Sound and Vision: Pop's Greatest Gender Benders – Songs That Sound Better Sung By the Opposite Sex

One of the best releases of 2012 to date is Boys Don’t Cry, an album of covers recorded by Anglo-Pakistani singer-songwriter Rumer (nee Sarah Joyce). As a vocalist, Rumer is soothing and smooth, strictly middle-of-the-road enough to earn her an invitation from U.S. President Barack Obama to perform at the White House in May, the month her album came out ” but that’s not to say she doesn’t have a slightly subversive streak.

After all, who chooses to release a collection of remakes for their second full-length studio album. (Rumer’s 2010 debut, Seasons of My Soul, earned her widespread acclaim, two Brit Award nominations, and a platinum certification in the U.K.)

Then there is the theme of Boys Don’t Cry (whose title was not inspired by The Cure song, which is not among the album tracks): Everything on it was written and performed by male artists in the ’70s. Somehow Rumer makes quintessentially guy songs like Ronnie Lane‘s “Just for a Moment” (about an instant of clarity in a drunken haze) and Neil Young‘s “A Man Needs a Maid” (title: self-explanatory) sound strong enough for a man but made for a woman.


Full of Grace

Sunday Lane

Don’t let her whimsical name fool you”Sunday Lane is about as serious a musician as they come. The Tulsa-born, California-based ingénue is barely in her ˜20s, but she’s got the poise and instincts of an old hand. Lanes crafts anthems of unrest and quiet protest, composed largely of her sweet, dusky vocals and piano. Reckless One is a heart-twister of a ballad”floating between restless and triumphant. On the agitated Heavy Heart, Heavy Hands, Lane conjures a tempest around her tale of a broken home. It’s got the passion of Tori Amos and the grace of Norah Jones. As good as that track is, Raincoat may be even better. All ether and mood”like picture run through an Instagram filter”the melody features Lane’s pensive piano playing and distant vocals. After hearing this singer-songwriter, we kind of wish they all could be California girls.

Drama Queen

Britt Daley

Percussive, soaring, and melodic, the music of Britt Daley is an elixir that’s almost instantly intoxicating. The Florida artist crafts enchanting synth-pop gems that are full of longing and wonder. Never Done This begins with the seductive thump of bass and new-wave synths. It’s a ballad with a beat and a singer who pierces the upper register with clear, bell-like vocals that are a mix of Tori Amos and Kate Bush. Lilly is impossibly romantic, an airborne catharsis of vocals and piano. But our favorite track may have to be the swooning, rhythmic Closer To You. With a chorus that’s more like an incantation, Daley summons you into her dreamy headspace. Bring me closer to you, she pleads. Trust us, after hearing her music, you’ll be echoing the sentiment.

Riffs, Rants & Rumors: Joe Jackson Loves It Live

For a guy like Joe Jackson, who’s got a trail of great songs that go all the way back to the late ’70s, it must be tough to strike a balance in his shows between trotting out the tunes his fans adore and demand, and keeping things fresh for himself. Nevertheless, he’s an artist who loves the experience of laying down his tunes in front of an audience. In fact, he’s popped out a number of live records over the years, starting in the ’80s with Live 1980/86, and running up to his latest release, the generically titled Live Music. “I’ve done a few live records, because I’ve always loved playing live,” Jackson told us, “and I’ve always felt like that’s the best part of what I do.”

Jackson’s restless muse and his passion for performance have led him to reinvent his catalog onstage from the beginning. As early as the aforementioned ’80s live album, he was recasting his classic tunes in radically rearranged formats, delivering the new wave/power-pop hit “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” as an a cappella doo wop tune, and finding ways to re-imagine songs originally recorded by a guitar/bass/drums lineup for a band with two keyboardists and no guitarist. He manages a similar feat on Live Music, where he pumps out cuts from all across his career in piano-trio mode. “In some cases they never had guitar in the first place,” Jackson says. “People often forget that Night and Day had no guitars on it.” In fact, Live Music boasts a number of tunes from that 1982 album, Jackson’s biggest ever, including “Steppin’ Out,” “Slow Song,” “Another World,” “Cancer” and “Chinatown.”

Backing Jackson up on Live Music are the bassist and drummer from the original Joe Jackson Band, Graham Maby and Dave Houghton, with whom he seems to have found a brand new groove. “We’ve been doing this together for a few years now and it’s been great,” Jackson says. “For one thing, we’re old friends, and that’s always nice.” But beyond the bonhomie, Jackson enjoys interacting with Maby and Houghton in a trio format. “I feel like the trio is stripping it down to the absolute bare minimum and then seeing what you can do with it. It’s pretty amazing what you can do if you use your imagination. It can sound big, it can sound really varied.”

