I had a devil of a time with eMusic. Their basic plan furnishes customers with 30 downloads a month, and I used up 22 of them this month on a Jackie Wilson compilation. Since most albums have 10-20 tracks, what to do with the remaining eight? Browsing eMusic for individual songs is an interesting experience. Overall they’re very strong on Indie/Alternative rock and not so strong in other genres — but persistent digging around reveals a lot of little treasures (one could get lost for hours exploring the weirdness of the Folkways catalog alone). Here’s what I found:
- The Stone Canyon — “MacArthur Park” (from MacArthur Park, late ’60s) I was craving a new version of this Jimmy Webb chestnut, and luckily eMusic had 31 versions to choose from. I might have picked the wrong one, however. The Stone Canyon must have been one of those phantom groups that record labels created to sell cheap records in drugstores; their rendition has a loose ‘n funky Blood, Sweat & Tears vibe but it’s generic and badly arranged. Paging Richard Harris!
- Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings — “Tell Me” (from 100 Days, 100 Nights, 2007) The first time I heard a Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings song, I thought it was some undiscovered soul nugget from the ’60s. The fact that they’re a group very much in the here and now astonished me. The band also backed Amy Winehouse on her critically adored recent album, but I enjoy Sharon Jones’ voice even more since it seems more “real” in a way I can’t really pinpoint. Among the songs on 100 Days, 100 Nights, “Tell Me” was my favorite; they go for an Aretha-’67 sound here and totally succeed.
- Jens Lekman — “I’m Leaving You Because I Don’t Love You” and “Sipping On Sweet Nectar” (from Night Falls Over Kortedala, 2007) Lekman must be the flavor-of-the-month indie pop artist at eMusic, since this album is getting the big push at the site. I was pleasantly surprised; his wry lyrics and cute melodies come across like the Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt with a serious ’60s pop fixation (notice a pattern here?). I picked “Leaving You” for its ingenious production which neatly quotes the piano riff from the Fifth Dimension’s “Wedding Bell Blues” and “Nectar” for its amiable disco-ish swirl. Good stuff.
- Jaye P. Morgan — “Fascinated” (from Jaye P. Morgan Lately!, 2005 reissue of a 1983 LP) How could I resist a song that the All Music Guide descibes as “a textbook summary of soft rock clichés of the early ’80s, from the trebly, over-mic’ed synths to a guitar solo that was almost certainly recorded by a man with feathered hair and aviator sunglasses wearing an open-collared shirt and designer jeans.” Ms. Morgan actually delivers a fun performance on a pop-lite confection with definite retro-’60s shadings (think the Pointer Sisters’ “He’s So Shy”).
- Planet 3 featuring Jay Graydon — “I Don’t Want to Say Goodnight” (from Music from the Planet, 2005) Generic Hollywood Power Ballad to the rescue! A super-slick production that reminds me of unsubtle late ’80s Kenny Loggins or Chicago — with screaming guitars, big percussion and an overly histrionic singer who unfortunately lacks the personality of a Loggins or Cetera. This tune was recorded in 1989, but until recently Planet 3′s accompanying album only came out in Japan, where they appreciate stuff like this apparently. So, so awesome. I could imagine this song playing at the Beverly Hills 90210 senior prom, say, or during the climax of some fist-pumping action movie (actually it did appear on the Navy Seals soundtrack).
- Michael Sembello — “Automatic Man” (from Bossa Nova Hotel, 1983) Sembello’s follow up single to his monster hit “Maniac” didn’t do quite as well chartwise, but I can remember enjoying this one even more than the hit back in ’83. Now it seems like a quaint yet bland little piece of electro-funk, but there ya go.
- Bettye Swann — “Make Me Yours” (from Make Me Yours, 1967) A good song and an R&B chart-topper, although eMusic’s version suffers from sound quality issues. I don’t think I’ve heard this one before, surprisingly enough. The production has a nice Motown-like swing and Swann’s honey-like voice is very appealing. I’ll have to check out more of her stuff.