The Girls of Summer 2002

Katie Todd - Laura Minor - Shana Morrison
Julia Fordham - Aimee Mann - Carolyn Mark

First Appeared at The Music Box, October 2002, Volume 9, #10

Written by T.J. Simon


Summer 2002 will be remembered as a particularly fruitful season for quality releases by female artists. Forget pop tarts Britney and Christina, and donít even think about Mariah with her midriff-bearing straight jacket. The summer of 2002 has given music fans several women of substance that should make the teen-steam merchants at MTV embarrassed for squandering their cable bandwidth.

The Music Box has recently reviewed terrific albums by Lynn Miles and Tift Merritt as well as a pair of fabulous reissues from Laura Nyro. But there are plenty of other smart and talented female singer-songwriters with recent releases worthy of your attention.

Katie Todd
Changing Faces

T.J. Simon's #9 album for 2002

The most pleasant surprise of 2002 is Katie Todd, a diminutive singer-songwriter from Chicago whose debut album is packed with remarkable pop songs centered around her astonishing keyboard skills and breathtaking vocals. Toddís piano playing draws from Elton John one moment and George Winston the next. She sings in a voice not unlike Natalie Merchant; her composition style is smart, compelling, and classically-trained; and her band is tight, well-rehearsed and ready for fame. The lead tracks (Tiger and The Polite) feature a sophisticated interplay among horns, piano, innovative drumming, and Toddís gripping vocals. She even gets funky on Brittle while remaining committed to her eloquent, literate lyrics. Changing Faces is an astounding debut that puts Todd on the map as one of the most promising and likable new talents on the singer-songwriter scene. starstarstarstar Ĺ

Laura Minor - Salesman's Girl


Laura Minor
Salesmanís Girl

On her debut Salesmanís Girl, Floridian Laura Minor alternates between alt-country (Loneliness) and Go-Goís-style, girly power-pop (American Girls), while stealing a page from the vocal/song- writing manual of Australian C&W sensation Kasey Chambers. Most of the tracks on Salesmanís Girl were written by Minor with her collaborator and guitarist Jared Flamm, and together, they fuse country vocals with likeable guitar-rock licks. Minor front-loaded the album with her best songs, but even the so-so selections that round out the disc (If I Never Love and Rust of the Carolinas) are pretty innocuous. Anyone who is a fan of Kasey Chambersí best work ought to check this one out, and for the rest, Iíd advise you to at least keep an eye on Minor. As she matures in her songwriting, sheíll become something special. starstarstar Ĺ

Salesman's Girl is available from Barnes & Noble.
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Shana Morrison - 7 Wishes

Shana Morrison
7 Wishes

T.J. Simon's #22 album for 2002

Fortunately, Shana Morrison was blessed with the beautiful looks of her mommy Janet Planet, and (some of) the musical talent of her daddy Van Morrison, rather than the other way around. Instead of steering towards Irish rock on her second album, Miss Morrison gravitates towards radio-friendly, alternative girl-pop Š la Sheryl Crow (Smoke in Bed), Nelly Furtado (I Spy) and Alanis Morrisette (Connection). Van didnít write any songs specifically for Shana ó although she does cover his Naked in the Jungle ó and he does add harmonica and vocals to the discís best track Sometimes We Cry. She also manages to get soulful on the New Orleans-influenced, neo-gospel track God Must Love Me. These excellent cuts more than make up for the discís painful moments ó her brutal ravaging of Naked in the Jungle, for example. And, despite a few rocky points, Shana Morrison has proven herself to be an artist of substance who has chosen her own path beyond the long shadow cast by her luminous father, while at the same time making an album that would make her papa proud.  starstarstar Ĺ

7 Wishes is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!


Julia Fordham - Concrete Love

Julia Fordham
Concrete Love

T.J. Simon's #19 album for 2002

Julia Fordhamís 1989 album Porcelain established her as a true talent with a nearly perfect collection of delicate jazz-pop ballads. Thirteen years later, Fordham has released her sixth effort Concrete Love, which once again recaptures lightning in a bottle. The British chanteuse sings about love, loss, and survival in a husky, sultry voice set among sparse musical arrangements and echoing percussion. Made to order for smooth jazz radio, Fordham doesnít blaze any new trails on Concrete Love, but itís just what the love doctor ordered for a romantic evening at home. This is music for candlelight dinners with songs such as Alleluia and Foolish Day setting a mood, much like a bottle of fine wine. starstarstarstar

Concrete Love is available from Barnes & Noble.
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Aimee Mann - Lost in Space

Aimee Mann
Lost in Space

Aimee Mann's Lost in Space is a particularly tough album to review. While itís a very compelling effort, itís also the weakest of Mannís solo recordings. This is largely because all of her previous works (Whatever, Iím with Stupid, Bachelor No. 2, and most of the soundtrack to the movie Magnolia) have been consistently brilliant. There are no major diversions from her winning formula on Lost in Space, and there are many songs with great instrumentation and Mannís trademark intelligent lyrics. The electric guitars blaze on standout tracks Pavlovís Bell and Humpty Dumpty, and the lush keyboards and strings on Invisible Ink and The Moth sound just fine. Unfortunately, the songs on Lost in Space just donít stick in your head like the ones on her other releases largely because the sing-along hooks are noticeably lacking. If this were Aimee Mannís first solo album after the breakup of her í80s pop band íTil Tuesday, it would be heralded as a mini-masterpiece. Yet, Mann has already set the bar too high for herself, making Lost in Space sound a bit dull when her catalogue is graded on a curve. starstarstar

Lost in Space is available from Barnes & Noble.
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Carolyn Mark - Terrible Hostess

Carolyn Mark and the Room Mates
Terrible Hostess

T.J. Simon's #13 album for 2002

Comparisons to country chanteuse Neko Case are inevitable given that Carolyn Mark teamed up with Case to perform as The Corn Sisters. The duoís collaboration was highlighted on 2000ís concert outing The Other Women, which proved to be a spirited romp through classic country covers and likable originals. On Markís debut studio album Terrible Hostess, she establishes herself as a solo artist with a diverse collection of infectious C&W and pop selections. Her Room Mates are the perfect backing band as evidenced in the high-register guitar picking on Fuzzy Slippers and the duet-style vocals of Catscan and Country in the City. This is mostly an alt-country release with many songs centered around a party theme (After Bar Party at Our House, Terrible Hostess, Inevitable), and Mark delivers the goods in a voice clearly influenced by Patsy Cline. When the album does take a pop turn (most notably on Dirty Little Secret), Mark and her boys recall the sound of 10,000 Maniacs at the height of the bandís success. If Carolyn Mark is not considered to be a Canadian national treasure, she should move south where she will get the respect and reverence she deserves. starstarstarstar Ĺ

Terrible Hostess is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!



1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


Copyright © 2002 The Music Box