mandymooreMandy Moore’s new album, Amanda Leigh (her real first and middle name), was produced and polished to a high sheen by Mike Viola (Candy Butchers) and features Inara George (The Bird and the Bee) as a collaborator, so it arrives with some amount of indie pop/adult alternative cred. However, if Moore’s teen queen past complicates any inclination of yours to take her current music seriously, I’m not sure this album is going to be enough to change your mind. That said, this is a pretty solid Top 40-style album, though by Top 40, I mean Top 40 back in the 70’s. It’s not a retro record, exactly, but it’s strongly influenced by rock and pop from that era in particular, with Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell, and Todd Rundgren among the acknowledged influences. I also hear some of Linda Ronstadt’s work with producer Peter Asher on yet other tracks, like the current single (and my personal favorite song from the record), the practically irresistible “I Can Break Your Heart Any Day Of The Week.” Honestly, I wish there had been more songs like “I Can Break Your Heart…” because it’s such an unadulterated slice of pop bliss, and the record could have used at least one more song in the same vein. But don’t get me wrong, songs like the opener “Merrimack River,” “Fern Dell” and the closer “Bug” are all highlights, too, and if the strongest material is weighted toward the first half, the album as a whole puts her head and shoulders above artists like Sara Bareilles, Ingrid Michaelson, Anna Nalick, Colbie Caillat and the like. Her music on Amanda Leigh puts her closer to the company of artists like Jennifer O’Connor, Laura Veirs and Jenny Lewis, all gifted musicians who expertly meld folk and country with pop. Here’s hoping that Moore can deliver on the promise of this album. (Though if it turns out she makes an album full of songs like “I Can Break Your Heart Any Day Of The Week,” I’d be okay with that, too.)

thebirdandthebeeThe second LP from The Bird And The Bee (Inara George and Greg Kurstin, respectively) opens with a sunny fanfare evocative of the 60’s and promptly launches into the one of the best songs on the album, “My Love,” just under four minutes of blissed out dance pop that more or less exemplifies the shimmering, high gloss music listeners are in for the rest of the record. Ray Guns Are Not Just The Future is a such a breezy, playful and just plain fun set of music that one might not appreciate the sophistication of the arrangements or the general skill it took to so seamlessly blend the various elements that comprise the 14 tracks included here: Listeners will find 60’s era American and French pop mixed with psychedelic rock, bossa nova, ragtime, hip hop and electronica, to name a few. If you are an indie pop fan, obviously this is the record for you, but for anyone looking for music you can dance to that’s adult, witty and abundantly inventive, I couldn’t recommend Ray Guns Are Not Just The Future more. Standout cuts: “My Love,” “Love Letter To Japan,” “Polite Dance Song” and “Birthday.”

Los Angeles based singer/songwriter Inara George’s second solo release (she also records with The Bird and the Bee) is a fully orchestrated collaboration with the highly esteemed arranger Van Dyke Parks. Conceived as a “song cycle,” the end result is a nod to the pop of the 40’s and 50’s, a modern take on work recorded by Nelson Riddle during his Capitol Records years, and, according to the press for the record, music by Frank Sinatra and Richard Sherman. Though many American artists have been, at one time or another, been hailed as geniuses, Van Dyke Parks is one of the few who has a body of work to justify such high praise. His musical contributions here dovetail beautifully with George’s lovely, expressive voice, producing a set of songs with rare charm, wit and sophistication. Is An Invitation itself a work of genius? I don’t know, but it’s unique and it’s awfully fun to listen to, and I definitely recommend it. Standout cuts: “Right As Wrong,” “Bomb,” “Dirty White” and “Oh My Love.”