New releases from three rugged women.
We Will Become Like Birds
First the bad news: Erin McKeown's latest, while enjoyable, doesn't have the staying power of her last two stellar outings. Lacking the continual inventiveness of 2003's Grand and the sonic coyness of 2000's Distillation, We Will Become Like Birds lurches along for its first third or so, treading singer/songwater and generally failing to find its footing. But stick with it-McKeown eventually manages a turnaround. Passing the album's halfway point, she drops the self-serious preciousness and remembers what it's like when albums are fun. Need proof? Endearing exclamation points are sprinkled liberally throughout the printed lyrics. Standout track "White City" bounces along as a joyous pop paean to the wonder and promise of a blank slate. "We Are More" even dares to rock handclaps on record. Trying hard? Yes. Fun anyway? Sure.
You've probably heard Grey DeLisle before, but not in places you'd expect. The 32-year-old country chanteuse has had a lengthy career lending her voice to cartoons, animated movies and video games, from Scooby-Doo and The Fairly OddParents to Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi and a host of Star Wars releases. On record, though, she's a lot darker than most children's shows would allow. Described by some as a slightly goth-inflected Dolly Parton, DeLisle uses sparse instrumentation and lilting country melodies to haunt Iron Flowers from start (a naked-confessional version of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody") to finish (the Lone Star love song "Inside Texas"). Husband Murry Hammond of the Old 97's assists on bass, and "The Bloody Bucket"-the album's clear highlight-is lyrically and thematically the perfect female counterpart to Hammond's classic Old 97's song "Valentine." Country albums aren't often this unrelentingly heartbreaking, but maybe it's for the best that DeLisle exorcises her demons in song before stepping inside a studio to voice Looney Tunes' Petunia Pig.
Adrienne Young & Little Sadie
The Art of Virtue
This is Philadelphia, so you've got to give credit for the Ben Franklin love. Aside from its ample liner notes, Adrienne Young's latest comes with a reprinting of "The Thirteen Virtues" from The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, complete with the founding father's famous do-it-yourself charts for tracking your own frugality, sincerity, chastity and so on. The singer's voice has gotten stronger since her debut Plow to the End of the Road, both literally (the vocals have a vitality only glimpsed before) and figuratively (this old church girl's gotten preachy). Jesus pops up in the lyrics, giving Virtue a noticeably more serious, even pious tone. Though that tone comes off as spectacularly annoying at times-the liner notes unironically capitalize phrases like "Blessed Earth" and "Greater Good"-she broadens her musical scope considerably. "Bonaparte's Retreat/My Love Is in America" has the fiddlin' zeal of an Irish seisiun, while "Wedding Ring" moves the party to Cajun Loosiana. And though Virtue is missing Plow's old-timey dustiness, songs like Uncle Dave Macon's "Don't Get Weary" and a not-half-bad cover of the Grateful Dead's "Brokedown Palace" play to Young's greatest strength: harking back to her Americana roots. >> Adrienne Young & Little Sadie CD release show Fri., June 1, 7:30pm. $7-$11. World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut St. 215.222.1400. www.worldcafelive.com
Threesome: Got No Strings/Don't Ask Don't Tell/Mexican Standoff
Citing the literary tradition of the trilogy and the artistic convention of the triptych, Michelle Shocked puts an end to her three-year silence with three distinct discs: Got No Strings, Don't Ask Don't Tell and Mexican Standoff. Call Got No Strings the appetizer-a satisfyingly steady amalgamation of Disney songs, trending toward the obscure (though "Spoonful of Sugar" and "When You Wish Upon a Star" are here) and translated through Bob Wills-styled swing. Shocked fans (and newbies) will surely be pleased with the entree Don't Ask Don't Tell, a stylistically varied collection that includes the whispery blues number "Don't Ask" as well as the haughty "How You Play the Game," a tune strong enough to join the singer's greatest hits canon. Unfortunately Mexican Standoff, a side one/side two split of Latin-infused border songs and Texas blues, is no palate cleanser. Like a flourless chocolate cake, the accordion lays heavy and Shocked's Spanglish goes in and out like cell phone service on a dusty highway. By the end of three courses, you're overfull and in need of a long walk home. Catch Shocked live this week for a meal of modest proportions. (Rob Trucks) >> Michelle Shocked plays with the Mighty Sound Thurs., June 30, 7:30pm. $31-$33. With David Berkeley. World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut St. 215.222.1400. www.worldcafelive.com
Live From Iraq
Most aspiring rappers dream of having their battle scars declared deep by a big dog like Jay-Z. But to HOV, Eminem, Lil' Wayne, Destiny's Child and anyone else who wants to compare a hustler's life to a soldier's, 4th25 wants to set the record straight: "You think it's ghetto where you from/ This is not your beef on the block, this is not that simple/ It's more than gunfire/ They shooting rockets and missiles." The seven sergeants and specialists from Fort Hood, Texas, wrote and recorded their Live From Iraq album while deployed in Baghdad. For 15 songs the soldiers rap about what's really on their minds, whether stress from cheating girlfriends back home, sympathy for soldiers brought up by the government on integrity charges, or disgust at Americans who tell them they shouldn't be there in the first place. It's not pretty, but it's a solid soundtrack for this troubling Fourth of July weekend. (Kate Kilpatrick)
from the vaults