With a title like "Love Is Dead," 21-year-old Estonian singer/songwriter Kerli's debut might not be expected to resonate with smiley lyrics and a peppy mood.
According to publicity material, she has seen some tough times, which are reflected in her lyrics. But in one of pop music's little ironies, an early success was winning a competition to select a song to represent her country in the Eurovision Song Contest - a contest not known for angst-ridden lyrics and brooding rock arrangements.
Though her voice can at times seem rather fragile, particularly when set against muscular guitar-driven backing on a disc that has mainstream and alt-rock elements, there's often an underlying strength and determination in her songs, despite the darkness.
So its title notwithstanding, the disc is not a downer. In fact, the title track rocks out with tough chords and the slap of drums behind her distinctive vocals. And defiance mixes with loss on the power ballad "Bulletproof," while "Strange Boy" is infused with hints of techno, and "Butterfly Cry" is a slower and softer song that carries a sense of hope.
So while it seems to be redolent with her own experiences, a musical record of a personal journey perhaps, "Love Is Dead" is a solid rock album deserving a wider audience.
- RICHARD PATON
After an OK but not particularly remarkable start with a cover of Paul McCartney's "Yesterday," 30-year-old jazz trumpeter Irvin Mayfield gets down to some serious jamming with fellow New Orleans resident Ellis Marsalis, the veteran pianist who headlined this summer's jazz festival in Toledo's International Park.
Marsalis does a fine job as an accompanist, as always, setting up the energetic Mayfield and augmenting his fine solos. And it's Mayfield's gorgeous tone that really carries the disc more than his ad libbing, though the latter gets better as the disc progresses.
It's an album of love songs and romance, yes, including a new instrumental version of the Norah Jones hit, "Don't Know Why." But it has a touch of tenacity to go along with it. Perhaps the disc could have used more, although it surely passes the test of going beyond the ordinary.
- TOM HENRY
This sophomore disc from the Holland-based trio is a worthy after-hours soundtrack for the coolest post-martini dance party.
"Squeeze Me" is an optimistic Motown-inspired tune that begs a comparison to Gnarls Barkley, while the catchy "Bobby and Whitney" pokes fun at the famously tortured romance of Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston, including choice lyrics like "But the choice is yours babe, if you wanna be with me, We'll do much better than Bobby and Whitney."
On "Man of Constant Sorrow" the banjo is replaced by hindi strings a la Bollywood, a twist that becomes a strangely appropriate homage to the original bluegrass tune.
The disc is a bite-size sample of electronica for newcomers - from the smooth ambient "Cornered" to the funk-driven house beats of the title track - and it's bound to go down smooth.
- BRIDGET THARP
This is Delta blues at its gritty best, with 11 songs jam packed full of realism and emotion. It's all made even better when the listener realizes that the feelings are genuine. The songs are an autobiographical account of Brooks' tortuous journey through alcohol and drug addiction, then how his faith helped him kick the twin habits.
Brooks, an accomplished Canadian singer/songwriter/guitarist, has recently been winning awards and accolades in his native country and the United States. He wrote nine of these gems and co-wrote a tenth. The last track is a powerful gospel piece, "Carry Me Jesus."
Guitars, bass, piano, harmonica and occasional horns play tight backup while Brooks works his magic with soulful vocals just barely on the smooth side of raspy. The straightforward lyrics pull no punches as he tells his sometimes agonized story of torture and recovery.
- KEN ROSENBAUM
They attracted considerable attention a few weeks ago at the art fair at Toledo Botanical Garden. It's not every day you hear gorgeous, lively New Age music done by a flute and a long, handcrafted Australian didjeridoo. The pair sold CDs of their original tunes, plus the didjeridoos in your choice of bamboo or agave. The 15 songs here are uplifting in a casual way, but certainly interesting. The duo's albums are available online from music retailers. - KR