the detroit cobras

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[Ed. note — with the release of “Marry Me” tomorrow, this post will be partially invalidated. But I wrote it, so I’m gonna post it. Nyah.]

Catching up with my RSS, I’ve been noticing the half-year summary posts popping up. Sadly I’ve also noticed that many of those lists feature no female bands, no albums from the ladies’ side. I won’t single anyone out, because taste is taste, and there are many great male bands that of course should be noticed as well. I’ll just do my little part to remedy the sitchyation.

“But Zara,” you’ll say, “what female releases were there this year? Gosh, I can only think of ‘The Reminder,’ and Feist is all anyone talked about for three months, and we’re boooooored of hearing ‘1,2,3,4’.” To you I say, you tried ‘Sea-Lion Woman,’ right? But also, I found that the first half of 2007 was chock full of female acts. In fact, if I had a top ten, probably 7 of them would be female. Cassadaga? Boring. Neon Bible? Meh. Hissing Fauna? Don’t get me started. Here are some albums that you might have overlooked in your zeal to rush out and buy “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga.” *

01. The Postmarks – The Postmarks | Myspace

All right, I’m fudging this one because it’s female fronted — I swear this band ought to be called the Postcards, because it reminds me of how you feel when you get a postcard from Hawaii. No, I don’t mean envious. I mean, you close your eyes and for a second you’re standing on the beach and palm trees are rustling and a hammock sways slightly in the breeze and the ocean is impossibly blue.

02. Essie Jain – We Made This Ourselves | Myspace

Sometimes the songs on this album start to blur together, but the harmonies alone keep Jain soaring. I could listen to her all day, and I do, since she’s what’s playing in my car. If you need a comparison, think Dido without the beats.

03. Kristin Hersh – Learn To Sing Like A Star | Myspace

For many a long year I have listened to Ms. Hersh — she’s a songwriting powerhouse, not just a pretty voice who has two other bands. The new album is her first (solo) in four years, and it’s just ridiculously good. Ridiculously!

04. Cake On Cake – I Guess I Was Daydreaming | Myspace

This Swedish band is basically Helena Sundin, and yeah, it’s about as sweet as it sounds (extra!). But I’m really fond of the harmonies, the languid melodies, the simple phrasing. Who wouldn’t want to turn on “The One I Say Goodnight To” right before bed — You are the one I say goodnight to / Goodnight, my love. In the absence of my mother tucking me in, I’ll take Cake On Cake.

05. Sara Bareilles – Little Voice | Myspace

Think “Little Voice” in the same sense that Robin Hood said “Little John.” Bareilles sings pop-friendly tunes with strong piano backing, and she’s sassy. I like sassy — plus she’s a local girl, so yay for that. I have not heard all the album but there’s enough music available on her site to get a good sense of whether you’d like it or not (and I do).

06. Charlotte Gainsbourg – 5:55 | Myspace

I guess I can apply the term “chanteuse” to Gainsbourg, since she’s French, right? OK good, seriously, because she is so beautiful, and is also one of those rare actors who can actually sing, and she’s even featured on “Pocket Symphony.” My favorite song, “5:55,” sounds very Air-esque (because they wrote the music) but could that possibly be a bad thing? No, no it couldn’t.

07. Au Revoir Simone – The Bird of Music | Myspace

Even when they’re singing something called “Sad Song,” these three don’t sound very sad. “The Bird of Music” alternates poppy electronica and more gentle ballads. Sometimes it drags but overall it’s accessible and fun.

Other albums released that I’ve already written about —

08. Angelique Kidjo – Djin Djin
09. The Detroit Cobras – Tied & True
10. Amy Winehouse – Back To Black

Please give these albums a try! If I missed someone, you know where the comments button is.

*Or any other male-fronted band. Don’t get your boxers in a twist.

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Here are some bands or albums I have had a chance to listen to. Most of them, I haven’t liked. Some of them, I’m pretty lukewarm on. And some, I did like. As always, you can make up your own mind.

[Note: All tracks removed. Contact me for a copy.]

Tori Amos – American Girl Posse.

Amos has transformed herself from naughty maiden to mother, and I’m not all that fond of the move. “Yo George” is ridiculous and “Big Wheel” is … well, we all know someone that’s old trying to be cool and using terminology that just tries too hard. I’m old and uncool, but even I know that “MILF” is practically antique, in slang years. And then there are all the new “girls.” These personalities of hers were weird but bearable on “Strange Little Girls,” but now they’re just overwrought. I know Amos has multiple personalities, and that’s cool and artistic, but I don’t want to be exposed to their blogs and their stockings over the shower door, so to speak.

I long for the days of “Pele,” when the songs were jagged and you cut yourself on them. Now they’re smooth and “Scarlet’s Walk”ish, but without the cohesion and interest that Scarlet’s journey across America engendered. There are some chipper numbers like “Secret Spell” and “Code Red,” and a couple returns to the early days, most interestingly in the short but pithy “Fat Slut.” I can see the girl from “Icicle,” finally driven to a point, yelling all the epithets she can at the people that hurt her. I don’t wish Tori would return to the grrrl-feminist days of yore, but this song, as well as the sly “Programmable Soda,” reminded me for a few short minutes why I used to idolize Tori.

