Review: For the Ladies

Get over it, football’s over and there’s no baseball for a while.  Do you really follow basketball?  Didn’t think so.  Prepare yourselves – Valentine’s Day is Sunday, and you already know this entire weekend is going to belong to the ladies.  And so will this batch of reviews.  Think of it as a favor: if you’re stuck for a little Valentine’s gift, you can always pick up one of these new CDs.

Between her highly successful eponymous 2006 debut album and its followup The Sea, Corinne Bailey Rae experienced the loss of her husband, who died of an overdose in 2008.   “Are You Here,” the first song on The Sea, comes face to face with her grief and then the singer begins to move on with the surprisingly rocking “The Blackest Lily” (featuring the Roots’ ?uestlove on drums).   Although there’s a melancholy thread winding through the songs, The Sea sounds like Corinne Bailey Rae is ready to take her music to a new level.

MP3: “The Blackest Lily’ by Corinne Bailey Rae

Sade also took a break between albums – in her case, it was about 10 years.  Soldier Of Love is less a comeback than a continuation, as the Nigerian-born singer picks up right where she left off.  Listening to Sade conjures a lazy afternoon on a sunny tropical beach, and the singer spins her slow-burning sensuality on standout tunes like “The Moon and the Sky” and “Morning Bird.”  Her songs often convey a feeling of longing and a hint of mystery, all wrapped in arrangements smoother than silk lingerie.

MP3: “Morning Bird” by Sade

Allison Moorer brings her own brand of smoothness to Crows, her first collection of original material in four years.  Like Corinne Bailey Rae, Moorer sings here of battling depression and personal tragedy but even while “Goodbye To The Ground” revels in her dark mood the sunny nostalgia of “Easy In The Summertime” balances it perfectly.  On “The Stars and I (Mama’s Song)” she seems to be singing to her mother (who was killed by Moorer’s father before he killed himself) and it’s a stark, powerful expression of love.  Allison doesn’t keep you down, though; when she promises “It’s Gonna Feel Good (When It Stops Hurting)” you know she’s right.

MP3: “The Broken Girl” by Allison Moorer

On Downtown Church, Texas singer/songwriter Patty Griffin literally takes it to church.  Recorded over five days in a Nashville church, Griffin celebrates the American soul of gospel music along with guests like Emmylou Harris, Raul Malo and Buddy Miller.  This seemingly confining concept nevertheless frees Griffin; she sings better than she ever has on “I Smell A Rat” and the bordertown-spiced “Virgen de Guadalupe,” and brings the fire and brimstone on “Death’s Got A Warrant.”  Griffin writes only two of the selections here, and honestly they’re the weakest songs on the album.  Like all of the ladies here, Patty Griffin finds music is a powerful tool in dealing with life, death and everything in between.  Downtown Church is an album of unexpected power and richness, it’s highly recommended.

MP3: “Waiting For My Child” by Patty Griffin

And what would a Valentine’s Day be without a ladies’ man?  David Sanborn fills the bill nicely this year with Only Everything, a swingin’ little album with guest vocals from James Taylor and Joss Stone. The album is kind of a tribute to Ray Charles, who influenced Sanborn greatly, and as a result it’s a more R&B-flavored affair rather than the light jazz normally associated with this veteran saxophonist.  A perfect way to end a romantic weekend.  I guess.

MP3: “The Peeper” by David Sanborn

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