Lady Gaga Strips Down, M.I.A. Stomps, Tom Jones Gets Religion

Lady Gaga
Singer-songwriter Lady Gaga. Her album "The Remix" was released in the U.S. on Aug. 3. Source: Universal Music Group via Bloomberg News

“Lady Gaga can really sing: Shock! Horror!”

I can already predict the headlines as the star bites back at critics with the re-release of “The Cherrytree Sessions,” an extended-play CD of back-to-basics numbers that shows Lady Gaga isn’t all combustible miniskirts and flame-throwing bras.

The live EP has been pirated around the Internet since its initial appearance last year. It includes acoustic “stripped down” versions of “Poker Face” and “Just Dance” recorded with minimal fuss at the Cherrytree Records office. “Eh, Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say)” is backed by what Gaga describes as “electric piano and human beat box.” (Rating: ***).

The CD arrives as “The Remix” finally comes out in the U.S. -- months after its release elsewhere. (Rating: **.)

Gaga’s record company is milking her output to the max: The debut album “The Fame” already has been revamped as “The Fame Monster.” Stefani Germanotta has the perfect answer to those who say she won’t last: she’s off to a better start than Madonna in 1983.

Iron-lunged Welsh singer Tom Jones also gets back to the basics on his best LP in years. He calls “Praise & Blame” a “deeply personal” collection of gospel-style songs that reflect his emotions at the age of 70.

Jones’s understated backing, produced by Ethan Johns, sounds like Rick Rubin’s work with other veteran singers -- the late Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond. That is, until “Jones the Voice” lets rip with his distinctive baritone: flat out on Jessie Mae Hemphill’s “Lord Help” and tender on Bob Dylan’s “What Good Am I?”

Though Jones’s recordings aren’t as heartfelt as Cash’s, this is a welcome comeback.

Rating: ***.

M.I.A. has been generating comment over the past two months as she tours to promote her third album. The U.K.-Sri Lankan artist, who was born Mathangi Arulpragasam, has added to the headlines with criticism of politicians, polluters, Lady Gaga and anyone else who crosses her radar.

Tracks like “Steppin Up” are stacked with ideas and stomping grooves. The new CD is called “Maya,” also written as “/\/\/\Y/\” -- a sign of its ambition and overreach. While it doesn’t keep up the pace of 2005’s “Arular,” named for the artist’s father, or 2007’s “Kala,” after her mother, it’s worth a download or two.

Rating: **.

One of the finest reissues last year was the Lucy Show’s album “..undone,” one of the best-kept secrets of 1980s jangly guitar rock. File it alongside the Cure, the Smiths and Echo & the Bunnymen. (Rating: ****.)

The 1980s Canadian-British group’s leader Mark Bandola wrote me last month to say he’s still making music under the name Typewriter and sent his latest CD, “Pictures From the Antique Skip.” While Bandola shifts styles every few minutes, the Lucy Show’s likeable, chiming pop is still present.

Rating: ***.

What the Stars Mean:
****       Excellent
***        Good
**         Average
*          Poor
(No stars) Worthless

Download fees vary across services. The CDs are priced from $12.98, or 8.99 pounds in the U.K., apart from the Lady Gaga EP (Interscope) at $2.20. Jones is on Island; M.I.A. is on N.E.E.T./Interscope; Typewriter on Moineaux Internationaux.

(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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