Do It, Dido
Her rags-to-riches pop-diva fairy tale continues.
In 1998, British pop star Dido was a struggling backup singer for the dance-music act Faithless, with a day job in publishing and no record deal in sight. By the end of the next year, she’d abandoned her trip-hoppy cohorts and launched a risky solo career that landed her a platinum album (No Angel), a hit song with Eminem, and a slew of awards—not to mention the dubious honor of having one of her singles used on the WB network. Now the classically trained pop princess is back with a follow-up album, Life for Rent, that’s full of the same spacey melodies and soulful vocals that caught the world’s attention two years ago. Lyrics like “Try to remind myself that I was happy here before I knew that I could get on a plane and fly away” show a more mature sensibility. She’s got issues with success—who doesn’t? Still, she’s very much in the groove—and her fans will approve. Sara Cardace
Details: Dido, Life for Rent, September 30 (Arista).
A four-CD set reprises the career of the coolest R&B crooner. But what’s in the box is anything but square.
Its title might be portentous and its track listing mostly unimaginative, but The Immortal Soul of Al Green still manages to reveal a lot about one of the world’s most oddly affecting soul singers. Because what The Immortal Soul lacks in imagination it makes up in depth: four CDs that clock in at more than 60 minutes each. The first disc is particularly satisfying: Here, Green songs like “Back Up Train” move to the easy, rock-steady groove that inspired reggae groups like the Wailers. If the remaining CDs present more familiar material (“Belle,” “Take Me to the River”), it’s no less inspiring: Of all the legendary soul singers, only Green could move listeners without overemoting. He made minimalism moving. Ethan Brown
Details: Al Green, The Immortal Soul of Al Green, September 16 (Hi/The Right Stuff).
In the Stew
A major-league under- ground wit plans to hit the big time. His idea of crossover? “They cross over to me.”
Mark “Stew” Stewart, leader of the intermittently performing, semi-notoriously monikered the Negro Problem and probably the most entertainingly ironic songwriter since Elvis Costello, has a problem of his own. Born amid the vast nowhere of southern La Brea Avenue, the former Santa Monica security guard who’s been described as the Noel Coward of Silverlake is working on a musical detailing L.A.’s bohemian scene. The problem is, “there isn’t any,” says Stew, who has been compared to everyone from Billy Strayhorn, Arthur Lee, and Kurt Weill, to a way funkier Jimmy Webb. “Hollywood’s a giant funnel. Cool people disappear. Four years later, they’ve got a nice car and they’re writing jingles. Nothing wrong with jingles—but Hollywood sucks in everything and kills it, just for fun.” Recently, Stew, now 41, large but nimble, has been dreaming another bohemian dream—i.e., moving to New York, a potentially more copacetic landscape for his “Afro Baroque” sensibility. “Last time I was in the city, we saw Taylor Meade, the old beatnik, read in a café on the Bowery. Now, Taylor Meade is about 83, but the fact that the city maintained an infrastructure to let him keep doing his thing was inspiring . . . It gave us the idea of moving to Jackson Heights.” As he contemplates the move, his new CD, Something Deeper Than These Changes, is out this month. Featuring lines like “I left L.A. way back when it was still breathing, to pitch a tent in Brooklyn and simulate a heathen,” the new disc is his most emotionally straightforward work to date, but Stew doesn’t expect to be transformed “into a Top 40 guy from a Top 400 guy.” His idea of “crossover” is, “they cross over to me.” Except, perhaps, to cross to this coast. Stew, as he’s now going by, is scheduled to reprise his exceedingly swinging sessions at Joe’s Pub on September 10, but a longer-term gig is in the works. “A residency—sort of a downtown Bobby Short—that would be cool,” says Stew, bohemian-in-transit. Mark Jacobson
Details: Stew, Something Deeper Than These Changes, September 23 (Image Entertainment)
He Won the Wet
Andrew W.K.’s new disc, The Wolf, is at the door.
Where are you right now, and what are you doing?
I’m on tour, as always.
Why do you say “as always”?
Because I’ve done more than 300 concerts since I Get Wet. It’s addictive. I’m still going, and I’m not going to stop.
It feels like your music hasn’t left permanent rotation, either—can that really be you singing in all of those commercials?
