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Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (Mom + Pop Music, $7.98 [special price for independent stores]) – Lyrics that come tumbling out, filled with detailed observation, intriguing narratives and monologues, empathy and humor, all intricately tied to the rhythms and melodic lines of her music—Australian singer/songwriter Courtney Barnett’s splendid album has it all. Read the enclosed lyrics in the booklet to get all her internal rhymes, near-rhymes, and deadpan off-the-cuff phrases. This is one of the best of the year so far, and is highly recommended.

Bjork, Vulnicura (One Little Indian, $15.98) – Bjork’s epic, darkly-hued breakup album, filled with a landscape of strings (and sometimes ominous percussive synthetic beats). Her voice soars on top of these lush (yet sometimes inhuman) soundscapes.

NOTE: Bjork is now the subject of a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art through June 7.

Buena Vista Social Club, Lost and Found (World Circuit/Nonesuch, $18.98) – These are live tracks and studio recordings by the great singers—Ibrahim Ferrer and Omara Portuondo, foremost—and instrumentalists that comprised the Buena Vista Social Club. The 1997 Buena Vista Social Club album was a multi-million best seller, and led to solo albums and world-wide tours for the veteran Cuban musicians. Rubén Gonzáles, “Cachaito” López, Eliades Ochoa, Manuel Mirabal, and Compay Segundo are all here, with versions of songs that gained heat in live performances, and a few fine songs that were left off the original album. Some of these greats have passed away in the intervening years (Ibrahim Ferrer, Rubén Gonzáles, “Cachaito,” and Compay Segundo); listen to them again, especially in the joyful live performances.

Laura Marling, Short Movie (Ribbon Music, $13.98) – Laura Marling burst onto the British folk scene in her teens with her 2008 CD, Alas I Cannot Swim; Short Movie is her fifth album. She brings in some electric guitars, drums, cello, but still the master of the modal drones and fingerpicking of her British roots. Nate Chinen in the New York Times mentioned two intriguing comparisons: “[the songs] suggest the wry outsiderness of Joan Didion as often as the probing interiorness of Joni Mitchell.”

Natalie Prass, Natalie Prass (Spacebomb Records, $10.98) – Natalie Prass’s soft soprano voice is embedded in layers of beautiful strings, horns, woodwinds, organ, and a subtle rhythm section.


The 1960s

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Nellie McKay, My Weekly Reader (429 Records, $15.98) – Nellie McKay combines her original songs, humor, and a keen knack of finding older material in her cabaret shows. Some of her recent programs have paid tribute to Doris Day, Rachel Carson, and Billy Tipton. She can also easily compare Garrison Keillor to Grumpy Cat (in her recent appearance on Prairie Home Companion).  On My Weekly Reader, she juxtaposes 1960s artists as only she can: the Kinks, Frank Zappa, Richard & Mimi Fariña, Country Joe McDonald, Alan Price, and Gerry & the Pacemakers. You will come away with a new view of the turbulent decade.

You can hear Nelly sing and talk about finding songs on Michael Feinstein’s Song Travels radio show.

NOTE: Ms McKay will be at Jammin Java in Vienna on Thursday, April 9.

Van Morrison, Duets: Re-working the Catalogue (RCA, $12.98) – Some songsters of the ‘60s are still making great music. Van Morrison digs into his song catalogue, and brings in some of his compatriots including Bobby Womack (in his last recording), Mavis Staples, Steve Winwood, George Benson, Gregory Porter, Natalie Cole, Mark Knopfler, and Taj Mahal.