Lady Gaga’s charts battle with Adele, Beyonce and Britney Spears has eclipsed other female stars. Here are my suggestions for summer downloads:
Eilen Jewell, “Queen of the Minor Key” (Signature Sounds). The singer-songwriter from Idaho crosses the blues with country in a way that recalls Lucinda Williams or Eileen Rose. This is well-crafted music, more downbeat than Jewell’s last CD, which was a tribute to Loretta Lynn.
Instead of belting in the talent-show style of pop stars such as Kelly Clarkson and Leona Lewis, Jewell deftly employs the power of understatement. Download her farewell song to a lover, “Long Road.” Rating: ****.
Avril Lavigne, “Goodbye Lullaby” (RCA). Like Jewell, Canada’s Lavigne has shied away from upbeat singles that dominate the radio waves. Her stripped-down album draws inspiration from her divorce from Sum 41 singer Deryck Whibley. Its quiet moments, where Lavigne’s voice shines through, are more mature than, say, Pink’s breakup album “Funhouse.” Download “What the Hell.” Rating: ***.
Jessie J, “Who You Are” (Lava/Island). This alumnus of the U.K.’s BRIT School, whose classmates included Amy Winehouse and Adele, spent 6 years recording her debut which blends soul and rap. She also has penned songs for Miley Cyrus and others. “Do It Like a Dude,” the track to download, was originally intended for Rihanna before the record company urged Jessie to keep it for herself. Rating: ***.
Anna Calvi, “Anna Calvi” (Domino). The U.K. singer has won praise from Nick Cave and Brian Eno. While the latter’s rave, in a BBC interview, that she is “the biggest thing since Patti Smith” is going a little too far, Calvi does have echoes of P.J. Harvey and Florence Welch. The album, marrying intense guitar with poetic lyrics, is on the shortlist for the U.K.’s Mercury Prize. Download “Rider to the Sea.” Rating: *****.
Katy B, “On a Mission” (Sony). Another BRIT School pupil, another Mercury nominee; not just another carbon-copied album. Katy B loves clubbing and dubstep: The music is mashed into a pop stew that’s hot for the dance floor. Download “Lights On,” featuring Ms. Dynamite. Rating: ****.
Joan as Police Woman, “The Deep Field” (Reveal). Joan Wasser is ambitious and conveys real emotion with her dreamy tracks. While her reedy voice is an acquired taste, the effect is sometimes hypnotic. Download “The Magic.” Rating: ***.
Blondie, “Panic of Girls” (EMI). Debbie Harry’s band is back with an album that’s out in the U.K. now, import or set for an official U.S. release next month. “Mother” has been available as a download for awhile. The record has a retro feel, like the heady late 1970s never went away. Rating: ***.
Charlie Haden Quartet West, “Sophisticated Ladies” (Universal). This gem has little in common with the rest of this roundup. Here, a male jazz group invites impeccable female singers to cover standards. The quality of the performances makes it more than a study in mannered nostalgia.
Download Norah Jones on “Ill Wind,” Renee Fleming’s “A Love Like This” or especially Ruth Cameron’s “Let’s Call It a Day,” the bitterest of sweet breakup songs. Rating: ****.
What the Stars Mean: ***** Exceptional **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
The CDs are available from about $10.00 in the U.S. or 8 pounds in the U.K. The Blondie album’s U.S. release is set as Sept. 13. Download fees vary across services.
(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)