Mainstream rock lost a lot in the late '90s and early 2000s, and amongst the many casualties were the female-fronted rock bands of the mid-'90s. Maybe Alanis Morissette made the Jennifer Trynins, Veruca Salts, and, specifically, that dog.s of the world commercially invalid. But Anna, the debut solo record from former that dog. frontwoman Anna Waronker, is proof that this phenomenon wasn't due to a lack of talent. Fresh off of notable production work on Imperial Teen's On, Waronker has returned with set of three-minute pop songs shrouded in a (tidy) layer of feedback. And like on the three that dog.
records, Waronker's songwriting sticks, whether it's on new wavey power pop like "All for You" and "I Wish You Well" or on any of the album's few more melancholy ballads. That means Anna is nothing revolutionary, of course, and that dog. fans have certainly heard this before. But that same audience will most likely want to hear it again, as will anyone who believes female rockers don't need to choose between being a folky riot grrrl (Ani DiFranco, Dar Williams) or a mainstream maven (Meredith Brooks, Sheryl Crow).
An award-winning force on the pop scene during the '80s, Nicolette Larson returns to music with this album dedicated to her young daughter, Elsie May. The album features original music by Nicolette and songs by Neil Young and Graham Nash, as well as traditionals. When recording this album, Larson was careful not to include sounds that might be too harsh for newborn ears and yet would be pleasant and interesting for toddlers and young children. Sleep, Baby, Sleep is quiet songs for quiet times.
Ottawa, Canada's Souljazz Orchestra have been around since 2002, releasing three albums of Afro-beat-inspired jazz before Rising Sun, their fourth. But despite a name that's unfortunately similar to jazz-fusion and jam band favorite Soulive, the Canadian sextet manages to make music that stays relatively true and honest to its inspirations without sounding either derivative or exploitative. This is especially true of the songs that stay closer to the jazz realm, which makes sense: Souljazz's members were trained in, and started in, jazz, and they seem most comfortable here. This means even when the African and Latin influences are added in, as in "Mamaya" (the name of a Guinean dance from the '40s) or the lovely "Consecration" -- which starts with a riff off the first section of Miles Davis' version of "Concierto de Aranjuez" (albeit with saxophone instead of trumpet) before moving into something more upbeat, a swinging modal jazz piece with plenty of room for exploratory solos -- there's an understanding in the listener that the music comes from a sincere and well-kept place. It's not that the songs that move away from this direction -- the Afro-beaty "Agbara" and Mulata Astatke-inspired "Negus Negast" are the two prominent examples -- sound insincere, there's just something a little bit off, the drums in "Negus Negast" mixed just a little too loud, the background vocals in "Agbara" a little too pretty (something, that needs to be noted, contemporaries like Antibalas and Budos Band have been able to avoid), something that hints just slightly of the "world music made palatable" phenomenon. Fortunately, these moments are few and distant enough that after all is said and done, Rising Sun still feels like a victory.