It is. People thought the Kit-Kat commercial was a ripoff, but it was me. I wrote that song—it’s my mom’s favorite candy bar. Some people would like me to feel that’s a bad thing, but I don’t think my music needs protection. I don’t want to build a private world for my music. I want people to touch it.
The connection you have with fans seems very personal. You even have a Kiss Army of sorts called W.K.’s Wolves.
The great thing about that is, the fans came up with that name. That’s why the new album is called The Wolf—it’s to thank my fans for enjoying the music.
Could a W.K. religion be next?
No, but I can relate to what people create from religious belief. They build a cathedral, not a shack. That’s what my music’s about. It’s not about some small definition of music but creating the most exciting thing possible—and then repeating it again tomorrow. E.B.
Details: Andrew W.K., The Wolf, September 9 (Island Records).
June Carter Cash’s posthumous farewell: the saddest song.
Her kin wrote “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” so it’s only fitting that June Carter Cash’s last recordings bring her back to her beginnings. Nine of the songs on Wildwood Flower are Carter Family classics, and one track starts with a snippet of her performing with her mother and sisters on the radio back in 1944. Four months after her death, the album comes across as an elegiac look back at a life filled with feeling but punctuated by tragedy. Here, she brings a forgiving tone to originals like “Kneeling Drunkard's Plea” and “Storms Are on the Ocean.” She sang some of these songs her entire life, and at least part of their weight comes from the fact that it’s the last time she will. Robert Levine
Details: June Carter Cash, Wildwood Flower, September 9 (Dualtone).
The Best of the Rest
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Take Them On, On Your Own The post-punk revivalists evolve into a more accessible Nine Inch Nails. (September 2; Virgin.)
Spiritualized, Amazing Grace Jason “Spaceman” Pierce ditches the orchestra and delivers straight-up garage rock. (September 9; Spaceman Records.)
Elvis Costello, North The experimenteur abandons guitar basics for noirish piano ballads. (September 23; Deutsche Gramophone.)
David Byrne, Lead Us Not Into Temptation Mogwai and Belle & Sebastian join the strange one on his mostly instrumental score to Ewan McGregor’s Scottish thriller Young Adam. (September 9; Thrill Jockey.)
Seal, Seal IV The sultry-voiced Nigerian Londoner named his first release in five years after himself. Again. (September 9; Warner Bros.)
John Mayer, Heavier Things Expect a more eclectic, more electric Mayer on his more sophisticated follow-up to Room for Squares. (September 9; Aware/Columbia.)
David Bowie, Reality The Thin White Duke returns just fifteen months after last year’s Heathen. (September 16; ISO/Columbia.)
Aretha Franklin, So Damn Happy The Queen of Soul claims this is her best album in 22 years. Fellow diva Mary J. Blige chimes in on two songs. (September 16; Arista.)
Shelby Lynne, Identity Crisis Still sifting through a lifetime of hurt, the country outsider drew inspiration from Patsy Cline and Willie Nelson. (September 16; Capitol.)
Erykah Badu, World Wide Underground The soulful R&B songstress collaborates with Lenny Kravitz, Queen Latifah, and Angie Stone. (September 16; Motown.)
DMX, Grand Champ Rumor has it that the gravel-voiced rapper may ditch music for acting. Look for appearances by Eve, 50 Cent, and Patti LaBelle. (September 16; Ruff Ryders/Def Jam.)
Sting, Sacred Love It’s been four years, but he’s back with an emotionally charged album said to be inspired by the events of September 11. (September 30; A&M.)
Peaches, Fatherfucker The Berlin punk-rapper with the filthy mind practices reciprocation: She and Iggy Pop trade vocal tracks on each other’s releases. (September 23; Beggars/XL.)
Rufus Wainwright, Want One The dreamy crooner composes dense, symphonic songs, one melding 300 tracks of his voice. (September 23; DreamWorks.)
Dave Matthews, Some Devil Phish front man Trey Anastasio stops by on the debut solo album of the man who brought frat rock to the mainstream. (September 23; RCA/Bama Rags.)
Outkast, Speakerboxxx: Love Below Andre 3000 and Big Boi follow the brilliant bombast of 2000’s Stankonia with two groove-heavy solo discs. (September 23; Arista.)
Bette Midler, Bette Sings Rosie: The Rosemary Clooney Songbook A tribute record produced by Barry Manilow. (September 30; Columbia.)