Patti Scialfa steps out of the shadows most career backup singers are relegated to, producing a strong, warm disc that s a major improvement over her only other solo work, 1993 s Rumble Doll.
23rd Street Lullaby benefits from Scialfa s decision to make a song suite, with each of the tracks reflecting on the time she spent in the 80s living in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York. The thematic consistency presents an engaging coming-of-age story that never falls victim to too much nostalgia.
At 50, Scialfa s able to look back on those years with a combination of wisdom and wonder. With producer Steve Jordan she draws on the girl-group sounds of the 60s, folky Joni Mitchell-like arrangements and street corner rock for inspiration.
She s sung with everyone from the Rolling Stones to David Johansen and, of course, as a member of husband Bruce Springsteen s E Street Band, so she has the vocal range to pull it off. Her voice is a comfortable croon, full of vibrato and often resembling a female version of Garland Jeffreys, another New Yorker.
The title track, the disc s first single, is a beauty of a midtempo pop rocker, ending with Scialfa pleading I can t hear you over a pillowy backdrop of female singers. City Boys cops a Dylan groove, sounding like a lost cut from his Love and Theft album. And Love (Stand Up) features an understated guitar solo by Springsteen.
Scialfa s wise to let the disc stand on its own, though, barely calling on any help from her famous husband. As the mother of three, she brings an intriguing dichotomy to tackling 12 songs that focus on her younger, wild days. But it works well, making 23rd Street Lullaby a surprisingly strong work from an artist who sounds good in the spotlight.
Rated one of the world s top DJs, with the release of his second artist CD Tiesto also must be recognized for his talents as a songwriter and composer of dance music. While Just Be includes the euphoric trance for which he is well-known, it also features the epic orchestral opening track, his collaboration with BT on the vocal Love Comes Again, and UR with singer Aqualung (Matt Hales), an alternative/ambient hybrid with a haunting vocal over a harsher backing track. Tiesto closes with his trance take on Barber s Adagio for Strings. It s a classic track, but Just Be shows that it s only one shade in his expanding musical palette.
The disc has the kind of airy, light feel one might expect from a soundtrack for this romantic comedy. The opener kicks uptempo with Devo s Whip It, then whirls into the modern era with Liz Phair s Extraordinary. The new material from lesser-known artists, including Kristyn Osborn of SheDaisy and Hilary Duff s sister, Haylie, is underwhelming. Overall, it s a pleasant but uneven project highlighted by John Hiatt s heartfelt version of Feels Like Rain and archived material from Simon & Garfunkel and David Bowie.
The pickin is as heated as you d expect in a contemporary bluegrass album from a group that s gaining a reputation for high quality. However, it s a combination of sweet harmonies and a mix of diverse tunes that sets this ensemble apart. The album is produced by Ricky Skaggs, and his influence is apparent on this sextet of talented musicians. Bass, guitars, mandolin, banjo, and fiddle are, of course, the order of the day when it comes to the typical bluegrass sound. Somehow, these guys give it a special musical boost and meaningful lyrics to make it seem modern, yet still rooted in tradition.
Jessie Allen Cooper, who handles both soprano saxophone and harmonica on this 12-track disc, tries to home in on the tonal qualities of music from around the world. Often he succeeds, as with English ballad overtones on Waltz For An Artist and a low-down harmonica helping out raucous blues on Groovin Out Back. In fact, once past the opening track Full Moon, which is just a little too smooth jazz, there are lots of solid compositions which make excellent use of modern recording technology.
OM MANI PADME HUM, Buedi Siebert (Real Music) These soothing and charming tunes, designed for meditation and reducing stress, are far more than wallpaper music. Intriguing chants mix with bamboo flute, guitar, and percussion for an interesting, yet relaxing, diversion with a Tibetan flavor. K.R.
DEVIN DAZZLE AND THE NEON FEVER, Felix da Housecat (Emperor Norton) If you hanker after the glittery synth-rock of the 80s blended with electro, this is for you. Felix da Housecat gets retro with razzle-dazzle on a disc that s packed with personality. R.P.