Besides redefining his old songs with the current live lineup, Jackson mixes things up by including a few carefully chosen cover tunes on Live Music. Probably the only artist whose songs have been covered by both Anthrax (“Got the Time”) and Tori Amos (“Real Men”), Jackson picks his own outside material with an ear for adventure. David Bowie‘s “Scary Monsters,” The Beatles‘ “Girl” and Ian Dury‘s “Inbetweenies” all get Jacksonized. “We actually do a lot of covers,” says Jackson. “I think it has to be something that I can get comfortable with vocally, and that I feel I can sing in my own way. But it also needs to be something where I can see a different way of doing it, because I don’t see the point in trying to imitate the original. I’m trying to make them as different as possible.”

In that spirit, Jackson has also got another project in the works, a tribute to the compositions of Duke Ellington. He’s been performing his own version of Ellington’s “Mood Indigo” for some time, but this recording will find him interpreting a whole host of Ellington tunes in typically eclectic fashion, aided by everybody from guitar hero Steve Vai to The Roots. “It’s starting to come together finally, after years of thinking about it and planning it. I’ve done so much touring over the last few years that I really haven’t had much time to work on anything else. I just spent a week in Amsterdam working with a [Brazilian] band called Zuco 103”they’re so good. We collaborated on two tracks. I’m gonna be in New York again picking it up with Amir from The Roots. We’ll have a good chunk of it done by June. I don’t know if it’ll be out this year, it may not be until next year.”

In the meantime, Live Music will serve to remind listeners that the man who spent the last three decades recording everything from big-band swing to orchestral suites never tires of offering up new sides of his musical personality. “We’ve done so much touring the last few years,” Jackson says, “we’ve done so many great shows”it needed to be captured. I’m really happy that it’s documented.” Of course, that’s no guarantee that by the next time Jackson toddles into your town, some of these tunes won’t have been drastically reinvented once more.


Hot Artist: Bianca Merkley

New York singer-songwriter Bianca Merkley‘s sultry sweet voice is self- described as “tasty as a cupcake”. Bianca lays sandy vocals over simple arrangements with stirring melodies that come together to rival the likes of Jewel and Tori Amos. Starting at only eight years old, Bianca began performing anywhere she could, from company Christmas parties to the 2002 Olympics. At sixteen, when most teenagers would kill to be gifted with a car, Bianca choose a guitar and never looked back. Armed with the same guitar, Bianca’s refreshing sound and conviction move listeners to “forget their problems”, in turn inspiring Bianca’s debut album.

Promise, released in 2007, bakes in everything delicious”from pop to folk and even jazz. Top it off with a dash of Latin influence and you’ve got yourself a tasty treat indeed. You can download Bianca’s track “The Canvas” below, and be sure to check out her interview on

Needle In The Haystack: Rie Sinclair

One would think with her porcelain skin and ethereal voice that this week’s Needle In The Haystack Rie Sinclair just floated onto the scene as if it were divine intervention. Quite the contrary, Rie has been making waves in the industry better equated to a tropical storm than a wading pool, writing music for ABC/Disney and shows like Californication, Ghost Whisperer, Vampire Diaries and working with veterans like ex-Eels bassist/Abandoned Pools frontman Tommy Walter. She even has her own Emmy nomination and (arguably more impressive) iPhone app to boot. Learn more about Rie in the video below, and check back for more from her throughout the week, like free downloads, interviews and videos.

For fans of: Portishead, Tori Amos, Bat For Lashes

Bittersweet Symphonies

Lily Holbrook

The 2005 documentary Playing for Change began with a folk singer, Lily Holbrook, busking on a corner in Santa Monica. From there the film went on to follow the lives of sixteen street performers across the country in their pursuit of happiness. But it didn’t end there”Playing for Change has since grown into a global multimedia project that captures live performances by musicians anywhere from Kathmandu to Tel Aviv.

