three women

posted at 11:39 pm by brandon in if music be the food of love
  • If you’ve yet to give the Amazon mp3 store its proper due, you’ll never find (or need) a more palpably urgent motive than this to head on over there and check it out: just ahead of the release of my spectacular
    Tori Amos‘ tenth studio set Abnormally Attracted to Sin (due on Tuesday), Amazon has posted a free download of one of its album tracks, the devastatingly gorgeous “Maybe California.” A harrowing narrative about one mother trying desperately to stop another from committing suicide, “California,” in a stunningly beautiful four minute tour-de-force, renews my hope that Sin will stand as a remarkable return to form for Amos, whose last record — 2007’s horrifically muddled American Doll Posse — found her drowning under the weight of her own pretentious ambitions. Having not been impressed by Sin‘s first official single, the middling “Welcome to England,” I was fighting fears that we were in for more of the same, but I’m officially afraid no mo’. Welcome back, baby.

  • No matter how hauntingly potent it ends up being — and it is quite that — it still seems like a massive risk trying to launch at country radio during the summer months a depressing downer about a thoroughly disenchanted housewife. But she didn’t make her name by playing it safe — and her songs about brandishing shotguns and torching inattentive boyfriends’ houses more than convincingly bear that out — and so it comes to pass that spunky li’l Miranda Lambert is shooting for the moon with “Dead Flowers,” the strong leadoff single  Miranda Lambert - Dead Flowers - Single - Dead Flowers from her forthcoming third album. A powerful portrait of utter regret-filled disillusionment and despair, “Flowers” — which she debuted with a raw, electrifying performance at last month’s Academy of Country Music Awards — represents a new creative high water mark for the remarkable, fiercely talented Lambert, who burst out of the gate as an instant critical favorite in 2005 on the heels of a successful stint on “Nashville Star” (the crunchy “American Idol” knockoff) but has yet to truly make a commercial impact on the notoriously stodgy country charts. (Of her eight previous singles dating back to her brilliant breakthrough “Me and Charlie Talking,” four of them managed to claw their way into the top twenty, and only one — the hilariously raucous “Gunpowder and Lead,” with its confident promise, “He ain’t seen me crazy yet!” — broke into the top ten.) And while I’m not sure “Flowers” is gonna end up being her ticket to the top — particularly not in the season in which that doofus Kenny Chesney breaks out the wifebeaters and starts singin’ ’bout sunshine and mai tais — God love the girl for having the guts to take a risk with this kind of wrenching material.

  • And then there was Jennifer.

    A and I had the great pleasure of catching those brazenly brilliant country mavericks Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush — better known as Sugarland — when their I Was There tour passed through Austin late last month, and I’m here to tell you: if you ever get a chance to see these cats play live, do whatever you must to get yourself to the venue, because you’re in for a rip-roarin’ evening of terrific music and, even more importantly, of blisteringly infectious showmanship.


    Watching this two-hour-plus extravagant spectacle, I was struck by a number of notions; foremost among them is just how crucial Bush’s contribution to this duo really is. When you listen to their records — which are by and large sensational — it’s easy to overlook the fact that Sugarland is indeed not a one woman show, especially when the incredible Nettles gets on one of her infamous twang-drenched rolls. But while it’s impossible to see while listening to a detached recording, watching their chemistry in person, you can’t get away from the fact that the reason Nettles can embark on her acrobatic flights of vocal fancy with such determined confidence is exactly because she has a musical partner who can ground her with such seeming ease. Watching them live, you understand that Bush is a flawless straight man who is so impressed with and awed by Nettles’ talent and ability that he wants to watch her soar as badly as (if not more than) we in the audience do, and just like the sober half of all the great duos in entertainment history, from Abbott and Costello to Martin and Lewis, he’s there to catch her when she comes back down.

    And as for Nettles: she’s such a riveting and entrancing live performer, she even makes you re-evaluate your opinions of the Sugarland songs you don’t terribly care for. (I made no secret last year of my disappointment in the band’s latest record, 2008’s uneven Love on the Inside, but damn if I wasn’t tapping my toes along with the rest of the audience as Bush and Nettles tore through a set full of what — “It Happens,” “Genevieve” — I initially thought were among that album’s lesser tracks.) And the new tracks she and the band introduced — particularly the shattering, rock-tinged “Blood on Snow” — are as good as anything they’ve composed heretofore.

    In much the same way that it’s foolish (and mightily inaccurate) to box Sugarland in as a mere country band — if you need to prove that thesis, look no further than Inside‘s “Love” (which they bravely chose to open this show with!), whose refrain is every bit as anthemic as anything from U2’s Achtung Baby era — it was staggering to see on display the full breadth of Nettles and Bush’s musical proclivities: in addition to charging through the highlights of their own discography, they dared to cover the likes of R.E.M. (you can’t fathom how brilliant “Nightswimming” sounds when it’s falling from Nettles’ charmed lips), Pearl Jam (without changing a syllable of the text, Nettles brings a wholly original sense of burning fear and regret to “Better Man”), and the B-52’s (they closed the show with a rollicking rendition of “Love Shack,” replete with Nettles fearlessly rocking the Afro wig to end them all), not to mention Madonna and The Emotions (verses of whose respective smashes “Holiday” and “Best of My Love” Nettles managed to work into a “remix” of “Everyday America”). Even before the show, I was ready to proclaim the ferociously fine Nettles as the female vocalist of her generation (just like Martina, Reba, Dolly, and Tammy were the heroines of theirs), but after watching her put her own unique stamp on some of the very best music of the past three decades, I’m this close to ready to call her the best period.


3 responses to “three women”

  1. the buzz from Mike Walker:

    Hey Brandon, you have a new fan:


    Man I love his “let’s see how many descriptive words I can put in a sentence” style of writing! He gets his point across, that people need to wake up a bit! I LOVE the end about Kenny…as bad as it may be to say, it is true!

  2. the buzz from brandon:

    I always love winning over new fans!

  3. the buzz from Kristy:

    Awesome review – you hit the nail on the head with Sugarland, Kristian and Jennifer are very much a team and their shows are FANTASTIC!