Anya Singleton, Not Easy to Forget
Anya Singleton is equally comfortable singing jazz, blues, R&B and even rock; her new EP could be described accurately both as a small smorgasbord of styles and as a delicious, sultry concoction of well-crafted original material perfect for her style. Her voice is passionate but knowing, more warm than cool, and she puts her excellent technique in the service of the song - not the other way around, as jazz singers sometimes do.
However, to my ear, the most enjoyable thing about this EP, along with Singleton's delivery, is how the original songwriting (by Singleton, guitarist Michael Aarons and keyboardist David Sherman) is so heavily indebted to classic R&B and soul. "I'm Just Fine" is a timeless kind of song in the classic soul tradition, while the title track sounds like one Aretha Franklin could easily have recorded in the 60s. Sherman's "Slow Man" brings to mind Carole King, while his "Silver and Gold" has an silky Elton John sort of melody. But with all that, the jazzy flavor of the arrangements gives the songs an earthy, acoustic edge they might not have otherwise. The group breaks into more traditional jazz with a solid but unexciting version of Hoagy Carmichael's "The Nearness of You." It's the originality on display in the other songs that makes this short set special.
Extended clips can be heard here.
Chris Knight, Enough Rope
Like an angry John Mellencamp, Chris Knight blasts the unfairness of life through stories of small-town and (especially) rural hopes, and the dashed dreams that too often bring them down. Knight lacks the subtlety of some similarly character-driven songwriters like Springsteen and Dylan, but subtlety isn't his aim; hoarse passion and evocative imagery give this pissed-off holler of an album its force. Knight's originality, in the context of heartland rock, lies in his advocacy of the small farmer rather than the suburban hard-luck case or union laborer. His axe hits squarely: "I watch them tear it all to hell/What used to be my church/Tearing up my Grandpa's land/Treating my Grandpa's land like dirt." But there's defiance, too, in grainy tales like "William's Son," a highlight of his powerful live show: "And every now and then I kneel and pray/That things will get better one of these days/But I'll spit in your eye and stand my ground/Just to keep my head from hanging down."