It's rare and sublimely satisfying when an artist is blessed with a singular talent and actually knows how to use it.
Susan Marshall could sing like those noisy divas who hold their notes for days and inject wailing vibrato in every third line, but she doesn't. She could shout and cop a gospel vibe that might seem impressive but wears out its welcome after a couple of songs. But she doesn't.
Marshall's artistry is in her ability to find each song's groove and then work it with her supple, sultry voice and unerring taste for sensual soul. "Little Red," her third solo disc, is an intensely sexy affair that conjures a classic Memphis feel without ever straying too far from the bedroom.
Kicking off with the Afghan Whigs come-on "Going to Town," Marshall finds her groove instantly. Then she slips into a big, brassy cover of The Beatles "Don't Let Me Down" with Lucinda Williams backing her up. Both women dig way deep into the song and pull something out that Lennon and McCartney might be surprised was ever in their song. From there it's the title track, which is so frank in its sexuality that the listener almost feels like a voyeur, and the table is set for the rest of the disc.
"Little Red" is a perfect disc for the summer: sweaty and cool at the same time, music that makes most sense on a hot night when you're anything but alone.
- ROD LOCKWOOD
In interesting ways, Voegele's new release embodies the blurring of borders between TV characters and their real-life players, and the joined-at-the-hip relationship between TV shows and product marketing.
How? Voegele is a singer/songwriter who portrays a singer, Mia, on the hit TV show One Tree Hill. And in that role, she in March premiered a song on the show from this new album by the real-life Voegele.
That's impressive marketing pizzazz. But how does this follow-up to the Cleveland native's successful "Don't Look Away" stack up on its own merits? Quite well, actually.
The disc gets off to a breezy start with the crisp guitars and catchy choruses of energetic "Inside Out," "99 Times," a reflection on treacherous frenemies, and attractive, slower "Sweet Silver Lining." Plus, of course, the peppy "Manhattan From The Sky" - the song from One Tree Hill.
Voegele's lyrics are generally of relationships good and bad - including a smack at bad pickup lines on "Talkin' Smooth" - she has an attractive voice, and she knows how to write melody lines with great hooks.
Given those qualities, "A Fine Mess" is anything but.
- RICHARD PATON
One of the more intensive, heartfelt blues albums released recently, this is a treasure deeply rooted in soul and gospel that should not be overlooked.
Earl is not a household name, in large part because he faded from sight due to myriad health problems. He rarely leaves his Massachusetts country home or gives interviews, although there once was a time when he toured with Santana. Now in his mid-50s, he has been a guitarist more than 30 years and is a devotee of Muddy Waters, T-Bone Walker, and Otis Rush.
Nine of the dozen songs on this album are originals, backed by a core of talented musicians who obviously have a high level of comfort with each other; they pour feelings into their songs rather than just playing notes. One cover in particular stands out: Bob Dylan's gospel-influenced "What Can I Do For You," in which Earl grabs listeners with a searing, gut-bucket solo and also features a 10-voice choir from his Baptist church.
Oh, you'll get your soul nourished and come away with a little religion from this album, for sure. But you'll also be wowed in a lot of other ways by the occasional fury and the immense beauty of Earl's guitar. He warms your heart by closing the album with one heck of a fine instrumental blues solo, a tender and loving piece.
- TOM HENRY