With Black Eyed Man, Toronto’s Cowboy Junkies take a bold step beyond The Trinity Session (1988), the band’s million-selling breakthrough album. Covering a whole spectrum of styles, the new recording features gutsier vocals from Margo Timmins and stronger songs by her guitarist brother, Michael. There is a sultry swing to Timmins’s voice on the country-tinged Southern Rain, one of several sharply etched snapshots of American life. And she really pumps up the volume on Murder, Tonight, in the Trailer Park, a tough rock number with an intriguing whodunit narrative. But the most powerful track is The Last Spike, a folk-flavored tune that chronicles railway, post-office and TV-station closings across Canada. Timmins’s plaintive delivery makes the song a plea to salvage the national dream. Like much of Black Eyed Man, it signals maturity from one of the country’s brightest bands.
David Byrne (Sire/Warner)
Pop’s oddball adventurer David Byrne has sometimes taken his musical explorations too seriously. On his last album, Rei Momo, the
former Talking Heads front man studiously listed the rhythms used on each of his songs. But the music itself, which grafted his surreal lyrics onto various Latin styles, failed to make the grade. His latest effort, Uh-Oh, is more successful, mostly because Byrne is simply having fun again. Like a good Heads song at its weirdest, Now Pm Your Mom cheerfully outlines the confusion of a parent’s sex change. And the loopy reggae of Girls on My Mind features his trademark yelps and yodels. Byrne’s exuberance is especially apparent on The Cowboy Mambo (Hey Lookit Me Now), in which he seems to be taunting Latin-music purists. By loosening up, Byrne is beginning to sound at home with his quirky global beat.
INGENUE k. d. lang (Sire/Warner)
For fans who have always known that a serious singer lurked beneath k. d. lang’s tongue-incheek country exterior, Ingenue is thrilling confirmation. Gone are the hoedown humor and country-punk affectations that characterized—and sometimes marred—her earlier style. A moody collection of ballads, Ingenue is steeped in the torch tradition of such singers as Julie London and Patsy Cline in her pop period. And the songs, written mostly by lang and fiddler Ben Mink, reveal a surprising vulnera-
bility. On The Mind of Love, a tale of tortured romance, lang asks herself, “where is your head Kathryn/where is your head.” And on Save Me, a shimmering ballad, her voice washes over the listener like a warm ocean wave. Meanwhile, there is a haunting mystique in Season of Hollow Soul, which features a surprising trace of Jewish jazz, known as klezmer music. Tasteful lounge music with some modern twists, Ingenue promises to take the gifted vocalist to even greater heights of popularity.
MATTERS OF THE HEART
Tracy Chapman (Elektra/Warner)
A passionate folksinger with a social conscience, Tracy Chapman took the pop world by storm in the late 1980s with stark songs that depicted the pain of racism and inner-city poverty. Chapman’s success (her self-titled debut album topped the charts, and she joined such rock superstars as Bruce Springsteen on Amnesty International’s Human Rights Now! tour in 1988) gave rise to a wave of sensitive female singer-songwriters. On her third album, Matters of the Heart, Chapman continues to sing emotional songs with her own acoustic guitar accompaniment. But now, her lyrics are more personal than political and, with the help of session players who include Living Colour ' guitarist Vernon Reid, her music has achieved a strong rhythmic dynamic. Open Arms is a tender love song, while the percussive If These Are the Things deals with shattered dreams. One of the most revealing songs is the title track, in which Chapman confesses to making a fool of herself in romantic affairs. After all her candid views of others’ lives, such personal honesty is highly refreshing.
SPIRITS OF HAVANA Jane Bunnett
(Denon/CBC Variety Recordings)
Jazz musicians have often turned to Cuba, one of the world’s hotbeds of rhythm, for inspiration—most notably Dizzy Gillespie. Canada’s Jane Bunnett fell in love with the island’s music more than 10 years ago, when the flutist and soprano saxophonist visited there with trumpeter Larry Cramer. A rising international jazz star, Bunnett and husband Cramer recently returned from Cuba with a valuable souvenir: Spirits of Havana, a prized collaboration with several top Cuban musicians. Some of the recording, featuring veteran singer Merceditas Valdes and percussionists Grupo Yoruba Andabo, is simply well-produced, traditional Afro-Cuban music. But such numbers as Yo Siempre Oddara (Forever Strong and Happy) and Bunnett’s own Hymn, an instrumental eulogy to Miles Davis, stand out as joyful, stirring pieces of Latin jazz. And the album highlights the dazzling work of pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba. Working under the spell of Cuba's powerful rhythms, Bunnett has captured a magical sound.
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