MUSIC REVIEWS: Anya Marina, Conor Oberst, Rodriguez, Julieta Venegas
Singer-songwriter Anya Marina’s second full-length album Slow and Steady Seduction, Phase II features a cadre of short, catchy, sassy songs that truly embody the title of the album, and serve as a great follow up effort to her first album, Exercises in Racketeering, which won the San Diego Music Award for best local artist. The album offers nothing revolutionary or new, but is just very easy listening and very consistent. As one of the few artists from the newly formed Chop Shop Music Label, Anya was first featured on Grey’s Anatomy with her first hit song, “Miss Halfway.” Her vocals are raspy and breathy – a more upbeat Cat Power if you will.
Anya’s creative career has taken many twists and turns, including work as an actress, comedian, and most recently and for the longest tenure, as a disk jockey for several music stations in San Diego. The first track on the album, “All the Same to Me,” is probably the strongest song on the CD. The one criticism may be that many of the songs sound too much alike.
Folksy acoustic music rarely has a place in mainstream contemporary music but Conor Oberst’s self-titled album, released via Merge Records, allows listeners to appreciate the genre. Oberst spent the better part of the last decade in the musical vehicle, Bright Eyes, before embarking on a solo career.
His new album is chock full of fun and thoughtful songs. One of the notable tracks, “Danny Callahan,” reads like an ode to a young boy, who despite having bone marrow looks to the brighter side of life. Another great track is “Lenders in The Temple,” which reminds me of early Bob Dylan with politically provoking lyrics and a catchy chorus. All in all this is a good album by a great folk artist.
Add Sixto Diaz Rodriguez to the list of legendary lost artists worth discovering. His brand of socially conscious folk/rock is reminiscent of Donovan’s psychedelic imagery and Dylan’s poetic pessimism, sung in a voice that mirrors James Taylor. Although Cold Fact was released in 1970, Rodriguez doesn’t dwell in the optimistic hippiedom of the time. His music is visceral and dark, tackling drug addiction, poverty, violence, and ruinous romance.
Rodriguez’s songs are as varied as his gritty life experiences. An eerie wheezing synthesizer blankets the downcast slum blues of “Sugar Man,” while “Crucify Your Mind”’s double-edged lyrics are matched with condemning horns. “I Wonder” has a bouncy bass and a bright vocal that belies its sexual sarcasm, and “Inner City Blues” swings, slick and cool, like The Beatles “For You Blue.”
Rodriguez left the music scene after his second album, disappearing into the biker bars and inner city dives he wrote about. As the decades passed, his music became an inspiration to South African’s struggling against apartheid, which led to his rediscovery stateside. Raw, ranting and radical, Rodriguez’s music tells it like it was in the 70s – and like it is now.
Julieta Venegas is known as the number one Mexican female rock artist these days. She really came on the scene in 2003 with the release of her album Sí, a cute pop album with infectious music and musings on love as beautiful as they are real. Since then, Julieta’s released several other albums, including Limón y Sal (2006), which has more of a Mexican flavor than Sí and now the well-produced Unplugged album, containing many of her great hits in years past plus a few new ones.
I’ve seen Julieta in concert twice, and this album is testimony to her sweet performance. The music has all of the live energy and warmth she brings with her to each show, and there is an added bonus: several singers join her. These include Marisa Monte, one of the most famous singers from Brazil, who sings a duet with Julieta called “Ilusión,” a new song that gets better every time you listen to it. Additionally, two-time Grammy winner Gustavo Santolalla accompanies her on the banjo during the song “Algún Día.” Perhaps one of the best unplugged renditions with added accompaniment is “Eres Para Mí,” featuring Mala Rodriguez’s hip-hop intro.
On stage, Julieta is not as much a spectacle as she is a friend. There is an honesty and beauty in her lyrics and performance that make you cheer her on as everyone else is doing on the record.