Who says talent isn’t genetic? Brother and sister Ethan and out lesbian Barbara Gruska of The Belle Brigade, the grandchildren of John “Star Wars” Williams, certainly prove that genetics have something to do with it. There’s a lovely, folky give and take on The Belle Brigade’s self-titled Reprise debut. More of a band than a duo, The Belle Brigade is nevertheless a vehicle for the Gruskas who wrote or co-wrote all 11 songs on the disc. Recommended cuts range from high-energy selections including “Where Not to Look for Freedom,” “Belt of Orion,” and “Lonely Lonely” to ballads such as “Losers,” “Shirt,” and “Fasten You to Me.”
Getting a domestic CD release at last, 45 years after the album triumphed in the UK, the Phil Spector-produced River Deep-Mountain High (A&M/Hip-O Select) album by Ike & Tina Turner has arrived stateside. Fans new and old are sure to find something to their liking, from the epic performance and production on the titular opener to the high drama of “A Love Like Yours (Don’t Come Knocking Every Day)” to the towering wall of sound on “I’ll Never Need More Than This,” “Save the Last Dance For Me,” and “Every Day I Have to Cry,” as well as originals by the late Ike including “I Idolize You,” “Make ’em Wait,” and “Such a Fool for You.”
After more than 10 years and six albums, Mates of State get better with each release. Mountaintops (Barsuk) continues to flesh out the duo’s trademark vocal interplay as well as expanding their instrumentation. “Palomino” opens with a Casio beat and then goes into a full-on gallop. “Maracas” shakes things up on the domestic front, and “Sway” struts like nobody’s business. Foot stomper “Total Serendipity” is serendipitous fun, and “At Least I Have You” is dance music with a furrowed brow, while “Change” recalls the Mates’ early days.
Based on the multimedia collaboration of Mimi Goese (of Hugo Largo fame) and Ben Neill (trumpeter and electro-acoustic composer), Songs for Persephone (Ramseur) feels both theatrical and intimate. Goese’s distinctive vocals (which at times recall Jane Siberry), combined with Neil’s unusual arrangements, have a dramatic intensity that gives songs such as “If You Lie Awake,” “Elegy,” “Blackpool,” “Cusp,” and “World’s End” their spectacle.
The in-demand Alison Mosshart is at her most compelling when she is one half of The Kills. You can hear it for yourself on Blood Pressures (Domino/Red Meat Heart), the latest disc by the duo (which also includes Hotel/Jamie Hince). Whether she’s blowing “what’s left” of her (and your) “right mind” on “Future Starts Slow” or giving you a reason to dance on the aptly named “The Heart Is a Beating Drum” or “You Don’t Own the Road” or going T. Rex glam on “DNA” and “Damned If She Do” or showing off her cabaret diva side on the gorgeous “The Last Goodbye,” The Kills kill it.
Twenty-five years and more than 15 albums (including a few for children) later, They Might Be Giants are still going strong. Join Us (Idlewild/Rounder) might lack the novelty and inventiveness of the duo’s self-titled debut album or their first major label effort Flood, but there’s still plenty here to recommend, including tracks such as “Canajoharie,” “Cloisonné,” the artsy-references of “Celebration,” “Protagonist,” “Judy Is Your Viet Nam,” “Spoiler Alert,” and “2082.”
Hipster pop duo Cults (Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion) drew a decent-sized crowd to their stage at Lollapalooza 2011. Performing songs from their self-titled Columbia/Itno debut, Cults lived up to the hype. By combining retro girl-group pop (“You Know What I Mean,” “Most Wanted,” “Walk at Night,” “Never Saw the Point,” “Bumper”) with a moodier sensibility (“Go Outside,” “Never Heal Myself,” “Oh My God,” “Rave On”), Cults is sure to move beyond just a cult following.
Like Mates of State and fellow Boston/Cambridge music scenesters The Weepies, Blake Hazard and John Dragonetti of The Submarines are a romantically entangled musical duo. Love Notes/Letter Bombs (Nettwerk), The Submarines’ third album finds the couple further exploring the relationship situations that arise in songs such as “Fire,” “Ivaloo,” “The Sun Shines at Night,” “Birds,” “Where You Are,” and “Anymore.”
Gregg Shapiro is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.