New York City (Verve)
New York City is the perfect title for the Brazilian Girls' third album. Sure, the trio is from the city and owes it success to many of the Lower East Side clubs and bars that gave the band its start, but just like New York, with its melting pot of influences, this album pulls from a stream of global inspiration. Sabina Sciubba, the Siren of a lead singer known for her stage antics, croons in English and French, sometimes in the same song, as world beats and rhythms drift behind her.
While song titles might reflect many of the band's influences, they don't always connect to in the songs. "St. Petersburg" opens New York City with a rolling drum, as Sciubba pushes her voice to the top of her range with nary a hint of Russian. "Berlin" too seems mistitled, with buoyant vaudeville instrumentation and primarily French lyrics, although the brooding "Internacional" is spot on, thundering through a global itinerary as Senegalese musician Baaba Maal provides guest vocals. Perhaps the band is just having fun with it all, teasing us with some irrelevant titles while we're left to guess their origins. Regardless, New York City is a whirlwind romp around the world and a fantastic menagerie of international flavors, skillfully concocted and presented in a sexy and accessible package. - Aaron Mendelsohn
The Ol' Reach-Around (www.menyamusic.com)
This trio of bratty N.Y.C. kids, all 20 years old, gets its stylish spark from artists whose careers sputtered out before the three were even born. Menya's self-released debut EP cops beats, grooves and spirit from '80s hip-hop and synth-pop icons like LL Cool J and Cyndi Lauper. Singer Coco Dame is sentimental one minute, brash the next, as Good Goose's spare but room-filling beats coax playful and sexy come-ons from her (on one song, she orders a partner to go down on her). Still, The Ol' Reach-Around goes deeper than the songs about fucking let on. "Oh!" rides a glowing summery hook that belies its tale of wistful nostalgia, and "Lonely Lonely" reveals a broken heart beating beneath sweat-soaked skin. All that screwing around can wear a girl out, you know? - Michael Gallucci
The Green Sparrow (Rounder)
Mike Gordon might need a Phish reunion more than any of his former bandmates. While his songs with Phish were mediocre at best (I always dreaded hearing "Mike's Song" in concert), the bass player's individual creative output post-breakup has been minimal. Outside of some work with Leo Kottke and a tour two years ago with Trey Anastasio and the Duo, Gordon has been relatively quiet. Now, with reunion rumors running rampant, Gordon releases The Green Sparrow. Unfortunately, it's a lackluster and marginal work that illustrates Gordon's deficiencies as a songwriter and how much he can really benefit from a reformation of Phish.
Of course, Phish never had a strong studio catalog, but there just isn't a keeper in the 10 tracks of The Green Sparrow. "Traveled Too Far" is the strongest and benefits from Anastasio, Page McConnell and Bill Kreutzmann all lending help. Ivan Neville also contributes to "Jaded," and that's exactly the problem. The best songs here owe more to the musicians providing Gordon the assist than to Gordon himself. Gordon's nasally voice just isn't suited to a full album's worth of songs, and in the framework of four-minute pop ditties, it becomes painful to realize just how far this former Phish stalwart has fallen. - Mendelsohn
Dialog (Photo Finish)
Nashville's Paper Rival aims big on its debut album, Dialog. Big as in huge, sweeping songs about love, life, death and all the other Important Issue themes that bands with lofty ideas and ginormous aspirations usually get around to by their third CD. Paper Rival is already there. Singer Jake Rolleston rides the waves of his group's push-and-pulls, elevating tracks like "Foreign Film Collection" and "Weak Sister" to near-majestic heights. At times, the band bites off more than it can chew. "The Family Ghost" wanders onto U2's playground of moody melodrama, and the indie-rock shadowplays adopt a half-dozen different guises over the course of 11 songs. But that's gonna happen when you're out to make such grand statements. - Gallucci
The Lord Dog Bird
The Lord Dog Bird (Jagjaguwar)
With his primary band Wilderness on undefined hiatus, guitarist Colin McCann continued writing and recording original songs on a 4-track at his home. Whereas Wilderness is a Joy Division-informed band of mope-rockers, McCann's solo work is largely acoustic and earnest in a folksy manner. Released here as The Lord Dog Bird (that's a pretty confounding handle), McCann's solo debut is warm and effusive but ultimately a bit too stilted and tenuous to really stand out. Perhaps owing to the uncertain status of his day job, McCann sounds simultaneously depressed and hopeful, with the quietly tuneful "Song for Woodthrush" being the most pristine example.
