Learning To Be Lonely is the promising debut EP from Chicago based singer/songerwriter Rebecca Rego. The six songs included here are firmly in a folk and alt-country mode, with echoes of artists like Joni Mitchell, Patti Griffin and Bob Dylan. Apart from an assured and literate songwriting style, the most appealing thing about Learning To Be Lonely is Rego’s voice, which is by turns warm, intimate and playful. Rego is set to go into the studio to record a full length record, and if this EP is any indication, it should be something to hear. Definitely recommended for folk and alt-country fans. Standout cuts: “Dreams (Aren’t Made Here),” “The Best Thing You Ever Gave Me” and “Where The Lights Are.”


After spending an extended sojourn in France, singer/songwriter Tift Merritt came back with the notes for Another Country, her third album. Merritt’s work has been considered alt-country in the past, and while those influences remain, Another Country employs a broader range of musical styles for its ten tracks, with jazz, soul, folk and rock added into the mix. Merritt even sings a French language song at the very end, “Mille Tendresses (A Thousand Tendernesses).” The lyrics here are thoughtful and reflective without being cliched and self-involved; Merritt has evolved into a standout songwriter. Another Country is a literate and lovely album, the sound of an artist coming into the full range of her powers. Standout cuts: “Something To Me,” “Broken,” “Another Country” and “Tell Me Something True.”


“And I sure as shit do love you
And I cuss because I mean it
And for that in my heart I am hopeful
And these words that I chose
I was so careful…”

It takes a uniquely talented songwriter to write a song called “Sure As Shit” and not only have it come out not jokey, but have it turn out to be one of the most moving and articulate tracks on an album given to both of those qualities. Canadian singer/songwriter Kathleen Edwards returns after a three year break with the strongest album she’s yet done, Asking For Flowers. Edwards tends to get comparisons to alt-country artists Lucinda Williams and Neko Case and the like, but really she reminds me most of bands like Lucero and Drive-By Truckers, musicians with whom she shares a concern and an interest in the lives of rural working people, and the ability to write about them directly and eloquently without turning their issues and experiences into mere abstractions or polemics. (Ray Davies does much the same thing on his latest album.) This is not to say that Asking For Flowers doesn’t have its moments of fun, as “The Cheapest Key” and “I Make The Dough, You Get The Glory” will attest. The latter song has one of my favorite lyrics: ” You’re cool and cred like Fogerty / I’m Elvis Presley in the 70’s..” This is another early candidate for “Best of 2008.” Standout cuts: “The Cheapest Key,” “Oil Man’s War,” “Sure As Shit” and “Goodbye California.”


Washington D.C. and San Francisco based singer/songwriter Thao’s second album, We Brave Bee Stings And All, is acoustic guitar based folk pop that at least sounds cheerful and happy, though the lyrics often temper the music with emotional ambivalence or uncertainty: ” I’m never gonna leave / And you’re never gonna leave / But you’re never gonna love me / Like I need,” the opening song goes. Another song ends with, “I won’t make you flex emotion / I won’t make you come a little closer / do what you want don’t do it for me / what’s the use in chivalry..” Actually, while I’m all about quoting her, maybe I’ll just quote something that I think sums up her music pretty nicely: “As sharp as I sting / As sharp as I sing / It still soothes you doesn’t it / Like a lick of ice cream…” You should check this album out, is what I’m saying. Standout cuts: “Beat (Health, Life, and Fire),” “Bag Of Hammers,” “Swimming Pools” and “Feet Asleep.”


Worrisome Heart, with its appealing, assured mix of jazz and blues, makes for a very promising full length debut for Philadelphia based singer/songwriter Melody Gardot. Gardot sounds a bit like fellow traveler, Nellie McKay, with her sultry, versatile voice, and though she plays it considerably straighter than McKay does, Gardot shares a bit of her playfulness. What makes Gardot’s debut all the more impressive is that prior to an accident, she had no plans to pursue a musical career, but instead came to record her initial EP as a means of therapy as she recovered from head trauma sustained in the accident. None of that is necessary to know to appreciate her music, however, as the ten tracks on Worrisome Heart will be pleasure enough for its listeners. “That was fun,” Gardot says at the end of the instrumental that concludes the album, and it’s likely most of her admirers and admirers-to-be will agree. Standout cuts: “Worrisome Heart,” “Some Lessons,” “Love Me Like A River” and “Goodnite.”


This is the new video from Lo-Fi Sugar, a very talented singer/songwriter from Los Angeles, California (and who also happens to be a very nice person!). She’s recorded and performed with famed electronic music pioneer Paul Van Dyk, and is generally on the rise of late. Her debut EP, The Divine Edit, is available via iTunes, eMusic and Rhapsody.


mikedoughtygoldendeliciousGolden Delicious is easily Mike Doughty’s best work since his time fronting Soul Coughing, and maybe even better than that. The basic sound he’s been playing with since his solo debut in 2000 is still here, Doughty with an acoustic guitar, but as with Haughty Melodic, his previous solo album, it’s fleshed out with a full band backing him. Doughty has always seemed at least one part Beat poet, and his unique vocals are in perfect sync with the funk and soul that informs most of the music to be heard here. Though it begins with an anti-war song, the moving “Fort Hood,” the mood on the album is mostly light, even joyous at times. It’s a feeling listeners might find very hard to resist. Standout cuts: “Fort Hood,” “I Just Want the Girl In the Blue Dress….” “27 Jennifers” and “Like A Luminous Girl.”


Second solo album from former Kinks frontman Ray Davies, who is now mostly based in New Orleans, the city which provided much of the inspiration for the music here. The music is the sort of relaxed rock and roll heard on his first full length solo album, but what really elevates the album are the incisive, often witty lyrics and their subject matter, which, true to the title, concern the working class for the most part. Refreshingly, Davies doesn’t deal with them in the abstract, but rather his songs seem informed by close observation, resulting in the best songs here, “Vietnam Cowboys,” “Morphine Song,” “No One Listen” and the title track. All in all, this probably doesn’t quite reach the heights that his best work with the Kinks did, but it’s still a solid album by one of rock’s best songwriters.


Carla Bruni – No Promises

February 18, 2008

Paris based model turned singer/songwriter Carla Bruni’s second album sounded great conceptually, anyway: It’s a collection of 12 songs with lyrics based on work by poets ranging from W. B. Yeats, W.H. Auden, Emily Dickinson to Dorothy Parker, among others, with music written by Bruni herself. The results are fairly mixed, however, mostly because though she’s done an excellent job creating lyrics out of the verses, the music isn’t nearly as inspired. It falls into a sort of borderline generic folk and blues rock sound for the most part, though on some songs, she does rise to the occasion, as on album highlights, “Those Dancing Days Are Gone,” “Promises Like Pie-Crust,” “If You Were Coming In The Fall” and “Afternoon.” This album nevertheless was a big hit in Europe, so it may just be a matter of taste.