Free and legal MP3: Grace Jones (splendid return of the trippy ’80s icon)

Grace Jones

“Sunset Sunrise” – Grace Jones

Sounding like a Marianne Faithfull for the club set, Grace Jones re-emerges as a singer after 20 years without an album release. Always somewhat ageless, not to mention androgynous, the now-63-year-old Jones pulls off this slinky, bass-driven shaker without breaking a sweat, her voice huskier and chestier than previously, her mystique unharmed for the long absence. The sheer musical presence and power of this song is a surprise and a delight, combining a sinuous playfulness with an almost oracular austerity. “Is it yours?/Is it mine?/Is it ours/To divide?” she sings, deliciously off the beat, voice vibrating with menace and experience. Grace Jones remains a trip.

Jones was always as much a visual artist as an aural one; the flat-top haircut and angular clothing she favored became quickly iconic in her new-wave era heyday; that she was both an early MTV favorite and a cartoon-ish silver screen villain is no surprise, and no one should underestimate how much a certain present-day pop star, with the fake name and the outlandish costumes, owes her act to the pioneering Jones. But here’s a big difference: Jones pulls off her persona by seeming genuinely odd, not to mention authentically bad-ass. Everyone who has followed her seems instead to be purposefully setting out to be odd, as if checking off a qualification on a resume. Not the same thing.

I mean, just take a look at this video, for the song “Corporate Cannibal,” which, like “Sunset Sunrise,” comes from the forthcoming album Hurricane. Crazy, yes? But also almost beautiful. In a trippy kind of way. Hurricane has actually been out since late 2008, but had only previously been offered up in Europe. It finally gets a U.S. release in September, via PIAS America.

Free and legal MP3: Over the Rhine (great slinky soulful musicianship)

An exquisitely musical duo, and a married couple to boot, Over the Rhine seems to leave no little detail unregarded, even in a song as loose and slinky as “The King Knows How.”

Over the Rhine

“The King Knows How” – Over the Rhine

An exquisitely musical duo, and a married couple to boot, Over the Rhine seems to leave no little detail unregarded, even in a song as loose and slinky as “The King Knows How.” Grounded in Linford Detweiler’s sly, atmospheric piano playing and some marvelously well-thought-out percussion, this song shimmies like an old soul classic, while rewarding careful attention at every turn. Even the casual-seeming introduction, barely more than the sounds of instruments getting warmed up, is elusively wonderful, with Detweiler’s offhand (but perfect) piano fills and what surely sounds like an elephant trumpeting. Or take the seven or so seconds we get between the words “take me all the way” and “to Memphis” at 1:47: listen carefully and hear the subtle smorgasbord of sounds employed during a moment most bands might tread water, which this time includes something that sounds a bit like sheep.

And then of course there’s the front and center reality of Karin Bergquist’s distinctive voice, which operates so much with its own idea of tone and phrasing that whatever combination of human and robot is responsible for the content on internet lyrics sites hasn’t been able to figure out that the first lyric in this song is, simply, “I feel as lonely as anybody/who’s crying on a Friday night.” Her singing may be an acquired taste but it is one I think worth acquiring—as warm and rich as it is idiosyncratic. I like that she’s sharing the stage this time with some strong backing vocals, their explosive, roomful-of-soul sound adding rather than detracting from her own vocal potency.

If there were a Fingertips Hall of Fame, this Cincinnati band, along with John Vanderslice, would be charter members; this is now OTR’s sixth song featured here, but the first since 2007 (check the Artist Index for details). “The King Knows How” is the first available track from the band’s upcoming album, The Long Surrender, due out in February on their own Great Speckled Dog label. MP3 via Each Note Secure.