Holbrook’s story was just beginning too. In the five years since the film’s debut, the Boston-born singer songwriter has released multiple records, played festivals headlined by Radiohead and caused pedestrian traffic jams with the occasional street concert. Here’s why: As a singer, Holbrook is a tour de force, combining the dreamy bohemia of Stevie Nicks with the tormented rock operatics of Tori Amos. Apocalypse Kiss lets Holbrook’s sugary vocals provide the treacle for a grandiose, turbulent chorus of grinding guitars and thundering drums. If you like the gothic storm and stress of Evanescence, you’ll want to get this track, like yesterday. Cowboys and Indians shows a softer, more organic side of Holbrook. It’s spacious and quiet, with the swell of cello and a simple strummed guitar providing the emotional hook. If her songs have any calling card, it’s their blend of chamber instruments with diaphanous layers of vocals”one providing the melancholia and the other, the relief. From her days busking in subways with just a guitar, she’s come a long way, baby.

The Changeling

Lindsay Mac

If you’re going to drop out of school, then drop out of some place prestigious. And if you’re going to play the cello, well, play it like a guitar. The mantra of Lindsay Mac might go a little something like this. Prior to carving out her unique niche in music, the Boston-based singer and cellist started off as a med student at Dartmouth before returning to her musical upbringing with stints at London’s Royal College of Music, The San Francisco Conservatory and, finally, Berklee College of Music. With that kind of pedigree, you might expect a cellist with classic sensibilities. But Mac, if anything, is a musician who thwarts expectation. Strapping her cello across her body like a guitar, and forgoing the bow for finger picking and strumming, she summons a whole bevy of sounds from her instrument”be it a whimsical honk, sepulchral strain or low-register moan. As an edgy folk artist, she begs comparison to Ani DiFranco. But stylistically, Mac falls somewhere between the mercurial, lilting melodies of Tori Amos and the bassy saunter of Morphine. If you want to hear both in play, check out Stop Thinking,”part sinister slink, part cheerful amble. But make sure you listen to Cry Cry Cry as well, a poly-melodic ditty that showcases Mac’s bewitching chirp. True originality is hard to come by these days, but Mac’s success isn’t her innovation, it’s her ability to make it feel easy and fun.

Discourse & Dischord

The Good

David Byrne

David Byrne uses Philippine dictator as inspiration for new album
Rarely have the words Imelda Marcos and good been used in a sentence together, but we’re going to take a shot at it. David Byrne’s new concept album, Here Lies Love, is inspired by shoe fetishist/dictator Imelda Marcos, and it sounds GOOD. Byrne co-wrote the album with Fatboy Slim, and recruited a different female vocalist for each track. Among them are Santigold, Roisin Murphy, Sharon Jones, Alice Russell and Tori Amos. The album drops in early April. Read more about it here.

The Bad

Better than Nickelback?

Nickelback’s sour response to Facebook pickle group
If you spend any time on Facebook, you’ve probably seen news feeds for the group Can this pickle get more fans than Nickelback? The answer is yes. As of Wednesday, the pickle had 1,488,589 fans whereas the band had a mere 1,422,807. Well, singer Chad Kroeger didn’t like that one bit, and left a tart comment that read, You’re page will be closing in 2 weeks. Coral Anne, the creator of the pickle group, replied, I still whooped your ass, Chad! Yeah, no one likes a pickle puss, CHAD.

Whitney Houston

The Ugly

Whitney Houston angers Aussies with Brisbane performance
A croaky and disoriented Whitney Houston received dismal reviews for her performance at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre on Monday. According to multiple critics and fans, the 46-year-old singer appeared out of breath throughout the concert, coughing through some numbers and turning the epic high point of I Will Always Love You into a breathless coo. Houston has a handful of dates left in Australia before she heads over to Europe for more boos shows.



In the early days of the music industry, a leak was as simple as a radio DJ copying an advance release and giving it to a friend. Today within minutes of someone sharing an album online, it’s available to anyone with an internet connection (and sufficient knowledge of where to obtain these files). It has become a daily habit of publications such as Digital Music News to announce leaks and add exposure to the growing leak issues in the industry. These recent leaks include hot shots such as Green Day, Eminem, Wilco and Franz Ferdinand.


Recently there has been a new front to this leak battle; Independent artists are starting to see the same issues as their Major label counterparts. One such example: Tori Amos’ latest album leaked on May 11th, it was due to hit stores only 8 days later.

Luckily, artists are fighting back with other promotions to promote buying their album. Those who pre-ordered Tori’s album on iTunes received a password to order tickets for her summer tour before the general public. The album also came with a DVD video; items like this are not usually included in prerelease leaks giving fans a reason to pick up the album. Artists like Tori also have another thing going for them: a loyal fan base who may download a leak but will still purchase the album for the extras and in support of the artist.

The industry is changing.  The classic music industry tactics are futile.  Labels must embrace change and adjust tactics for success as independent artists have, or they will soon fall to dust.