There are a few new R&B singles that are well worth the dollar apiece it takes to download them from your favorite digital music store. Tweet is a Missy Elliott protégé who was introduced to the world through one of Timabaland's best-ever productions, 2002's "Oops, Oh My." The rest of her debut record, "Southern Hummingbird," was pretty forgettable, but now she's back was another great lead single, "Turn Da Lights Off," this time produced by Kwame.
I can't find much information about Tori Alamaze, except that she used to be a makeup artist. Her strange, sad and astonishingly good debut single, "Don't Cha," was produced by the consistently brilliant Cee-lo.
"Hills/Mulqueen's," Nightingale, from "Three"
Nightingale are a trio from Vermont who play a smooth, stealthily modernized kind of folk music, borrowing ideas and repertoire from Ireland, Quebec, New England, France and more, and weaving them seamlessly and cleverly together with an extraordinary blend of poise and passion. This song, the words of 1940s Vermont poet laureate Arthur Guiterman set to music by Pete Sutherland, is the opening track of Nightingale's third and latest record, "Three." The arrangement is simple, economical and delicately executed, with violin and accordion winding sinuously, seductively around Keith Murphy's lonely tenor. Salon Exclusive Free Download: "Hills/Mulqueen's"
"Dream Awake," The Frames, from "Burn the Maps"
I first experienced the Frames live last month, and left intrigued and impressed but far from wowed. Since then, their upcoming "Burn the Maps" has steadily insinuated itself into my consciousness. The Irish band plays overtly dramatic, emotionally over-the-top music that often seems to be reaching for the grandeur and sweep of U2. But frontman Glen Hansard doesn't have a Bono superman voice, he has the voice of a normal person and knows it, and he keeps the music on a very human, intimate scale. The band's new record's opening track, "Happy," might be my favorite song of this young year (and I'll be reminding you to download it as soon as it's made available on iTunes), but "Dream Awake," which moves from whisper to wail and back to whisper again, will work just fine as an introduction to the Frames. Free Download: "Dream Awake"
"Cudna Zena," Kocani Orkestar, from "Alone at My Wedding"
The chaotic music made by Macedonian brass band Kocani Orkestar and other similar Gypsy Balkan brass bands, largely exposed to the world through the astonishing films of Emir Kusturica, is, for me, some of the most viscerally emotional in the world -- from frantic, crazed, drunken elation to tearful, almost inexpressibly deep (drunken) sadness. I've found three tracks of theirs for download, through the excellent Belgian label Crammed. "Usti Usti Baba" (free download) and "Mi Bori Sar Korani" (free download) include vocals. I prefer the unadulterated brass experience of "Cudna Zena." Free Download: "Cudna Zena"
"Home," Six Organs of Admittance, from "School of the Flower"
Six Organs of Admittance are a California band led by repetition-obsessed John Fahey acolyte Ben Chasny. Their droning, neopsychedelic raga-rock, with lots of sincere strumming and eyes-closed improv, is entrancing if you're in the mood, snoozy if you're not. This track is made by the painfully expressive, beautifully degraded, disintegrating electric guitar sound. Free Download: "Home"
"Figaro (Stones Throw 101 Remix)," Madvillain, from "Stones Throw 101 Mix CD"
This is a brilliant remix of one of the best tracks on "Madvillain," 2004's best hip-hop record. An odd-meter African (Malian?) sample is tweaked just enough to fit in with a super-square beat, but not so much that the interplay among sample, beat and MF Doom's wayward drift isn't fascinating. Free Download: "Figaro (Stones Throw 101 Remix)"