I don’t know about you, but my listening is often guided by an artist or a genre that becomes almost obsessive over a short stretch of time. The last couple of weeks I’ve bought and listened to some great records by female artists. Each one of them have solid careers, and the albums I’ve glommed on to reflect their talent.
I have a love/hate relationship with Madonna. Generally speaking I tolerate dance-pop in small doses. If I have to listen to “Lucky Star,” I’m okay with hearing it and moving on. But True Blue, Madonna’s 1986 third LP is different from her earlier offerings. First, the dance-synth songs are a step above her earlier releases. “Papa Don’t Preach” and “Open Your Heart” are solid, sung in more of a middle register, and contribute to a maturity lacking in earlier Madonna songs. Another one of my favorites its “La Isla Bonita” with its upbeat Latin tempo and mysterious lyrics. But by far, the best of song on this record is “Live to Tell.” It is truly one of my guilty pleasures, penned by Madonna with Pat Leonard. Sung in the middle register, it is masterful, suspenseful storytelling. True Blue is a great record. If you’re interested in owning one representative Madonna album, this is the one.
Adele–19 and 25
I really liked “Rolling in the Deep,” showing off Adele as one of the classic bluesy British songbirds, in the lineage of Lulu, Dusty Springfield, and Amy Winehouse. But when 25 and “Hello” appeared a year ago, the song killed me. A sad, reflective wonder that spoke directly to the don’t-you-dare-forget-them part of my soul. I made the decision to add all the Adele to my collection. Got 21 a few months ago and it didn’t disappoint. Last week 19 and 25 arrived from Amazon. There may be no artist better at writing songs that capture the experience of heartbreak and lost love better than Adele. I was very intrigued with her work on her first record, 19, with its mix of simple and less simple arrangements in which the young Miss Adkins shows her ample vocal talent without the sonic overproduction that shows on her later records. The songs are good, the songs are fun. What a great way to begin a career. 25 has “Hello,” that I will never tire of hearing (I don’t listen to music on the radio.) Beyond “Hello,” however, there’s much less of interest. “Send My Love (To Your New Lover,)” is clever and interesting with its change of tempo and chiding lyrics, but the rest are sad and tailored to take advantage Adele’s tremendous voice, rendered ridiculously bombastic by over-production. Nothing else truly memorable. This isn’t a bad record, but it could have been better. My concern is that Adele runs the risk of turning into Celine Dion.
Regina Spektor–Begin to Hope
When I moved to Emerald Ridge to become newspaper adviser nine years ago, I knew nothing about what kids were listening to. Today-I still know very little-but there were two songs I really loved. One was Ryan Adams’ cover of Wonderwall, the other was Regina Spektor’s wondrous little song “Samson.” Begin to Hope is the 2007 LP with “Samson,” an alternative re-telling of the Samson and Delilah story, and typical of Spektor’s collection of airy folk-influenced adult contemporary songs. It’s full of synths and drum machines, but always at the center is Spektor and her piano. She is everything that Adele is not-quirky and funny, understatement vs. bombast. I bought this album as an MP3 originally, but when it became available as an LP for under twenty bucks, I snapped it up.
Dusty Springfield–Dusty in Memphis
I’ve already referred to Dusty Springfield, the British pop singer with the big voice. She was extremely popular in the 60’s with her big, somewhat husky voice. Springfield recorded a pile of songs about heartbreak. recording songs by writers as diverse as , Burt Bacharach/Hal David, Gerry Goffin/Carol King, Barry Mann/Cynthia Weill and Carl Perkins. Some were simple pop, others were folk-influenced, but at her roots, Springfield was a devastating blue-eyed soul singer. I still believe “The Look of Love” may be the sexiest song of all time. In 1969 Springfield went to Memphis to record at American Sound Studio, produced by Jerry Wexler for Atlantic Records. The album is a classic with Springfield at her very best. “Son of a Preacher Man” and “Windmills of Your Mind” are the two most recognizable songs, but the album left its mark among the accomplishments of other great Memphis stars like Aretha Franklin.
There are loads of great female artists out there who have made lots of great records. These are just a few that I’ve added to my collection. More to come.