Awna Teixeira (Self-released)
When Allison Russell and Awna Teixeira went their separate ways at the beginning of this year, fans of the their Canadian roots band Po' Girl had to feel a tinge of anxiety.
Were they breaking up the band for good after nine years of near constant touring and recording? Would these two excellent singer/songwriters disappear from the scene altogether? The answer to both questions is a resounding, no.
Russell recently paired with Toledo native Jeremy Lindsay on a collaboration known as Birds of Chicago and Teixeira is promoting her solo album, "Where the Darkness Goes," which features plenty of Russell's backing vocals. Both say they'll get together as Po' Girl sometime next year.
"Darkness" is a fully realized work that draws from musical traditions as diverse as 1950s-era girl groups, the classic pop of Carole King, and rootsy singer/songwriters such as John Hiatt.
Thanks to Teixeira's singular vocal style -- think Victoria Williams meets Patti Scialfa somewhere in Canada-- vivid lyrical imagery, and spare, rustic instrumentation, the disc has a sound that is fresh and full of life.
Starting with "Stand Tall," which first comes across as a plaintive ballad with just a plucked banjo as instrumentation before building to something that resembles a beautiful folk music prayer, "Darkness" takes its listeners on an uplifting journey. A multi-instrumentalist who plays guitar, banjo, accordion, and ukulele, Teixeira takes advantage of members of Nero's backing band The Clouds to fill out the songs, which convey a full heart and clear vision.
"Where the Darkness Goes" is wholly original, the sound of an artist with something to say who is deeply versed in North American roots music. It is available at cdbaby.com/cd/awnateixeira.
-- ROD LOCKWOOD
Tony Bennett (Columbia)
I was a little suspicious when Tony Bennett's storied career got a second wind on MTV and in other familiar venues for younger mainstream pop audiences several years ago.
Of course, Bennett is a legend. But any mega star can be overplayed for sheer marketing. This album, his third recent collection of duets, further erases those thoughts.
"Viva Duets" pairs Bennett, 86, with many of the top names in the Latin recording industry. These are outstanding easy listening performances, with great backing musicians and compositions. Christina Aguilera, Marc Anthony, and Gloria Estefan are just three of the dozen noted singers with whom Bennett is paired and each seems to find a comfort zone. Bennett is an ageless wonder rhythmically and tonally.
-- TOM HENRY
One Direction (Columbia)
The quintet is the only act from the United Kingdom ever to debut at No. 1 on the charts with its first album. That's right -- not The Beatles, not the Stones, but the Simon Cowell-created boy band One Direction. The group's popularity has translated into massive tours sold out well into next year, as well as a new album, "Take Me Home," that has plenty riding on it.
But the only way their rocket ride to stardom will continue is if they keep things fun. So that's what they go for on "Take Me Home."
The fizzy single "Live Like We're Young," with its co-opting of The Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" for its opening and its poppy, sing-along chorus, is right on target. They strike again with "Heart Attack," which grooves like Miley Cyrus' "Party in the U.S.A." and has loads of goofy "ow!" screams and vocal tics. And when they really let loose on the playful, jangly guitar party "I Would," only the hardhearted would be able to stifle a smile when they declare, "I can't compete with your boyfriend; he's got 27 tattoos!"
Sure, it's a manufactured good time, but their target demographic doesn't know any better, and who wants to ruin that party before it's necessary? One Direction is harmless fun -- the musical equivalent of one of those cute kitten videos. Nothing wrong with that.
-- GLENN GAMBOA, Newsday