When you think of a music diva, who pops into your head? Mariah Carey? Aretha Franklin? Madonna? Cher? Today’s divas might not be who you think they are. Here are some of the best modern divas out there today.
Blue-eyed soul diva ZZ Ward is in possession of some powerful pipes. Coming closest to being Adele’s biggest stateside threat, Ward is the complete package. Not only did she write (or co-write) all 13 tunes on her debut disc, Til The Casket Drops (Hollywood), but Ward also sings the heck out of them. The title cut sets the mood, but it’s the thumping second number “Put The Gun Down” that blows the lid off the party. What’s important here is that Ward demonstrates that she has her own perspective. This comes through clearly on “Cryin Wolf” (which features Kendrick Lamar), the retro ring of “Save My Life,” the acoustic “Last Love Song,” the stomp and shake of “Move Like U Stole It,” and the golden blues of “Charlie Ain’t Home.”
Sing To The Moon (Columbia) by Laura Mvula is one of those debut albums that announces the arrival of a major talent. Moon rises on the strength of Mvula’s marvelous voice, which can be soothing one moment and stirring the next (sometimes in the same song, as in the case of “Like The Morning Dew”). Mvula raises the roof on hand-clapping/foot-stomping gospel of “Green Garden” and then lulls us with comforting “Can’t Live Without the World.” And so it goes with the retro rhythms of “That’s Alright,” which is followed by the gorgeous “She” and “I Don’t Know What The Weather Will Be.” “Diamonds” brings the disc to a shimmering close.
Dedicated to the memory of her late father, Patty Griffin offers a cathartic new collection, American Kid (New West), a heartbreaking song cycle of loss. With a voice that has long been able to reduce even the most stoic among us to tears, Griffin aims for five or more hankies with “Faithful Son,” “Highway Song,” “That Kind of Lonely,” and “Gonna Miss You When You’re Gone.” Griffin respects the listener enough to provide relief on the drinking song “Get Ready Marie” and the raw “Don’t Let Me Die In Florida.” A remarkable achievement, American Kid is a vast improvement on the unfortunate misstep of Downtown Church.
Jessie Ware comes from the tradition of blue-eyed British songbirds with ‘80s flair including Lisa Stansfield, Mari Wilson and Annie Lennox. The wisest move she makes on her excellent debut album Devotion (Cherrytree/Interscope) is to avoid treading on Adele or the late Amy Winehouse. Instead, Ware pays her respects to those who preceded her while putting her own unique spin on the sound. “If You’re Never Gonna Move,” “Running,” “Wildest Moments,” and “Something Inside” best illustrate Ware’s mad skills as a performer and songwriter. The dance-oriented “Imagine It Was Us” definitely qualifies as a bonus track.
Neon goth goddess Charli XCX co-wrote Icona Pop’s inescapable hit single “I Love It,” but don’t hold that against her. She saved the good stuff for her own debut album, True Romance (IAMSOUND/Atlantic). “Nuclear Seasons” recalls Shona Laing (remember her?), “You (Ha Ha Ha)” incorporates a giddy Gold Panda sample and “Take My Hand” gives Ke$ha a run for her money. Charli XCX gets emotional on “Set Me Free” and it suits her. “So Far Away” goes the distance and “What I Like” is a tasty tease. She waits until the thorny “Black Roses” to strut her dance-floor stuff.
This is not Courtney Jaye’s first time at the music rodeo. In the earlier part of the century, Jaye released an album on Island and had a minor hit with the song “Can’t Behave.” Her latest disc, Love and Forgiveness (courtneyjaye.com) references the pop sound of the 1970s but adds a twist of twang (listen to “Summer Rain”) for good measure. Jaye’s voice is the selling point here, powerful and pretty, it propels tunes such as “Morning,” “Every Time We Say Goodbye,” and “Stars and Skies” to wondrous heights.
As the title I Thought About You: A Tribute to Chet Baker (Concord) implies, Brazilian jazz pianist and vocalist Eliane Elias pays homage to the one and only trumpeter and singer, Chet Baker. Snappy and jazzy as you’d expect a set of tunes linked to Baker to be, Elias is nothing if not reverent. The pleasure of the disc is in the nuances Elias uncovers in her interpretations as well as hearing these standards with a subtle Brazilian accent.
by Gregg Shapiro