THE LITTLE WILLIES “For the Good Times”
The Little Willies are a bunch of musical buddies who get together from time to time to sing their favorite country songs, and you probably wouldn’t care one lick about them if their top singer wasn’t named Norah Jones. But it is, and Little Willies albums — “For the Good Times” is the second, proving 2006’s self-titled debut wasn’t a one-off — are more fun than Norah Jones albums because they’re marked by a loose, carefree, just-for-the-heck- of-it quality.
That’s not meant to downplay the quality of the musicianship of the sextet, which features Richard Julian taking a lead vocal here and there — most effectively on (big) Willie Nelson’s brilliant “Permanently Lonely.” Julian teams with Jones most effectively on Hank Williams’ “Lovesick Blues.” Tried and true standards such as Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and Loretta Lynn’s “Fist City,” for which the comfortably sultry Jones is not quite fierce enough, try as she might, are mixed in with pleasurable lesser-knowns, such as Johnny Cash’s “Wide Open Road” and Cal Wiseman’s motorvating cautionary trucker’s tale “Diesel Smoke, Dangerous Curves.” Of particular note, too, is “Foul Owl on the Prowl,” a rarity cowritten by Quincy Jones for the 1967 Sidney Poitier/Rod Steiger movie “In the Heat of the Night,” here turned into an odd duck of a duet between Jones and Julian.
LADYSMITH BLACK MAMBAZO “Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Friends”
Although they did not start recording until the ‘70s and didn’t become well known outside their native South Africa until their appearance on Paul Simon’s “Graceland” in 1986, Ladysmith Black Mambazo formed 50 years ago, when Joseph Shabalala started the vocal group. They have released dozens of albums, some geared to Western audiences, some more anchored in South African isicathamiya and mbube traditions, all infused with the group’s deep and joyful harmonies.
This new double-disc collection is not a traditional greatest hits collection, but it plays like one: It’s a compendium of collaborations, and the guests range widely, from Dolly Parton to Andreas Vollenweider to various club remixers. The “Graceland” tracks “Homeless” and “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” are here, as are wonderful a cappella tracks with Emmylou Harris, Natalie Merchant, Sarah McLachlan, and Zap Mama and gospel songs with Betty Griffin and others. A few cuts suffer from dated, late-’80s production that diminishes the strength of Black Mambazo’s personality, but overall, this set is a stirring and varied showcase for one of the great vocal groups of our time.
DAVID LYNCH “Crazy Clown Time”
The last director-cum- musician to make a splash was Baz Luhrmann with the 1997 spoken-word hit “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen),” which found a place at graduation parties everywhere. Director David Lynch’s debut album, however, is a weird and disconcerting event in which even tender melodies and lyrics become demented.
Known for films such as “Eraserhead,” “Blue Velvet” and “Mulholland Drive,” and the television series “Twin Peaks,” Lynch draws on his penchant for the dark and disturbing throughout “Crazy Clown Time.” The album leads with “Pinky’s Dream,” an atmospheric and impassioned art-rock tune featuring Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. It’s followed by Lynch’s disembodied vocals on the electro-clash dance number “Good Day Today.” From there, the album morphs into dark meanderings accompanied by Lynch’s vocoder-derived, Tom Waits-inspired vocals.
As with Lynch’s movies, one reason “Crazy Clown Time” is so engaging is its ability to take the tired and mundane and tweak it slightly so that the familiarity, coupled with distortion, creates something unsettling, threatening, often sadistic, but always compelling.
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG “Stage Whisper”
Your parents are notorious: Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg. You recorded your first song with your dad as a kid, the risque “Lemon Incest” in 1984, same year you made your acting debut playing Catherine Deneuve’s daughter in Paroles et Musique. You appeared in Lars von Trier’s “Antichrist” and “Melancholia,” and the album before this was “IRM,” produced by Beck.
Gainsbourg — everyone’s life pales before yours.
“Stage Whisper” is a mixed bag for the new-school French chanteuse, a two-disc blend of live songs and studio tracks, most of which come from Beck’s electro-heavy sessions for IRM. Gainsbourg’s thin but dramatic nuanced vocals prance all over studio cuts such as the stammering “All This Rain,” the haughty “Terrible Angels,” and the gorgeously moody “Memoir.” Yet while her voice occasionally comes across as slight on the studio cuts, her live vocals (recorded during a 2010 European tour) sound surprisingly full-blooded and lower. A slippery version of “Jamais,” a slow, jerking take on Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman,” and the gnarled anger on “The Operation” are particularly and vividly theatrical. It might not work as a package, but “Stage Whisper” sizzles nonetheless.