Cris Cuddy can do it all.
Come Along Carmelita has songs in genres from cajun zydeco and country (classic and modern) to jazz and medieval folk and covers subjects as diverse as "The Checkout Girl" and "Henry Morgan the Pirate". But the most important aspect of this album is that Cris sounds like he is having as much fun making the music as I am listening to it.
The quirky ones are the most memorable. Cuddy tells us all the benefits to dating "The Checkout Girl" and relays his version of the story of the seemingly ubiquitous (in rum ads, anyway) Captain Morgan in "Henry Morgan the Pirate."
Basing his songs around his guitar, Cuddy is not afraid to throw in a string section if need be ("What If Frankie Doesn't Like It?") and the violin plays a role in several of the songs, an unusual choice for a modern artist. But Cuddy must know what he is doing because it works. Even though no two songs sound alike,
Come Along Carmelita flows effortlessly into a cohesive whole, each tune blending in with the next.
CRIS CUDDY: Come Along Carmelita
A little jazz, a little blues, a little touch of southern zydeco, this chamber folk pop-noir led by accordion and friendly vocals will take you to pergatory and back.
Writing this, as I am, on September 11, 2003, I think I was in a much better mindset for the songs on Linda Finkle's
Piece of Me than I would have been any other time. A considerable portion of the songs feature subject matter regarding the events of two years ago, so I was in a "patriotic" mindset and much more able to appreciate what is, in retrospect, really over the top.
But that's only part of the album. Finkle has also written songs about her normal life and motherhood, that sort of thing, and surrounded them with pop music that sounds as if it came from the more innocent part of the 1960s. For some reason, the Monkees kept springing to mind. Although everybody knows that the Monkees were a prefabricated institution merely created to sell records to teenagers, one cannot deny the quality of pop craftsmanship that was hired to write the songs that were released under their moniker. Happy, lovely, jangly pop confections that were deliberately designed to make you feel good.
"Beautiful Day" is a perfect example and I'm glad that she leads off
Piece of Me with it as it is a wonderful mood-setter. Of course, that mood is about to be brought down, but if you wanted to, you could stop right there, or set your player to "repeat" and never leave the joyous feeling the tune gives. It's a silly little pop song and those have their place just as much as serious tunes. Finkle would do well to skip the mourning and try to continue the Partridge Family's motto (to drop another pre-fab band name) of "come on get happy."
LINDA FINKLE: Piece of Me
From country to rock to folk, this debut album is a collection of personal and political commentary songs that will make you feel good and angry.
It seems that every time a girl sits down on a piano bench, she's being touted as the next Tori Amos, when really there's no similarity whatsoever. And, no, I'm not about to say that Alysson Light's album
Looking Glass Conversations is a different story, because it isn't. It's simply a good album of folky pop songs.
Most of the songs are hers, but she bookends
Looking Glass Conversations with covers. First is Jim Chapman and John Hamilton's "Silk Sunflowers" with Chapman on guitar. An auspicious beginning and a humble choice for a kick off, it's also the only song on the album Alysson didn't produce herself. Some songwriters would insist on hiding a cover in the middle of the album, but Light recognizes the power of this song. "Trapped in Time" by Ellen-Catherine Nash features Nash on piano, giving the song a different feel and letting Alysson focus on her getting the most out of her resonant vocals.
Robbie Link's cello is the standout in "Never Know," one of her more popular downloads. In fact, the songs that have extra orchestrations come across better than those that focus on Light and her keys. That is not to insult her playing, simply to point out that her songs are broad and ambitious and benefit from layering like desert landscapes benefits from a widescreen cinematic presentation.
I especially appreciate the work done on "Maybe." Beginning with ghostly echoing high-octave vocals, it immediately sets a mood. What sounds like a synthesized marimba provides melodic accompaniment to the piano and provides a depth that would be missing otherwise. Again, Alysson chooses an appropriate cover with "Silken Wind" (written by Bob MacKenzie and Cilla Leigh). In this instance, sparse arrangement is best, letting Light take her much-deserved spotlight.
"Deep Inside" is an attempt at an uptempo number that unfortunately suffers due to Light's inability to keep the lyrics moving as fast as the music. The melody is mildly reminiscent of Vince Guaraldi's
Peanuts work, but has an infectious beat as provided by drummer Robb Ladd. In addition guitarist Tracy Feldman's energetic fretwork is entirely out of place on "Lilac Sky." But these are minor complaints regarding an album that is, at the very least, original work from an accomplished pianist/singer/songwriter--something that a similar album from
Vienna Teng (with whom Alysson Light has toured) entirely failed to accomplish. And, at its best,
Looking Glass Conversations will revive your faith in the possibilities of emo piano folk-pop.
The trouble with the deluge of singer-songwriter albums is picking the wheat from the chaff, sometimes within the same album. Sean McConnell's
Here in the Lost and Found is another example of that. With his Cameron Crowe looks and his guitar, McConnell has found a niche in introspective songwriting that doesn't entirely live up to its promise.
The CD starts out lacking. I don't think they could have picked a worse song to begin this CD than "David." There's no life in it at all. Things pick up a little with "Raven," at least McConnell puts some passion in it (and the violin of Larry "The Oracle" Dejong certainly doesn't hurt) but the first song to really show promise is "I Will Call You," which wasn't even written by Sean, but by his father, Greg McConnell. It's a beautiful song of longing and possibly the best track on the album.
Things kind of go down from here, lyrically speaking, at least. "Lupé" is so pretentious it hurts but "I Just Don't Recognize You Anymore" benefits from some lively strumming and "Tell Me" is reminiscent of the Sundays. The main issue is that so many of the songs sound alike. "Gone," "David," "Raven," "Strangers," "Every Day," and "Just Believe" are all obviously cut from the same cloth, which is fine if you like the style. Unfortunately, I've heard it so much by now that I yearn for the something new that is missing from
Here in the Lost and Found. McConnell is young, so perhaps maturity will result in songs like his father's, but, until then, I'm going to leave him lost. However, if you like this sort of thing, you can find more of it on
200 Orange Street.