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Import Zone | column | Lollipop

Import Zone

by Michael McCarthy

Festival is the fourth album by Italy's Paola & Chiara (Sony Music, Italy) and it's a fantastic celebration of life, love, and various genres of music you probably wouldn't expect to find on the same album. At first listen, it does seem a lot like their previous album, Television, but as you listen more and more, you begin to realize just how much more diverse it is. The first two singles, "Festival" and "Hey!," are dance club gems every bit as irresistible as Television's international smash "Vamos A Bailar." However, these sisters have never been the sort of artists to write the same song twice, and they literally traveled the world as they wrote this album with variety in mind.

They explain the process of writing the album at their website, www.paolaechiara.it, "Before giving a definite shape to the songs included in Festival, we did an in-depth analysis on the various lifestyles of the countries we visited: Climate, food traditions, urbanistics, people's motivation. This was a very interesting experience. In Brazil and Argentina we visited many cathedrals and other religious sites; the soft light of those places is a very touching element and has influenced our musical language. We liked the idea that our songs had their own light, the light that can be perceived only when it's dark."

That would sound overly self-indulgent if only they hadn't done such a splendid job of incorporating these influences into their songs. Their cover of the Spanish classic "Bella Maria De Mi Alma" ("Beautiful Maria Of My Soul"), for example, sounds as authentic as any rendition by any Latin artist I've ever heard. Likewise, the music of "Kamasutra" sounds like contemporary Indian music, even though it's an original composition in Italian. Meanwhile, the album's sole English-language track is a haunting, tear-inducing acoustic ballad entitled "Comin' Around." And fans of classic Italian ballads from the '60s will surely appreciate "Un Giorno di sole per me" and "Arrivederci, addio." A mixed bag, yes, but a bag full of keepers.

Lee Jung Hyun's debut, Let's Go To My Star, was a techno masterpiece and I still listen to it frequently. Her second disc, however, was more of a dance album and not nearly as captivating. Her third effort, Magic To Go To My Star, was rather disappointing in spite of its intriguing anti-terrorism theme. (That it came out a few days after 9/11 was an eerie coincidence that might explain why it was hugely popular in Korea.) That said, it wasn't so bad that I lost interest. I still saw her as something of a visionary, but I wished she'd quit trying to be Korea's queen of pop and make an album as wonderful as her debut. Well, she's finally done so with I Love Natural (PAN Entertainment). It's primarily a dance album, to be sure, but she now seems at ease with the genre, whereas it often felt like she was trying too hard on her previous two albums. "Time Machine," an infectious trance track, might be her best song yet, and the various interludes and intros are as quirky as anything on her debut. I had high hopes for "Brighter Than Sunshine," which was written and produced by the often brilliant Towa Tei, but it sounds like faux r&b, complete with silly hip-hop style grunts and a rap by the famous Japanese rapper Goichi. Still, in spite of its occasional missteps, this is still probably the best recent dance album I've heard since Lasgo. (www.jhlove.com)

The self-titled debut by France's Jenifer (Mercury France) has made her an overnight pop sensation, selling out concert after concert all over the country. Not to mention a lot of CDs. But is she worthy of the hype? Compared to their Britney-esque Lorie, absolutely. Even when compared to her contemporaries around the world, she still holds up. The highly-infectious yet melancholy "Au soleil" calls to mind Natalie Imbruglia's rendition of "Torn," just daring you to try not to sing along, while "Je garde," a duo with Mario, is simply, however intentionally, haunting. As for her voice, well, it's mostly soft and sweet, but she sounds so at ease with the songs that one gets the feeling she could easily hit higher notes should the occasion arise. (www.jenifer.com.fr)

Jane Birkin re-visits the material of her late beau, Serge Gainsbourg, on her new live album Arabesque (Capitol, France). Most of the set consists of songs he wrote and produced for her in the '70s and '80s, such as the always seductive "Baby Alone In Babylone," but she also performs some of the gems from his personal catalog, including the ridiculous "Elisa" and pleasingly giddy "Couleur Café." To be sure, a few of the 16 songs on hand aren't Gainsbourg compositions, but they're hardly the highlights and they only make it clear that her voice never sounds so lovely as when she's singing his kinky paroles.

Anna Vissi returns to her traditional Greek roots on X (pronounced H) (Sony Music Greece). While her previous album, the English-language debut Everything I Am, was all about dance and sounding modern, X has her blending modern beats with classic Greek music with mostly pleasing results. Also, the subject matter is much deeper this time around, the album perhaps being the story of a woman who parts ways with her lover and contemplates suicide as a result. To be honest, I had a friend tell me what the lyrics were about, since I only know a few words of Greek, but I wasn't surprised because the songs are so emotional you can certainly appreciate her pain even if you don't understand a word of it. It's not all about misery though, there are a few upbeat tracks. A few. But this is mostly music for a contemplative, espresso-sipping afternoon alone. (www.annavissi.net)
 


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