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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    Yes, They Can!

    Yes, the Obama election is historic, transformative, and epochal. But don’t forget that this was the first election campaign that featured a woman running seriously for president, and another woman running for vice president. Sure, Sarah Palin was an attempt to try and keep white women from voting for Obama – a ploy that crashed and burned in the hills of western Pennsylvania – but it still seems fitting to celebrate some recent strong women’s voices, raised here to serenade W. out the door.

    Jonatha Brooke: “The Works” (Bad Dog records)

    Woody Guthrie was among the most prolific folksingers in American history. But while he was celebrating the down and out Tom Joads of the country, who would have imagined that his words and music would be so malleable and versatile? Every generation of musicians rediscovers the Woody Guthrie they need: whether Bob Dylan’s nasal twangy homages, or Billy Bragg teaming up with Wilco to render the more ironic and offbeat country-rock Woody. Woody Guthrie is like another Brooklyn-ite, Walt Whitman – his contains multitudes.

    Now singer/songwriter Jonatha Brooke takes Guthrie’s unrecorded poetry and sets it to music, making him everything from an earnest balladeer to a lounge or cabaret act. And yet Brooke’s musical sensibility is so unerring that Guthrie’s words, usually so straightforward and black and white journalistic, take on new shades of meaning, new tone and color. And some of the half-century old lyrics positively leap off the page with fresh, contemporary meanings. It’s hard to imagine that Woody would ever have come up with these stylings, but impossible to consider that he wouldn’t have been mightily pleased with the result.

    Joan Osborne: “Little Wild One” (Plum records)

    Nearly a decade after her breakthrough debut, “Relish,” Joan Osborne returns with an album of original material that shows off her myriad vocal gifts. From blue-eyed soul, gut-wrenching blues, scratchy-throated aching ballads, and snarling anger, there is a soul-wrenching intensity, a soothing calm, or a soaring power that is matched only by the most gifted singers around.

    Add to that the local angle, while earlier albums mined her southern roots, this album is a virtual love-poem to New York City. She’s positively overjoyed to live in New York, and it shows on every song, whether the uptempo “Hallelujah in the City” or the aching beauty of “Daddy-O” or even the bluesy “Sweeter than the Rest,” where she riffs off Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.” Osborne evinces a vocal integrity in Osborne’s phrasing that still comes through. You ache when she does, you get turned on when she’s feeling sexy, you feel her pain.

    Lucinda Williams: “Little Honey” (Lost Highway Records)

    Talk about authenticity – Lucinda Williams sounds like she practically invented it. Long a critical and fan favorite, Williams revels in her pain, and takes the listener along from the descent and the redemptive climb out of the darkest pit of despair. Her country-twang only enhances the gutsiness of it, as if those southerners know something about unprettified pain that we northerners can only understand by empathic listening.

    On this album, Williams reverses her missteps from last year – an album preoccupied with mortality and unredemptive sadness. Little Honey finds her happier, more upbeat, but no less willing to bare her soul, whether in a country roadside bar rave up like “Honey Bee” or in her countrified versions of soul song like “Tears of Joy.” And just in case you missed the rock and roll influence, she closes the record with AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top.”

    Dar Williams: Promised Land (Razor ‘ Tie Records) Thea Gilmore: Liejacker Ryko Records)

    These two singer songwriters – Williams the veteran and Gilmore the newcomer – are just dripping with sincerity, and that’s the good news. Both range widely over styles, from uptempo pop-rock to soothing ballads and aching, needy yearnings. Both are melodic and strong, with lyrics that are both uplifting and inspiring. Gilmore’s “Come Up With Me” and Williams’s “It’s Alright” are catchy, but I find their CDs drifting into the background as I read or write. On the other hand, every single track on Joan Osborne’s CD makes me sit up and pay attention – and feel what she’s feeling. She reaches for something beyond beautiful melody – and she snatches it.

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