Tori Amos
Tori Amos – Secret Spell
Tori Amos – Programmable Soda

Rufus Wainwright, Release the Stars.

In spite of the ravishing beauty of “Going To A Town” (and you should see the video, my friends, because it is Hot with a capital Haw), the songs on “Release” all blend into themselves sort of blandly. There’s only one other standout number (see below), unlike “Poses,” which was full of ’em. The weirdest thing to me is the song “Tiergarten” — Wainwright’s conceit is that he pronounces it like “tear garden,” and uses it that way, but I haven’t forgotten all my German, and a Tiergarten is, well, a zoo. So it just doesn’t work when he invites his beloved to “walk [him] through the Tiergarten.” Unless they’re going to be looking at some zebras or something.

Notable exception to this is “Between My Legs,” which is as risqué as it sounds, but is also a commentary (as I read it) of the narrator’s willingness to take a chance on love even when he knows it will probably blow up in his face. I love the piano backup too, mixed with the odd spoken word guy at the end, and even a little showtunes in the form of … well, you’ll see if you listen to it. It’s rather wonderful.

Rufus Wainwright
Rufus Wainwright – Between My Legs

The Antlers, In the Attic of the Universe.

The very cool thing about this album is that you can download and listen to it for free, so you have absolutely nothing to lose. This is another album that I felt like I was supposed to like, but didn’t. In retrospect it seems completely passionless. I think in a genre where you aren’t even supposed to move at a concert, just sort of stand there and look dopey, it’s easy to make passionless music (or damp your passion to where the listener is barely aware of it). But it doesn’t appeal to me much.

The Antlers (site and download)

Young Galaxy, Young Galaxy

This one I go back and forth on. In spite of the strong start of “Swing Your Heartache,” I just didn’t like this album as much as I thought I would. If you like other Arts&Crafts type music, of course you will probably love this. And I do love some songs, like the sibilant, sweetly sung “The Alchemy Between Us” and the semi-gospel “Embers”. But inbetween there are clunkers like “Lazy Religion,” which is weird and goes on forever (or maybe there was some kind of timewarp, I don’t know). What do you think, oh faithful reader? Should I give them some more chances or what?

Young Galaxy
Young Galaxy – The Alchemy Between Us (video)
Young Galaxy – Embers

The Detroit Cobras, Tied and True.

Oh man, is this ever gonna be an awesome album. It continues the fantastic faux-motown-punk tradition of “Baby,” and though I have not heard all of it, it promises to be just as good. If you like Nagy’s wailing remixes of r&b classics, then please go to Bloodshot Records site and pre-order the tunes! You can download “As Long As I Have You,” a Garnet Mimms cover, while you’re at it. Or holler along to the Beatles’ “Leave My Kitten Alone.” Meow!

The Detroit Cobras
The Detroit Cobras – Leave My Kitten Alone

Amadou et Mariam, Dimanche A Bamako

Racing faster and further than the rest of the African pop pack, this Malian dynamic duo make music that you cannot, I mean cannot, stop listening to. I received “Sénégal Fast Food” on a mixtape from a stranger, but I wish I could find her and bake her some brownies. “Dimanche A Bamako,” released in 2005, is danceable and fun, and if you speak French you might even be able to know what they’re talking about. Of course that might spoil it, because it might be all serious and stuff underneath (like I suspect “M’bifé Blues” and “Politic Amagni” might be). I prefer just to chair-dance to it — I get crappy political songs stuffed in my ears all day. Let me have some fun, okay? And I pass the sparkly happy fun baton to you — please. Enjoy.

Amadou et Mariam
Amadou et Mariam РS̩n̩gal Fast Food
Amadou et Mariam РLa Realit̩

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Detroit Cobras

So, you all have taken my sage advice and downloaded the Black Keys songs, right? Cause if you didn’t, you’re missing out and I’m feeling kind of sorry for you right now…. But you can redeem yourself by trying out some Detroit Cobras. They remind me of the Black Keys stylistically, only instead of being retro-70s rock, they’re a bastard mix of stomp-rock and Motown. Seriously, and it’s awesome. The band is Rachel Nagy (vocals) and Mary Ramirez (guitar); so Nagy’s wailing like a torch singer while Ramirez punches you in the face with the guitar. It’s like listening to the Shirelles while being beaten up.

The lyrics are clever and hark back to their Motown roots but they also blend in well with the bluesy rock laid over them. “Weak Spot” and “It’s Raining” are great examples of it; you can almost see backup singers doing their Motown backup singer dance while dressed in faux-leopard vests and bottle-bleached hair (as in the video for “Cha Cha Twist,” viewed at Myspace’s video site).

It’s no surprise that the Detroit Cobras are on Bloodshot Records, which is a favorite label over here in Bon Ton land. Bloodshot has a knack for picking out really talented acts that aren’t one thing or the other — not country, not rock, not Motown, but some crazy mix of the three. The album that came out in 2005 is called “Baby,” as in, “Baby, buy this album and I’ll rock your socks off.” Hear, hear.

Detroit Cobras: Myspace | Label (Bloodshot)

[These tracks have been removed. You can contact me if you’d like a copy.]

Detroit Cobras – Shout Bama Lama
Detroit Cobras – Cha Cha Twist (Highly recommended!)
Detroit Cobras – It’s Raining

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