Q-Music: The present is female

  • by Gregg Shapiro
  • Tuesday September 1, 2020
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Q-Music: The present is female

It's been almost 15 years since Diana Ross released a new full-length album. Mostly the subsequent releases have been the product of the kind of vault-raiding at which the vultures at Universal and Motown are so good. Supertonic Mixes (Motown/UMe) is not the first time that the dance diva aspect of Ross' lengthy career has been given a fresh coat of paint. Remember 1994's Diana Extended: The Remixes? Even the Supertonic cover art — a magnificent photo by the late, gay photographer Victor Skrebneski — is recycled.

So, what's new about Supertonic Mixes? Producer Eric Kupper got his paws on a set of Ross standards and, like every remixer, attempted to improve on perfection. Complaint number one has to do with the length of the songs. Remixes are traditionally also extended versions, but the longest cut here is "No One Gets the Prize" at 5:20. Most of the rest clock in at just over three or well under five minutes.

But wait, it's not all bad! The remixes of "The Boss" (bossy!), "Surrender" (fresh!) and "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" (soaring!) equally enhance, and are respectful of, the original material. The real surprise is the transformation of dramatic ballad "Touch Me In the Morning" into a full-fledged classic dance number with all the feels.

Tanya Donelly has worn many hats over the years, not just the wide-brimmed one on the cover of her new album of cover tunes credited to Tanya Donelly and the Parkington Sisters on American Laundromat Records. Donelly was a co-founding member of such important bands as Throwing Muses (with stepsister Kristin Hersh), The Breeders (with Kim Deal of The Pixies) and her own signature musical unit, Belly. She also enjoyed a career as a solo artist.

The nine songs on Tanya Donelly and the Parkington Sisters, on which she is supported musically by the four siblings (Rose, Sarah, Ariel and Lydia) are not the kind you usually find being covered by others. But Donelly and company make Echo and the Bunnymen's "Ocean Rain," Wings' "Let Me Roll It," Pretenders' "Kid," Split Enz's "Devil You Know" and even Michael Nesmith's "Different Drum" (originally a hit for Linda Ronstadt) all their own. Brava, divas!

Jonatha Brooke, like Tanya Donelly, originally got her musical start in the fruitful New England music scene, originally as one half of the duo The Story (with Jennifer Kimball). At this point in time, however, Brooke has been a solo act longer than part of a group. On her new full-length release The Sweetwater Sessions (Bad Dog/PRA), songs from previous albums including The Works, My Mother Has 4 Noses, Careful What You Wish For, Plumb, 10 Cent Wings, Back in the Circus, The Angel in the House and Midnight. Hallelujah are freshened up with "live, in the studio" sound on this retrospective.

The sweetest thing about the album is the way it reminds us of Brooke's underappreciated brilliance as a singer and songwriter.

New Zealand's The Beths, featuring Elizabeth Stokes on lead vocals, didn't waste too much time in following up it's lauded 2018 Future Me Hates Me debut record with the follow-up album Jump Rope Gazers (Carpark). The album features a pleasing balance of pop numbers such as "Just Shy of Sure," "Out of Sight," "Do You Want Me Now" and "You Are A Beam of Light" with full-on rockers including "I'm Not Getting Excited," "Dying to Believe," "Acrid" and "Don't Go Away."

Would there be a Beths if not for PJ Harvey? Maybe, maybe not. One thing for certain is that Polly Jean Harvey inspired countless women of all ages to rock like there's no tomorrow. Newly reissued on vinyl, Harvey's highly praised 1992 debut album Dry (Too Pure/Island/UMe) is an example of how music can be raw and polished at the same time.

Harvey's punk blues amalgam fits the material like custom-made clothing, especially on "Dress" (of course!), "Happy and Bleeding," "Sheela-Na-Gig," "O Stella," "Plants and Rags" and "Joe." Completing the package, bowing on vinyl for the first time since 1992, is Dry: The Demos (Island/UMe), offering listeners an intimate look into what would become Harvey's groundbreaking debut.

Diana Ross' Supertonic Mixes
Tanya Donelly and the Parkington Sisters
Jonatha Brooke's The Sweetwater Sessions
The Beths' Jump Rope Gazers
PJ Harvey's Dry

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