Sharon Jones's newest shows she's as in command as ever.
Sharon Jones's newest shows she's as in command as ever. (Dulce Pinzon - Dulce Pinzon)
Tuesday, October 2, 2007


PJ Harvey

In theory it's a good thing that PJ Harvey's new "White Chalk" finds her back in the habit of constant change. This time the English anti-diva has traded in her feral electric guitar for a ghostly, often dissonant piano. The songs are as raw and confessional as ever, but with the volume turned down she sounds more depressed than defiant.

This intimate approach suits aptly titled dirges such as "When Under Ether," "Dear Darkness" and "Broken Harp," all of which are haunting and funereal, but makes some of the lesser cuts sound more like demos than fully realized songs. There are 11 here, all sharing a single, mournful tempo and tone, and while "White Chalk" clocks in at a mere 34 minutes, it isn't over quickly enough to keep these monochrome lamentations from bleeding into one another until they're nearly indistinguishable.

The late-period Radiohead crowd will likely love it: There's barely any guitar, fewer drums and the piano sounds out of tune and possibly full of water. With its kaleidoscopic peals of piano, "Grow Grow Grow" could be an Elizabethan ballad or the soundtrack to a lost Tim Burton movie. The last 40 seconds of "The Mountain," and the album, are given over to a heart-piercing scream.

Why the histrionics after a half-hour of whispers and gritted teeth? It's a mystery, like so much else about Polly Jean Harvey -- how it is, for example, that she can wail refrains such as "Nobody's listening!" and "Oh God, I miss you!" (both on "The Piano") or "Insignificance!" (on "The Devil") without sounding self-pitying. Now that's some crazy voodoo.

-- Chris Klimek

DOWNLOAD THESE: "When Under Ether," "Dear Darkness," "White Chalk"

100 DAYS, 100 NIGHTS

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings

Sharon Jones's band has been getting all the attention of late for its work with trouble girl Amy Winehouse, and well it should: There's no tighter, more inventive ensemble active in deep funk and soul circles today.

Jones, however, never went anywhere, as her fourth full-length album since 2002 attests. The irrepressible, hard-touring shouter from Brooklyn sounds as committed and in command as ever. Not only that, the album's 10 tracks serve as a primer for just how varied a genre funk can be, with a program that ranges from salty fatback (the title track) and Meters-style chicken-scratch ("Nobody's Baby") to slinky Southern soul ("Be Easy") and Motown-inflected pop ("Tell Me").

"When the Other Foot Drops, Uncle" is rife with gospel-steeped preachments and call-and-response, even if some of the lyrics are hardly the stuff of the choir loft. "Something's Changed," an ominous dispatch from the ashes of a love affair, makes use of swaying Latin rhythms, while in "Keep On Looking," the Dap-Kings vamp like jazz messengers. In "Humble Me," their pain-in-my-heart triplets open things up enough for their leader to show that, more just a first-rate belter, she and her supple alto can plead with the best of them.

Booting horns, juking rhythms and chank-a-lank guitar abound on the album. Its running time might barely exceed 34 minutes, but with grooves this deep and intense, that's just about right, especially when you're getting all meat and no filler.

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings are scheduled to perform at the Black Cat on Dec. 15.

-- Bill Friskics-Warren

DOWNLOAD THESE: "Humble Me," "Nobody's Baby," "When the Other Foot Drops, Uncle"

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