The record's best moments are when McCann finds a way to channel obvious heroes U2 through his lo-fi approach, as he does quite effectively on both "The Gift of Song in the Lion's Den" and the instrumental "Druids." Elsewhere, though, McCann falls victim to the limitations of his recording format; "Back to Drinkwater" could be a sweetly uplifting piece were it not for all the tape hiss and distortion, and "No Security" comes across as unfinished, without a bit more instrumentation to flesh it out. As it stands, The Lord Dog Bird is a worthwhile side project. It'd almost have to be, as Wilderness is so singularly awful that making a worse record would be practically impossible. - Chris Drabick
Andrew Jackson -- The Atrocious Saint (That's That Productions)
"Andrew Jackson was a patriot and a traitor," wrote James Parton, Jackson's first biographer, in 1859. "He was a democratic autocrat, an urbane savage, an atrocious saint." These dichotomies of character are examined in the PBS documentary Andrew Jackson: Good, Evil and the Presidency. If our current commander in chief is slated to go down in history as the worst ever, Jackson could be a contender for a close second. Composer Christopher Hedge's soundtrack shores up all the aspects, good and bad, of Jackson's legacy. Irish jigs and string-band music score Jackson's humble beginnings.
The quasi-classical chamber music of the lovely "Rachel's Adagio & Variation" provides a backdrop for his rise to the presidency. The drums of the Eighth Regiment Band of Rome, Georgia, punctuate his controversial military career.
Jackson's policy of "Indian removal" led to the infamous Trail of Tears, which made room for plantations on the seized lands, to be worked by slaves. Flutist R. Carlos Nakai teams up with Congolese drummer Titos Sompa to provide cross-cultural commentary on these atrocities. The David Grisman Bluegrass Experience throws in some traditional tunes of the era, spryly played, if a tad anachronistic. Irish musicians Joe Weed (on fiddle) and David Brewer (on pipes, flute, pennywhistle and bodhran) provide a warm swirl of Celtic music. Hedge bookends the CD with "Andrew Jackson" and "Jackson's Requiem," two treatments of the same melodic material. The first has an arching optimism, with crisp military drums; the second is mournful and rueful, the drums muted - perhaps a more elegant elegy than the man deserved. - Peggy Latkovich
Hollywood Be Thy Name (www.jaclynbradley.com)
The sophomore effort from Cleveland native Jaclyn Bradley is based largely on experiences gained while acting as personal assistant to Danny Bonaduce's wife, Gretchen, on the show Breaking Bonaduce, which aired for two seasons on VH1. Bradley developed her multifaceted vocal skills while singing backup for Kid Rock protégé Ty Stone. Exceeding normal expectations in the singer-songwriter genre, Bradley showcases her expansive range as well as her willingness to plumb the depths of despair. The result is an unusual combination that resembles Pat Benatar's vocals mixed with Tori Amos' emotions.
The album chronicles Bradley's move to Hollywood and her subsequent disillusionment and escape from a town she refers to as "Lost Angeles." By far the catchiest and most memorable track on the album is "That's Enough," on which Bradley uses catchy melodies and lilting vocals to describe a man who "reminds me of Elvis" who also "reminds me of Jesus." Bradley goes on to contemplate life in a city that's very superficial on "Lost Angeles" and also touches on the tragedy that eventually brought her back to Cleveland. "Coming Clean" is a bluesy and cathartic song that showcases her ability to bounce from high to low notes with ease. The main drawback here is that the sound engineering on the CD doesn't adequately convey the strength or the depth of some vocals, and at times, renders them woefully sparse. - Lois Elswick