Danielia Cotton, Small White Town
This lady can sing; she can rock; and she’s clearly got some serious backing, since she’s netted opening slots for Bon Jovi, Living Colour, Collective Soul and more. Perhaps Danielia Cotton’s a dynamo on stage – her take-no-prisoners vocals give that impression – but underwhelming material makes this CD a disappointment. The songs, in general, are insufficiently memorable, and, strangely for a rock album, the electric guitars sound thin.
Of the rockers, I liked “Today,” which has a good hook to go with its chunky beat. And Cotton makes some fruitful moves away from rock, into neo-soul territory for “4 A Ride” and the passion-drenched “Shame”; and back in time for the ballad “Pride,” which sounds like it could have been an Aretha Franklin track from the late sixties. Another positive: the downright inspiring, powerhouse vocal arrangements in “It’s Only Life,” “Take My Heart,” and the acoustic-electronic closer “Chains,” among others.
But overall, and particularly as far as her hard stuff goes, this Hendrix- and Led Zeppelin-inspired artist needs better material to make the most of her powerful pipes.
Tina Dico, In the Red
To make a horrid generalization: pop music from Europe often sounds behind the times. The Danish star Tina Dico’s first US and UK release, with its 1970s feel, is no exception and by rights should feel pretty old-hat. But Dico’s songwriting ability and lyrical seriousness give the music a timeless quality, and sometimes untrendiness is cool. The contemplative “Warm Sand” and the gripping “Head Shop” are two prime examples of her straightforward attack.
That 1970s feel is found primarily in Dico’s strong, relatively uninflected singing style and close harmonies, which suggest earlier Northern European pop acts like Ace of Base, the Corrs and even Abba. But those groups had an intentional frilliness which Tina Dico does not share. Her sombre melodies and introspective lyrics are fetching in quite a different way. If music can be said to be both heavy-hearted and uplifting, that’s Tina Dico.
Vulnerability is nice when tastefully done, but there’s too much tasteless whining in female folk-pop (not to mention male alt-rock) these days. There’s much to be said for letting a song’s message come through unimpeded. Dico shows some welcome rawness in a few songs, like the lovely “Room With a View,” but as a whole this CD is a statement of the power rather than the lossiness of romance, and a bracing antidote to the pseudo-girlie, affected breathiness that habitually let down today’s would-be rock or folk-pop music fan.
And for unconditional emotion from the male point of view, check out Steve Northeast‘s intense little self-titled EP. These four heavily emotional power-pop songs, with their focussed message and structure, charge directly into your brain, barreling through all pretense. It’s straight-from and straight-to-the-heart stuff that speaks for the romantic, the idealist, the lover, the hopeless (or hopeful) devotee, the Icarus, the Abelard in us all. And it’s a firm marriage of song and sound. “I want to share with you the air I breathe. I’m not pretending anymore – you are everything to me.” Indeed.
Jay Mankita, Dogs Are Watching Us
Satire is always welcome in grim times, and since times are pretty much always grim, a good-natured but sharply clever songsmith like Jay Mankita has an important place in the musical rainbow. You can hear his smile in every lyric: in places he almost bursts into laughter while singing. The songs are by turns biting, funny, and touching; some are childlike enough to work as kids’ songs (not surprisingly, he does do children’s concerts); but he tucks thematic complexities into his simple descriptive accounts. The two anti-Bush tracks are clever and funny, but it’s in the quirkier ditties, like the weird “Little Soap” and the cockeyed, mushy “Tracy At the Bat,” where Mankita stands out from the crowd of musical satirists – a crowd that’s actually pretty small. Rapping Beastie-Boys-style about the philosophical quandaries of the Big Bang Theory, he doesn’t have to explain that just because a scientific theory isn’t fully worked out doesn’t mean it isn’t true. The message is implied, and well received.
I enjoyed this CD immensely, and Mankita also has another, more straight-ahead modern folk album which I’ll cover in a future column. All his CDs are available at CD Baby here.