Time for my Spring Music Selections. I'm fixated on a rash of enchanting femme fatales that would make Nico smile. I've had quite a few opportunities to live with most of this music, having taken a much-needed break with the wife and kids in Vermont. A long drive to and from the mountains afforded me some quality listening time. Loaded up the iPod with a batch of new discs and just kept on chooglin'. These discs should help thaw the last bit of winter blues as we New Yorkers scramble for sunlight and the promise of warmer days. For those of you in more hospitable climates already witnessing early spring, they will be grand companions as well.
A Camp: Colonia (Nettwerk)
Another beguiling chanteuse? Waiting five years to record their sophomore effort may be the kiss of death for most bands, but not this quirky alt-pop-punk gal. She finds grooves by living underground. A Camp breathes new life into the career of the Swedish Cardigans' Nina Persson. This quasi '60s girl group meets The Pretenders vibe, produced by Persson with her husband, film composer/Shudder to Think guitarist Nathan Larson, features appearances from ex-Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha and Joan As Policewoman/Guided By Voices drummer Kevin March. The single "Stronger Than Jesus" is currently making waves.
Miranda Lee Richards: Light of X (Nettwerk)
Been waiting two years for this release. (Shame on Virgin for dropping her after her brilliant 2001 debut album, The Herethereafter, failed to set the world on fire.) Finally a label recognized this seductive L.A.-based siren's great talent and enabled her to share more delicate but visionary love songs with everyone. Languid slowcore piano-driven ballads have just enough electric guitar to keep things tethered from floating away. Two stellar older numbers from her Myspace page "Breathless" and "Here by My Window," might be enough for most, but they are just the tip of the iceberg on this evocative and addictive effort.
Lila Downs Shake Away (Manhattan)
I'm just getting to this Winter 2008 release but it's best suited for the warming sun. Born to a Scottish-American father and Mexican-Indian mother, this Deadhead goddess stokes the Tex-Mex fires with her rootsy bluesy tendencies and sense of punk rock proficiency. Whether she's singing in English or Spanish, on originals or covers, she adds her own unique spice. Witness her deftness on Lucinda William's "I Envy the Wind" and Fleetwood Mac's "Black Magic Woman"; the end result is intoxicating.
Sara Lov: Seasoned Eyes Were Beaming (Nettwerk)
Another L.A. singer-songwriter worth investigating, she's the former frontwoman of dream pop duo Devics (with Dustin O'Halloran). Her sentimental but reflective debut closes with the simply gorgeous "Fountain." Sara's vocal is accompanied by her strummed acoustic guitar and backed by a droning organ pad that helps usher in delicate piano chords followed by cello, acoustic bass, and drums. Her vocals float along like water in slow motion.
Bob Dylan & The Band: The Basement Tapes (Columbia)
Granted legendary status amongst bootleggers years before being officially released, these 1967 recordings resurface, meticulously remastered. Most readers know the back story about the lure of Woodstock and magical mojo of the "Pink House," but it's important to note that Levon Helm was absent during most of the proceedings and guitarist Robbie Robertson and other members of The Band overdubbed new piano, guitar, and/or drum parts over some of the original recordings. Regardless, this remains the template for all of the Americana and roots-rock proclivities of modern era rock bands. Soon after, Dylan would release John Wesley Harding (1967) and The Band would wow the world with Music From Big Pink (1968). Also newly remastered is the essential live concert of Sir D and The Boys circa '74, Before the Flood.
The Takeover UK: Running with the Wasters (Rykodisc)
Some critics have foolishly called this melody-mad Pittsburgh indie-rock quartet the new Strokes or Libertines. While not as raw or edgy as either of those bands, they write better songs and play with a little more instrumental precision. Check out the revved up pop-punk classic "Ah La La" (should be a huge single this summer) or the Kinks meets La's ballad "Evelyn." My favorite new band.
Erdem Hellvacioglu: Wounded Breath (Aucourant)
Five tracks, clocking in at just over an hour, of haunting ambient electronica sound sculptures by this award-winning Turkish new music composer. It requires no stretch of the imagination to understand why his work has been featured in films, multimedia, dance, and theater productions. The opening track, "Below the Cold Ocean," could have easily been utilized in any of the Alien movies or as a sound installation at MoMA. Relax and float upstream...
Carlon: Johari Window (Ropedope)
Is roots-rock and Americana making a comeback? While it never really went away, if you heard these Jayhawks/Wilco-inspired Jersey Shore lads, the answer would be obvious. Having just torn up SxSW, they're poised to start garnering the same respect granted some of the genre's elder statesmen. Recorded in their 20,000 sq. ft rehearsal space, this 12-track effort has plenty of bombast and bottom. Dig the three-part vocal harmonies on the crazily infectious mid-tempo "Cantaloupe" and tell me otherwise.
Various Artists: From the Basement (Eagle Rock DVD)
Simple concept. Grab some of the best bands in the world. Make them perform music to an audience of no one -- well, in this case the show's executive producer, the mad hatter producer Nigel Godrich, and his staff -- and then release the performances as podcasts and as a TV show. (Gee, that sounds familiar, doesn't it? Wonder we haven't thought of that.) All that's missing are compelling interviews to go along with the compelling performances. If you haven't downloaded any of them, you can buy this DVD that compiles wonderful performances by Radiohead, Beck, PJ Harvey, Jose Gonzalez, The White Stripes, Sonic Youth, and others.
Radiohead: OK Computer (Special Collector's Edition) (Capitol)
The most influential "commercial" record since Dark Side of the Moon by one of the most influential bands of their generation, this 1997 release remains their crowning achievement. Although the second effort, The Bends (1995), remains pretty damn even. And Pablo Honey boasts their best sing-along anthem, "Creep." Their first three remastered CDs get the bonus treatment, collecting B-sides, some live material, and a bonus DVD with video action. Not hard to believe that they continue to inspire and produce quality music in these musically challenged times when you've checked out this three-corner foundation of their musical pyramid.