Saturday May 1, 2010

North Adams Transcript

As warm weather nears and inevitable gatherings beg the appropriate soundtrack, there are already plenty of music releases that offer a mix of styles from around the world to fuel your enjoyment of the area just outside your house.

New York City musician and Melomane frontman Pierre de Gaillande will offer a June release for his Georges Brassens collection, "Bad Reputation," and it’s one to be excited about. Raised in America, de Gaillande pulls from his French roots and the music of his childhood with this release, bringing Brassens’ sounds into a string ragtime setting that offers some whimsy to his tales of the underbelly of life, with a burlesque undertone reminiscent of Tom Waits.

It is entirely unsuitable for the ears of children, but it’s a delightful -- and often coarse -- slice of French culture through a modern filter, and the guest appearance by French folk chanteuse Keren Ann doesn’t hurt.

Riffing on the Balkans but never becoming smothered in the style over substance, California-based Fishtank Ensemble debut with "Woman In Sin," in which two Americans, a Parisian and a Serbian unite to turn their group heritage into sound, moving from a rollicking Grappli/Reinhardt romps to exotic Middle Eastern jazz and wild Gypsy rambles. The highlight of the album, though, has to be their rendition of "Fever," a voice and instrument duet between the extremely versatile vocalist Ursula

Knudson and the cool, upright bass work of Djordje Stijepovic.

Trampled By Turtles spring from Duluth, Minnesota, with some raw bluegrass credibility, but the band’s delivery of the form is anything but standard. On its new album, "Palomino," TBT choose not just to ape the nostalgic styles of bluegrass festivals across the land, but to keep the form alive by indulging in some first-rate songwriting melded with wild musicianship -- think The Pogues hiding out in Kentucky.

Songs such as the exuberant and thrashy "Wait So Long" and "It’s A War" unfold with an urgency that is propelled by the intense styles of the band. These are songs that could find an audience in any genre, not ones that are confined to the musical style of choice. This is a great one for a few beers on the porch late at night -- and a band that’s worth keeping an eye on.

On its new "Stop the Music" EP, girl group The Pipettes step away from the retro ‘50s and ‘60s styles that got them attention and into some more modern pop territory, specifically Bananarama, circa the mid ‘80s. There’s a little bit of "Venus" here, a dab of "Cruel Summer" there -- and it’s a wildly fun, if admittedly unadventurous, leap that should find a home on radio stations that offer happy sounds.

Speaking of Bananarama, Shakespear’s Sister (that’s the way they spell it) has a new album out after 10 years (the previous one spent six years in legal limbo, but was finally released in 2004). The band made a splash in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s with some inventive pop sounds built around the dueling vocals of Siobhan Fahey and Marcella Detroit. This didn’t last though -- one whiff of stardom, and Detroit was in pursuit of her more mainstream goals. The more smoky-voiced Fahey made one other album and then concentrated more on life as a dee-jay.

Fahey returns as a solo act using the band’s name on "Songs From The Red Room," with improved songwriting injected with the dance beats she’s honed in her second career. This record is a lot of fun and hardly a far cry from the sort of music Fahey was making as an original member of Bananarama, just with a more progressive ear -- the new work even features a duet with old cohort and Fun Boy Three and The Specials vocalist Terry Hall.

Spanish duo Sweet Electra touches on electronica with its third album, "When We Abandoned The Earth," but mostly offers a shiny, pop affair that isn’t too far afield from synth pop acts of the late ‘80s -- you can feel the Ultravox ooze out of the songs. That’s a good thing -- songs like "A Feeling" or the standout ditty, "Love You More," are both nostalgic for that uncomplicated summer of ‘86 and entirely modern. It’s a bouncy collection that should find its way to your warm weather iPod mix.

Finishing up the suggestions with a smart melding of past and present, personable Fratellis frontman John Lawler drops heavy, burlesque rock in favor of a more lush version of the same. Lawler teams up with cabaret performer Lou Hickey for Codeine Velvet Club’s debut album, an astonishingly catchy collection of songs that pull their inspiration from the boy/girl duets of the 1960s. What ensues is something in the limbo that exists between Neil Diamond and T. Rex -- not to mention disparate swashes of Madness, Dave Clark 5 and John Barry.

From the opening amble of "Hollywood" and the creepy funk of "I Wish My Daddy" to the surf-infused lament of "I Am The Resurrection," there’s not a loser in this collection. In fact, this is enough to suggest that if Lawler left his other band behind, we’d still have a lot to look forward to.

John Mitchell is the Transcript’s arts and entertainment editor.