Tag Archives: new music

Beautiful Star

Have you heard of Odetta? If you’re a fairweather folkster like me, chances are you probably haven’t. She was an American singer, actress, guitarist, songwriter, and a human rights activist, who had Carly Simon weak at the knees and Maya Angelou waxing cosmological. You’ve probably heard of some of the acts she influenced, though: Joan Baez, Mavis Staples, Janis Joplin… she is even indirectly responsible for the career of Bob Dylan, but don’t hold that against her.

Her music is joyful, playful, pissed-off, regretful, angry, and has the power to tie your bowels into knots. The folks at Wears The Trousers Magazine have had the good sense to organise a tribute album, Beautiful Star: The Songs of Odetta, featuring a selection of Odetta’s finest songs sung by a range of established indie artists (Marissa Nadler, Liz Durrett) and up-and-coming, hot-out-of-the-studio new talent (Haunted Stereo, Katey Brooks). Released on November 30th, all proceeds will go to women’s charities (The Fawcett Society and The Women’s Resource Centre), so there really is no excuse not to buy it. Needless to say this tribute to a great under-acknowledged female singer, organised by a feminist music magazine, whose proceeds are being donated to charities aimed at helping women, gets a big feminist thumbs up from EYS. Head on over to their Myspace page and pre-order yourself a good old slice of ear-nourishing feminist do-goodery. Sail away, ladies.

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Far

Listening to the new Regina Spektor album is a bit like experiencing the day in the life of a Daily Mail journalist: you are constantly looking for the appropriate person to blame. Or else: it’s like watching a good friend leave the house dressed in a gold tracksuit with a pink feather boa and a frog umbrella; wearing her quirkiness on her fluted sleeves, but knowing that the people she meets, if they have any sense, will suddenly pretend they don’t speak English, or realise that they have to go and buy a thing from somewhere rather far away.

A lot of the blame for this has to go to the producers of the album, who have managed to make some tracks sound like the live recording of a serviceably idosynchratic piano ballad as drummed/bassed along to by a greasy-fingered teen on a My First Hohner in a living room with egg boxes gaffataped to the walls. Some of the most offending tracks in this respect (The Calculation) make her sound like the runner-up in a ‘sing-a-long-a-Sheryl Crow’ competition; others (Eet, Blue Lips) result in Keane-style hammering piano mixed with lyrics of all the emotional clout of a bag of lentils. It’s fair to say that ‘Far’ is Regina’s most radio-friendly album in terms of lyrical content, which of course means it contains a level of lyricism which shocks only for its entire lack than for its substance; gone are the evocative Chemo Limos and Dens of Thieves, to be replaced by cringingly earnest musings (‘blue, oooh ooh ooh , the colour of our planet from far far away, blue, ooh ooh ooh, the most human colour) to the tritely throwaway (‘the future, it’s here, it’s bright, it’s now’). Even the utterly po-faced ‘Laughing With’, respectable only for its unswerving dedication to the central tenet of its own humorless sing-a-long-a-theology, ends in a nonsensical summary that ‘no-one’s laughing at God [when bad things happen], we’re all laughing with God’. Er, except we’re not. We’re not even laughing with Regina when she bursts out into dolphin song on ‘Folding Chair’, though the geekier amongst us are possibly noting the borrowing from Kate Bush’s ‘Hounds Of Love’. A nadir is reached on Two Birds, whose brass section indicts itself with each guilty parp quintuplet.

Despite the best efforts of the various producers to pour that liquid Regina alchemy into so many sub-Keane lolly moulds, some of the old loveability seaps through; Human Of The Year is a welcome reminder of all that is beautiful about Spektor’s songwriting, including some dazzling classical arpeggio-straddling of both piano and voice, as well as true lyrical inventiveness and a sense of melody and phrasing which would leave Frank Sinatra looking experimental. The song is only slightly impaired by whoever decided it would be a good idea to press the ‘fake chorus’ button on the keyboard (which sounds as though it was bought from Argos for £19.99 in the 80s), and the rolling ‘allelujah’s which bookend the central melody. Dance Anthem of the 80s, too, has the elements of all that is fine from Maryann Meets the Gravediggers, except that the word ‘sleeeeeeeeeeeeelelelelelelelleeeeeep’ is repeated way too many times past human endurance. Not one to crank up on the iPod.

Overall, the record has a more minor key and less inventiveness than one was beginning to hope for. The bonus tracks, for those who are considering shelling out the extra pound on iTunes, do nothing to detract from the overall mopeiness  and sense of lyrical lackadaisicality. The two ska-influenced tracks do bring a sort of jaunty rollick, and for these I find myself warming to this album more than I did to Begin To Hope; but while Regina’s musical knobbly foot is shoehorned into a Brit-Indie winklepicker, the result for all concerned is going to be sore.

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