called Quest ex-member Ali Shaheed Muhammad, a fan's expectations run sky-high. Perhaps that's why Lucy Pearl seems to fall short of the mark.
With Saadiq and Robinson handling the vocals, the songs on this self-titled debut—most of them written by Saadiq—have a breezy, soulful lilt, and the interplay of male and female voices is delicious. Yet some of the tracks don't amount to much more than extended riffs or elaborate vamps. And while the tunes have a finger-popping appeal, there is also a sense of incompleteness.
When the trio hits its mark, as on the aching "Without You" and the laid-back "Remember the Times," the music soars with an offhand cool that takes you back to the heyday of classic 1970s soul and R&B. In a genre that is now so dominated by formula, Lucy Pearl should be praised for attempting to paint outside the lines and to breathe new conviction into their work. Maybe next time they'll come up with songs to match their talents and their ambition.
Bottom Line: Super group, subpar material
Kelly Price (Def Soul)
Album of the week
Whether it's Diana Ross and the Supremes or the hip-hop soul of Mary J. Blige, it is safe to say that a very high percentage of pop and R&B lyrics spin some variation of boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl scenarios. The trick is making that old standby sound new and fresh, to infuse a thematic cliché with a sense of passion and integrity.
On her sophomore CD, singer-songwriter Kelly Price doesn't reinvent the wheel, but she makes you feel as if she has. Mirror Mirror
is a collection of sturdy R&B songs chronicling the ups and downs of a troubled marriage. Price injects feeling and an overriding warmth into what in lesser hands could have been just another bunch of songs about another cheating man. A former session singer (most notably for Puff Daddy and Mariah Carey
), Price uses humor and a knowing eye to examine infidelity on songs like "Married Man," "She Wants You" and "3 Strikes." On the ballad "She Wants You" and on her hushed cover of Shirley Murdock's "As We Lay" (Mirror's first single), her heartache sounds palpable.
Armed with a womanly, from-the-gut voice that takes its soul from the church and its sass from the streets, Price makes her play for the big time with an engaging and emotional collection.
Bottom Line: The fairest R & B of all
Terry Radigan (Vanguard)
A successful Nashville songwriter making her first venture into solo singing, Radigan is a delicate-going-on-punctilious performer who can sound like a combination of fey pop-jazz singer Michael Franks and country's own Shawn Colvin, whom the Brooklyn-reared Radigan in fact once replaced in the New York City band Grace Pool.
The composer of the Trisha Year-wood hit "Love Wouldn't Lie to Me" and Patty Loveless's "I Don't Want to Feel Like That," Radigan recorded an earlier album in the mid-1990s (Pawnbroker's Daughter
) which was never released. She generally writes of that tried-and-true pop topic love gone wrong, but she does so in original ways. In this album's "Happiness," for example, Radigan observes, "Whiskey bottles like candles on a cake/ There is one for every one of your mistakes."
And she seems to be equally astute in choosing others' material to perform herself. She more than does justice, for instance, to British rocker Mark Knopfler's tune "When It Comes to You."
From Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer to Carole King and Dolly Parton, composers have long sung their own songs with satisfying results. Radigan, too, gives her own works their proper due.
Bottom Line: Familiar country composer branches out to good effect
Duran Duran (Hollywood)
They're old enough to have fathered some of the boys in the bands now laying claim to the charts they once ruled, but Duran Duran still know a thing or two about the art of pop music. Of course, for these seasoned vets, once teen idols themselves, art and pop go hand in hand, making their brand of disposable fluff more esoteric and more thoughtful than most of the confections currently spun on MTV.
On the ironically titled Pop Trash
, that approach translates to exuberant, guitar-injected rave-ups and dreamy, atmospheric soundscapes such as the lovely "Playing with Uranium" and the understated "Someone Else Not Me." (The latter recalls Duran Duran's 1993 comeback smash "Ordinary World.") Perhaps the stellar '80s group's last remaining founding members, Simon LeBon, 41, and Nick Rhodes, 38, are hoping that lightning will strike again. Not that failing to chart has deterred Duran Duran from continuing to record: Pop Trash
is their third CD since 1993, and while they may not keep the current crop of pop stars awake nights, Duran Duran can still make music that's smartly done, radio-savvy and thoroughly enjoyable.
Bottom Line: Recycling success
>CIRCLE Indigenous (Koch) This Canadian group of Native American blues-rockers is led by vocalist and guitarist Mato Nanji, who plays as if channeling the late native Texan Stevie Ray Vaughan. Vaughan collaborator Doyle Bramhall produces.
THE REMAINS OF TOM LEHRER Tom Lehrer (Rhino) Whether the Ivy League math instructor turned satirist had the funniest classroom or the brainiest stage act, no one knows. This witty three-CD box set revisits Lehrer between 1953 and 1999.
WHITE PONY Deftones (Maverick) On their third album, this quintet of very loud Sacramento rockers mixes heavy metal with the angry fury of punk. Once, it would have been called grunge. But by any name, it's still a head-banger's delight.
- Peter Carlin,
- Amy Linden,
- Ralph Novak.
K.D. Lang (Warner Bros.)