Free and legal MP3: Johnny Delaware (Boss-like bravura meets New Romantic ardor)

“Primitive Style” arrives to us fully grown, independent of time and place; it seems not to have been written at all—it just is.

Johnny Delaware

“Primitive Style” – Johnny Delaware

“Primitive Style” arrives to us fully grown, independent of time and place; it seems not to have been written at all—it just is. Lacking the semblance of novelty that tends to entice the hive mind, “Primitive Style” will likely attract no particular blog buzz but is in fact a deeply satisfying rock’n’roll song, a wondrous commingling of Springsteen-esque bravado and New Romantic ardor, complete with engaging dynamic shifts, well-placed suspended chords, and a killer chorus.

Tying it all together is Delaware himself, whose voice all but croons, successfully, in the softer verses while opening comfortably into full-fledged rocker mode during the chorus. He sounds like someone with something to say, which in rock’n’roll is really more than half the battle. And pay attention if you would to the deft switch to 6/4 in the fifth measure of the chorus (heard for the first time in and around 1:04, on the word “primitive”). The best songs, to my ear, find some way to tweak the relative simplicity of the pop music form, and in so doing aim for the possibility of depth and resonance while remaining accessible to the ear.

Delaware (his real name? seems unlikely) was born in South Dakota and spent time in Nashville, Albuquerque, and Austin before landing in Charleston to partner with producer Wolfgang Zimmerman (himself last heard around these parts as part of the awesome band Brave Baby, featured in December 2012). “Primitive Style” is from Delaware’s debut album, Secret Wave, set for official release in October—but you can already listen to it in full on Bandcamp.

Free and legal MP3: Louise Burns (Boss-inspired girl-group rock)

Former teen-pop star Louise Burns reorients her career by channeling early ’60s girl groups via Bruce Springsteen’s further explorations of that same sound. Convincing and just plain cool.

Louise Burns

“Drop Names Not Bombs” – Louise Burns

You never know which way a 25-year-old former teen-pop star is going to go. So many potential avenues are open to her. The one labeled “Springsteen-inspired homages to late ’50s and early ’60s pop” is not the expected one, however. Give Louise Burns props for creatively re-imagining her career trajectory. Better yet, give her props for a fine song, and consider it a great instance of making lemonade from lemons, as “Drop Names Not Bombs” draws upon past bad experience from her days as bass player in the teenybopper Canadian band Lillix.

Now as much as people are impelled to talk “girl group” when they hear Burns’ solo debut, Mellow Drama, there’s more to it than strict revivalism. Springsteen himself is grounded in that late ’50s/early-’60s sound, and Burns here is clearly channeling the girl-group thing via the Boss—I hear it in the chimey, piano-driven backbeat, in the organ flourishes, and most of all in the melodic resolution (check out 0:55, around the lyric “I’ll be buying them drinks all night”). As Bruce drew (and continues to draw) so much from the girl-group sound, it’s a lovely counterpoint to hear a female musician double back and tap into that same spring via his subsequent language. That the mezzo-ranged Burns sings with a hint of Ronnie Spector angst lends an extra charge to the proceedings.

And okay, while I don’t want to bog down in the Lillix story, it’s too central to ignore. Formed in Cranbrook, B.C. as a four-girl band when Burns all of 11, Lillix (originally named Tigerlily) was four years later signed by Madonna’s Time Warner-funded Maverick Records imprint. This was 2001. Fed to the star-maker machinery, they got a name change (there was a preexisting Tigerlily), were handed over to mercenary producers and songwriters (the girls had previously written their own music), and forced into pandering marketing efforts (two were sent to weight-loss camp). An early breakthrough: a cover of the Romantics’ “What I Like About You” was used by the 2002 WB sitcom of the same name. After two years of major-label fussing, the first Lillix album emerged in 2003, to mixed reviews at best; it cracked the Billboard 200, barely. In 2004, Madonna, an early booster, was driven from the label in a flurry of lawsuits. A 2006 follow-up album did well in Japan, and nowhere else, and Maverick, itself foundering, dropped the foursome while they were touring. Burns left the band and started over, diving into the Vancouver music scene and embracing noisy, experimental material as an effort to overcome both her teen-pop history and her music-industry bruises. Landing for a while in a goth-y trio called the Blue Violets, she has seemingly come to accept that she is a popster at heart. But sensitivity about her past remains. In a June interview, a couple of months after her solo debut was released in Canada, Burns said, poignantly, “It’s nice that people are giving it a chance despite my background.”

I’m giving her a good good chance. Mellow Drama was long-listed for Canada’s Polaris Music Prize in June; her label, Vancouver-based Light Organ Records, released the album in the U.S. this week. MP3 via Rolling Stone.

Free and legal MP3: Eux Autres (lo-fi Springsteen, w/ charm & gusto)

The appealing, DIY-ish duo Eux Autres (say “ooz oh-tra”) have discovered an unexpected lo-fi core in the middle of this Bruce Springsteen rave-up.

Eux Autres

“My Love Will Not Let You Down” – Eux Autres

The appealing, DIY-ish brother/sister duo Eux Autres have discovered an unexpected lo-fi core in the middle of this Bruce Springsteen rave-up. A fan-favorited cast-off from the Born in the USA sessions, “My Love Will Not Let You Down” is exuberant fun when Bruce does it but to my ears can’t help sounding like a bit of a retread; it’s almost too Bruce-y for its own good. Here, Heather and Nick Latimer strip out the brash “No Surrender” echoes and find a different kind of beating heart. The song still rushes along, but minus the well-oiled E Street guitar orchestra (note how the song fades rather than barges in); here we get a piano, an off-kilter, rumbly drum, and probably just one kind of guitar. And in place of Bruce’s throaty rasp we have Heather’s attractive but decidedly unschooled voice, which I urge you to listen to carefully. It’s not just that she aches rather than roars—the shift from male to female “narrator” is significant—but her tone is almost a miracle of reverbed, lo-fi sweetness, offering a shifting stream of heart-melting nuance that can’t possibly be thought out but boy does she have it going here from beginning to end.

Springsteen by the way is nearly alone among his classic-rock peers in combining three 21st-century accomplishments: 1) He continues to have active high school- and college-aged fans; 2) He has seriously influenced a number of important current bands; and 3) He still puts out meaningful records himself. It is just about a unique trifecta for someone of his generation here in 2010, but I guess they don’t call the guy The Boss for nothing. While there have been no shortage of indie bands covering his songs in concert, I haven’t heard too many noteworthy free and legal MP3 covers before this goodie caught my ear last month, via the Philadelphia-centric culture site Philebrity. It’s been out since 2009, actually, but any song is new if you haven’t heard it before, right?

Eux Autres was featured in Fingertips back in 2005, and have released two albums to date. Their next full-length release, Broken Bow, is due in November. The band’s name, as you might have been wondering, is pronounced “ooz oh-tra,” with the “oo” as in “good.”