Wonder women in music, 2023

  • by Gregg Shapiro
  • Tuesday March 14, 2023
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Wonder women in music, 2023

With a name like Smut, you might not expect the Chicago-based band to sound like a Great Lakes version of The Sundays on the album "How the Light Felt" (Bayonet), but it does. Lead vocalist Tay Roebuck could easily be mistaken for The Sundays' Harriet Wheeler, especially on the title song, "Let Me Hate," "Supersolar," and "After Silver Leaves." That said, Smut has no trouble carving out its own identity throughout the album, as is obvious on "Unbroken Thought" and the synth-driven "Morningstar." In other words, with a name like Smut, it has to be good.

It was only a matter of time, wasn't it, before we started to hear from the next Billie Eilish or the next Lorde (or Lana Del Rey, for that matter)? Enter Nessa Barrett and her debut album "Young Forever" (Warner). Already a social media star (who isn't these days?), Nessa Barrett wears these aforementioned comparisons on her designer sleeve, while also establishing her own singular voice. Traversing some dark subject matter, including mental health struggles and bullying, Barrett gives listeners a lot to think about on "Gaslight," "Forgive the World," "Talk to Myself," "Fuckmarrykill," "Madhouse," and "Unnecessary Violence."

Nessa Barrett performs on March 19, 8:30pm at The Masonic, 1111 California St. $17-$400. www.livenation.com

If you've been following the incredible singer/songwriter Sunny War (aka Sydney Lyndella Ward) since her 2018 breakthrough album "With The Sun" and 2019's "Shell of A Girl," you might be surprised at how much of a leap forward she makes on her new album "Anarchist Gospel" (New West). Beginning with opener "Love's Death Bed," with its hot harmonica work by Chris Pierce and the call-and-response choir backing vocals, featuring a guest appearance by queer artist Allison Russell, you know you are in for something new and attention-getting. The same can be said for the thrilling instrumentation on "No Reason," a song that puts War in a whole new league of commercial and immediately accessible music. The truth is, there's not a bad song to be found with "Swear to Gawd," "His Love," "New Day," "Test Dummy," and worth special attention.

Singer/songwriter Weyes Blood (aka Natalie Laura Mering) had her work cut out for her when it came to following her universally acclaimed 2019 album "Titanic Rising." The good news is that she met the challenge with grace and delivered the worthy successor "And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow" (Sub Pop), the second album in a trilogy that began with "Titanic Rising." Weyes Blood is a purveyor of timeless pop with influences from the 1970s through the present day. Each of these ten songs is nothing short of breathtakingly beautiful, surrounding the listener with the warmth of Weyes Blood's distinctive vocals and instrumentation that perfectly suits each song. Standouts include "Twin Flame," "Grapevine," "It's Not Just Me, It's Everybody," "God Turn Me into a Flower," and the deceptively poppy "The Worst Is Yet to Come."

Weyes Blood performs on March 25 & 26 at The Regency Ballroom, 1300 Van Ness Ave. $27.50-$40. www.theregencyballroom.com

Scottish singer/songwriter KT Tunstall got lucky right out of the gate. Her 2006 debut album "Eye to the Telescope" contained the ubiquitous hit single "Black Horse & the Cherry Tree," which earned her a Grammy nomination and other accolades. Since that time, Tunstall has released six more albums with "Nut" (Blue Elan) being the latest; a worthy showcase for all of her gifts, including her skills as a guitar player and songwriter. "Nut" kicks into high gear with album opener "Out of Touch," featuring wily wordplay. The soaring "I Am the Pilot" is asking for club play and Tunstall brings the record to a close with the stripped-down ballad "All the Time."

Known for their rocking approach, New Zealand's The Beths move in a slightly softer direction on the poppy, but still amplified, "Expert in a Dying Field" (Carpark). Lead vocalist and guitarist Elizabeth Stokes injects the dozen songs with emotion, a welcome warmth occasionally obscured on previous releases. From the opening title tune through songs including "Your Side," "Knees Deep," "When You Know You Know," "I Want To Listen," "Change in the Weather," and the rocking blast of "I Told You I Was Afraid," The Beths prove they are experts at versatility.

When she was a member of the British post-punk band Goat Girl, Naima Bock was known as Naima Jelly. After leaving her former bandmates, her stage name, and that musical genre behind, Bock steps forward with her gorgeous solo debut album "Giant Palm" (Sub Pop). Experimental folk in the best sense of the term, the ten songs, which drift towards us via Bock's airy vocals are mesmerizing, and often too brief, leaving us wanting more. Standouts include the title number, "Campervan," "Working," "Every Morning," and her cover of Jobim's "O Morro."

One of the most exhilarating debut albums of 2022, "Versions of Modern Performance" (Matador) by Chicago-based female trio Horsegirl, blazes with youthful daring and exuberance. Taking cues from Sonic Youth, as well as a host of `90s alt-rock acts, Horsegirl synthesizes its influences into a wholly original sound. "Beautiful Song," "Option 8," "Live and Ski," "The Fall of Horsegirl," "Anti-glory," "World of Pots and Pans," and "Billy," all deserve to be on your playlist.

There's no question that California-based vocalist Judy Whitmore can carry a tune on her new album "Isn't It Romantic" (Arden House Music). She has a pleasant and expressive voice and is respectful of the material. The arrangements are appropriately jazzy if a bit safe. The trouble is that Whitmore doesn't really add anything new or original to her renditions of well-trodden songs by Ray Charles (a swinging "Hallelujah I Love Him So"), Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil ("Just A Little Lovin'"), Johnny Burke and Johnny Van Heusen ("It Could Happen to You"), Hoagy Carmichael and Ned Washington ("The Nearness of You"), Kurt Weil and Ogden Nash ("Speak Low"), and the Rodgers and Hart title tune. Maybe the left-coast cabaret acts didn't get the memo about expanding their repertoire beyond the Great American Songbook of the 20th century.

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