Lynn Miles--Fall for Beauty (True North): I've been a kind of distant follower of Lynn Miles' recordings over the years. Interesting, but never striking to me, sort of the way I feel about Lucy Kaplansky's work: She's got all the tools, so why isn't this compelling? Yet with Fall for Beauty, Canadian singer-songwriter Miles has made a great folk-rock record, with sounds and arrangements ("Save Me") that are fully realized and perfectly match the terrific songs ("Goodbye," a duet with Jim Bryson). And then there's the quality of Miles' voice, at times a sort of updated version of early Emmylou Harris' floating, haunting quality. A wonderful surprise.
The Parting Gifts--Strychnine Dandelions (In the Red): Coco Hames and Greg Cartwright have the cred, with Hames working in a band called the Ettes and Cartwright with garage rock royalty the Reigning Sound (who have made fine records and backed Mary Weiss of the Shangri-las on her recording return a few years back).
Hames and Cartwright work as the Parting Gifts, coming up with the edgy but disciplined batch of songs that make up Strychnine Dandelions. I like the tunes because the emphasis constantly changes--punk folk-rock in the best sense.
The Superions--Destination...Christmas! (Fanatic): Fred Schneider of the B-52s with his latest project. Is this a band? Sounds like Schneider with a drum machine and electronics. The tunes are mostly dumb jokes, with one-dimensional music. With the
B-52s, Schneider could play off of Kate Pierson or the tart feel of the band itself. In other words, those records had atmosphere. This is just dullsville.
Shelby Lynne--Merry Christmas (Everso): A masterful, understated vocalist with an unassuming set of 11 holiday tunes, including a riveting original blues, "Xmas," that is
absolutely disarming. At first glance, the song choices seem too pat, but then Lynne just bolls you over with her approach, singing ahead of the beat, then pulling back in a way that fueled her other restrained, stylish 2010 album, Tears, Lies and Alibis (one of my faves of the year). The sole unsettling thing about Merry Christmas is Lynne's version of "O Holy Night." Does she really sing, "In sin and ever pining"? Nnnnnnnnnt! Error--E1.