( 4AD) It ’s appropriate that Merrill Garbus ( aka TuneYards, which she spells tUnE-yArDs) opens her sophomore record with “My Country,” a song that flips the patriotic anthem “America (My Country, ’ Tis of Thee)” into an account of romantic longing and childhood memories. It’s as if she’s planting a flag in new territory and drawing up a charter of her own musical nation. While recalling women who have melded the personal and political, such as Ani DiFranco and M.I.A., Garbus is able to craft music as outsized as Björk’s with a fraction of the budget. On “Gangsta,” she even belts out instrumental accompaniment similar to the Bomb Squad’s production for Public Enemy. The range and character in her voice are her greatest assets, and she uses them to sing primarily of power struggles both political and sexual. In “Riotriot,” her protagonist fantasizes about the policeman who arrests her brother. In “Doorstep,” a showstopper of a song highlighted by wistful African melodies, her protagonist mourns for a lover who is shot by a policeman. It’s an open artery of a vocal performance, one that never fails to prompt goose bumps. With her remarkable debut, Garbus’ ambition belies the low-budget, found-object quality of the music, as if she were a child trying on clothes that are much too big. Now that the clothes fit, one can only wonder how far she’ll grow. — Robert B. Ker
GRETCHEN PARLATO The Lost and
Found (ObliqSound) Jazz phenom Gretchen Parlato sings here with her trio: pianist Taylor Eigsti, bassist Derrick Hodge, and drummer Kendrick Scott. The selection is varied, from several Parlato originals to covers of songs by Mary J. Blige, Ambrose Akinmusire, Bill Evans, and the Brazilian samba master Paulinho da Viola. First up is Simply Red’s “Holding Back the Years,” which Parlato renders in her singular style: quiet, breathy, and frequently using her voice as a rhythm instrument. On the leader’s “How We Love,” Hodge switches from stand-up to electric bass, and Eigsti, here on Fender Rhodes, offers a delightful solo that’s reminiscent of Return to Forever. Parlato mingles in the highest notes with the tenor sax of guest Dayna Stephens on Wayne Shorter’s “Juju.” For da Viola’s “Alo, Alo,” she sings in Portuguese (which she loves doing) accompanied only by percussion (part of which is her own vocal percussion, double-tracked). This is the third CD for Parlato, daughter of longtime Albuquerque-area jazz bassist David Parlato, since she won the Thelonious Monk Jazz Vocals Competition in 2004. (For a taste of her early, New Wave-type music, check out www.gretchenparlato.com and “The Other GP” link, where you’ll hear fun songs like “Messy Girl” and “Little Teeth.”) The Lost and Found often has an ethereal quality, but the delicate vocals are anchored by her weighty improvisations. This is magical stuff. — Paul Weideman
The range and character in Tune-Yards’ voice are her greatest assets, and she uses them to sing primarily of power struggles both political and sexual.
CHOP CHOP The Spark (Archenemy) In indie music circles, space-rock opera is all the rage, but it remains a field dominated by men and ensembles led by them. Poking through the gender sameness is Catherine Cavanagh, aka Chop Chop, whose whispery, echoing voice rises delicately over quasi-psychedelic instrumentation fed through Pro Tools 8 and Reason software on an iMac. Blending folk with contemporary compositional tech (drum machines, synths, samples), The Spark — Chop Chop’s third full-length album — presents a sci-fi tale of a damsel in distress. A teen wallflower named Carolyn is kidnapped by aliens (“Steal Her in the Night”) and subjected to cruel scientific experiments (“Slavery”) while an evil changeling takes her place on Earth (“The Shapeshifter Deception”). Carolyn escapes with the help of a ray gun-toting hero (“Escape”), and they become lovers. Carolyn, now a cyborg, rushes to Earth to lead the human race in a war to take back the planet (“Carolyn Goes Home,” “Revelation,” “Above the Earth,” “Victory”). Narrative comparisons to The Rocky Horror Picture Show are unavoidable, but Cavanagh steers clear of the dark camp and sexuality that so defines Rocky Horror’s bizarre tone and raucous rock ’ n’ roll atmosphere.
The Spark is ethereal bliss with a touch of harmless preschool story time, thanks in large part to Cavanagh’s gift for turning her colorful imagination into electro-pop songs that exist not to intimidate, shock, or posture, but simply to entertain.
— Rob DeWalt
ANNA NETREBKO Stabat Mater: A Tribute to Pergolesi
(Deutsche Grammophon) Every so often a recording arrives that can only be countenanced with a question: Why does this exist? Giovanni Battista Pergolesi was an 18thcentury composer of historical importance but not great practical interest. Last year the world largely ignored the tercentenary of his birth. One of his most widely known works — probably his best — is his Stabat Mater for soprano, mezzosoprano, and string orchestra, but before we get to it on this all-Pergolesi CD, we must wade through two uninspiring secular cantatas and an orchestral sinfonia. Deutsche Grammophon is depending on the star power of soprano Anna Netrebko to sell this, and that might succeed, as you wouldn’t necessarily know until after you buy the disc how utterly unsuited her voice is to this repertoire. Six columns of program notes say almost nothing about Pergolesi but lots about Netrebko’s risk taking, her rising to the challenge, her “perfect, razor-like trills” — which is to say, the notes are a work of fiction. Her hooting, inflexible voice reminds one of the brash stridency cultivated by Russian sopranos in the Soviet era, and she displays not a shred of awareness about 18th-century style. Her mezzo-soprano colleague, Marianna Pizzolato, is a perfect match, sad to say, and the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, conducted by Antonio Pappano, does not exceed its usual mediocre standards. Some tribute. — James M. Keller