Morcheeba has undergone a radical transformation, shedding its electronic skin in favor of jazzy, folk-tinged, orchestral pop. While not as dramatic as Dylan going electric, the group's acoustic approach and the disc's relative absence of loops or burbling electro-noise will shock some fans. Morcheeba's last two albums have been more experimental, but founding brothers Paul and Ross Godfrey use the departure of soulful singer Skye Edwards as an excuse for more than a nip-tuck. Noonday Underground's Daisy Martey takes over the vocals, summoning a 70s veneer reminiscent of a James Bond theme. Martey is not as sensuous a singer as Edwards, and her more mannered delivery defines Morcheeba's new exotica approach, which merges Burt Bacharach and Esquivel. The most realized track is "Living Hell," which opens with bossa nova before morphing into gospel-flavored soul and finally jazz fusion before reprising the cycle.
Track to burn: "Living Hell"--Chris Parker
Lo Último Que Hablé Ayer
Libido's fourth studio album combines two distinct musical traditions into one highly palatable fusion. The first of these is rock (from rockabilly to British Invasion); the second is huayno, the traditional folkloric music of the Peruvian Andes. Whether disguised under surf-like guitars on "Nicotina" or laid bare in the gorgeous zampoña-heavy "El Camino," the rhythm -- a stressed first beat followed by two short ones -- and inherent melancholy of huayno drive the album. Standouts include the title track and the rocking "Más Rápido." Libido borrows freely, boldly using the refrain from Rafael Hernandez's classic "El Cumbanchero" for "Un Nuevo Juego." The band also hints at pop-rock staples like the Beatles' "Day Tripper" and Buddy Holly's "Every Day" on the album's first single, "Culpable." Despite mining so much musical history, Libido escapes mere revivalism. Thanks to the organ and production of Tweety Gonzales, this disc still manages a unique, modern sound.
Track to burn: "Lo Ultimo Que Hablé Ayer"--JESSICA BLOCH
ANTONY & THE JOHNSONS
I Am A Bird Now
Little has changed since Antony and the Johnsons released their self-titled debut five years ago. That's a good thing, because the collective merely serves as backdrop for Antony Hegarty's jazzy, melancholic, multi-octave voice and artsy pansexual odes. Lyrically, Hegarty challenges the norm by outing his own sexual ambiguities and androgyny. On "My Lady Story," he emotes: "My lady story / is one of annihilation / My lady story / is one of breast amputation." Hegarty's Tiny Tim-meets-Lou Reed pipes have attracted a slew of admirers and assorted musical friends who contribute this round: Boy George ("You Are My Sister"), Rufus Wainwright ("What Can I Do?"), Devendra Banhart ("Spiraling"), and Reed himself ("Fistful of Love"). Scandalously, Hegarty won the U.K.'s Mercury Music Prize for album of the year, beating heavyweights Coldplay. Given this disc's challenging uniqueness, double entendre charms and dulcet honesty, it's not surprising Hegarty is finally getting due attention.
Track to burn: "For Today I Am a Buoy"--Zoë Gemelli
hootie & the blowfish
Looking For Lucky
A full decade after their popularity peaked following the mega-platinum Cracked Rear View, Columbia, SC, superstars Hootie & the Blowfish are still at it. Believe it or not, Looking For Lucky is the band's fifth studio album. Featuring production input from longtime Hootie collaborator and former dB Peter Holsapple, the disc's heavy bass (and sometimes heavy heart, lyrics-wise) are counterbalanced by a positive bounce in the kick drum and a mandolin that sings like a night bird. Some darkness persists, though, as rhythm guitar prowls around a preacher's strange warnings in "The Killing Stone": "You can't hide, under the killing stone!" (Wasn't planning to, honest!) On "Waltz Into Me" and "Leaving," guest fiddler Sam Bush leads frontman Darius Rucker and gang through sweet shades of mood and tempo. "A Smile" flies by like "an astronaut on your radio," which may predict a fleeting future for this album. Despite any evanescence, the disc still boasts at least four or five keepers.
Track to burn: "Leaving"--Don Allred