I just scored myself some tickets to Cate Blanchett in Hedda Gabler at BAM, so I’m in a great mood. Let’s just get started, then. I’ve got three good indie CDs to tell you about this week.
The Beautiful Girls, We’re Already Gone
Perhaps one of the best eclectic acts to come along since Beck, The Beautiful Girls are at home with dub, reggae, blues-rock, lo-fi pop and roots. It isn’t the individual songs but the sum total that makes this Australian band so interesting and potentially important. Guitarist and principal songwriter Mat McHugh sings with wry circumspection, and there’s no fancy production; the songs are arranged and played with elemental rather than mechanical precision, like basic reggae. When the sound gets big, as in the rave-up at the end of “The Biggest Lie I Ever Told,” the effect is mighty; throughout, the band skillfully employs layering and dynamics to get the most possible impact from simple forms.
Plus you can dance to it.
Despite the band’s somewhat self-consciously modern sound, there’s very little “how cool are we!” attitude; these guys have internalized many styles, but their synthesis seems to come very naturally. End result: subtle, twenty-first-century eclectic-pop gold.
Leah-Carla Gordone, Dancing On The Dragon
Leah-Carla Gordone has matured appreciably since her last album, Butterfly Child. Stylistically, her r&b-flavored folk-rock puts one in mind of Melissa Etheridge (minus the off-key singing) crossed with Gwen Stefani (minus the pandering to the male libido). But Gordone holds forth in a husky baritone like Nina Simone’s, backed up with her own acoustic and twelve-string guitars and some highly funky support musicians, notably Mike Unger on electric guitar, violinist Yiling Tien, and a crack rhythm section.
No longer dependent on peace-and-love homilies, Gordone’s lyrics mingle hopeful idealism (“Can we get it back to how it used to be/When everything was pure and free”) with relationship realpolitik: “When you open up and let someone in/It’s like peeling back a layer of your skin/And it hurts at first but then you grow to like it/That is when the tragedy begins.” Melodies flow, harmonies soar, and choruses glitter. Gordone remains an earnest, serious and consciously inspirational singer-songwriter, but the style and art of her songs, and her production of them, now make a fine match with her lyrical themes, with hooks that are organic to the songs and also strong in pop sensibility: “This Moment,” “Get It Back,” and “The Dragon” are especially good examples of Gordone’s ability to come up with tunes both meaningful and catchy.
Melineh Kurdian, From Where You Are
Folk-rocker Melineh Kurdian takes inspiration from the Indigo Girls and Ani DiFranco as well as the traditions of American roots music. Nothing unusual there; umpteen folk-rockers meet that description. What sets Kurdian apart is the sheer beauty of her songs and of the voice that brings them to life, a voice with a measure of Patty Griffin’s ability to wrench the heart. “Santa Maria” almost knocks you over with loveliness; “Devil’s Child” is a poignant, almost achingly generous response to intolerance.
On the technical side, Kurdian’s own superior guitar skills seem to have inspired the supporting musicians – including lead guitarists Rob Endicott (a name new to me) and Ann Klein (who’s played with just about everyone) to excellent work.
Klein’s leads fire up “Cowgirl Love Song,” whose lyrics neatly capture life’s biggest dilemma with a musical metaphor: “That’s a tough chord, that’s a hard question to play/That’s a lot of love that you shove in my direction every day.” “Goddamn n’ Just Do” is a muscular take on the “Hit the Road, Jack” theme: “I am the unexpected man that can, I am a wild woman you don’t know could/I am what you could and should but won’t ’cause you won’t follow through… So, pack your heartache, put away your bellyache/Goddamn and Just Do.” Put that in your pipe and smoke it, [insert teenage pop moppet here].
What Kurdian doesn’t have are big hooks. That’s no fatal flaw in music with this rare combination of airy beauty and earthy grace, but it’s the one thing (other than dumb luck and the unfairness of the world) that could keep Kurdian from reaching the level of folk-rock royalty like the Indigo Girls and Shawn Colvin.