One of the interesting things about Lennox’s singing is that when she uses different tones in her songs, she summons different perspectives and it is as if we are hearing different aspects of the singer’s self. Her chanted litany in “Love Is Blind,” a litany of exhaustion and frustration, is as fierce a sound as any in popular music.
Streisand is a classicist: she is informed by European classical music, and is part of the modern, popular tradition of the art of song that found its place on Broadway, and in jazz and Hollywood musicals. Is she working from memory, nostalgia, or great regard for the art form? She has been true to a tradition in which intelligent, loving, and witty words and beautiful melodies are central; and it is a tradition in eclipse thanks to the dominating noisy rhythms and rage to be found in rock and hip-hop.
They’ve stayed down-to-earth, innovative, and intimate despite their first two albums making platinum status and their third receiving an ARIA. This is a band that refuses to be pigeonholed. Listen to them, and I dare you not to smile and dance, even if you’re feeling glum. Their latest, So Many Nights is just a bit smoother and sweeter – maybe pop-ier than their last four.
On On a Clear Night, Higgins manages to toe the perfect line between playful, heartfelt, and above all, intimate, even when she’s getting down. The repetition of lines (“it’s not my fault; it can’t be my fault”), slightly off rhymes (“I follow complications like a bloodhound/So pick me up, twist me round, and throw me all the way back down”) and the twist of Higgins’ strong accent and that unusual lilt at the end of her lines, makes On a Clear Night an original offering.
Red Earth is a very special recording: it offers joy and thought, African and African-American music, and a woman’s claiming her own power and recognizing the truth—the joy and the suffering—in the world.
Ephraim Lewis, in music, might have been an ideal for many others (he is that for me): a being of force and sensitivity, able to reconcile sophistication and soul, a being with an eye for reality and a heart for dreams, able to embody in music contradictions without being destroyed by their conflicts, the dark androgyne.
Each has spoken of how natural their collaboration has been, allowing them to explore new aspects of their talents, while making a statement about how complementary different forms of music are: on Breaking Under Water, she, as composer and instrumentalist, handled some of the electronic productions and worked as a pianist, and he composed, and played guitar, drums, and even sang.
Sometimes gospel singers slur their words as part of their technique, a changed diction suggesting a changed spirit; and Donnie has identified some gospel singers as his antecedents: Rance Allen, Darryl Coley, John P. Kee, and James Moore. Donnie’s social imagination harkens back to Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield, and Sly Stone; and, amazingly, he does not suffer in comparison. However, he does not want to be—and is not—a nostalgia act.
With its somewhat ominous beginning, I had hoped that “Peace Beneath the City” might give a surprise—but it seems little more than atmosphere, intriguing atmosphere but merely atmosphere, although the lyrics seem to be intricate and about many deaths, with bodies buried beneath the city.
I am glad that Amel Larrieux has made Lovely Standards, a recording that will not ignite a revolution in the arts, in the churches and temples, or in the streets: however, it can inspire delight, and even thought, in the listener. How often do we need less beauty in the world?