CD REVIEWS: Santigold, Carole King, Counting Crows

Santigold Master of My Make-Believe/Atlantic

The cover of Santigold’s 2008 self-titled debut featured a photo of the artist with gold-colored glitter flowing from her mouth. Never was an album cover photo more appropriate.

The music on that debut was ridiculously catchy, and Santigold’s sweet voice flowed through it in a way that recalled the pop goodness of the ’80s without overdosing on the synthesizers that often overpowered the music of that decade.

Santigold’s latest effort, “Master of My Make-Believe,” is more of the same, although I say that in the nicest way possible.

Opening with the assertive and boastful “GO!,” which features guest vocals by Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, each successive track sounds almost as if it was pulled from its own album. From the hypnotic “Disparate Youth” to the introspective “The Riot’s Gone,” Santigold is in top form here.

Her ability to mix styles such as reggae, hip-hop and R&B with a liberal dash of ’80s new wave makes for a signature sound, and one that Santigold has adeptly employed in two great albums so far.

Perhaps for album No. 3 Santigold will take a wild left turn, choosing to record a collection of sea chanteys. No matter what happens, for now this is an artist who has found her comfort zone, and is reveling in it.

Key Tracks: “GO!,” “Disparate Youth,” “Pirate in the Water”

Carole King The Legendary Demos/Hear Music

When talking about the music career of Carole King, it sometimes is difficult to decide where to start.

As a songwriter, King either wrote or co-wrote classics such as “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and “You’ve Got a Friend.” Her songs have provided hits for acts including Aretha Franklin, The Monkees, James Taylor and The Shirelles.

As a recording artist, King’s 1971 album, “Tapestry,” was the top- selling solo album of all time for more than a decade until it was unseated by Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” in 1982.

Now, a newly released CD gives fans a chance to hear some of her best songs back when they were new.

When listening to these actual demo recordings, you get a peek back to when they were nothing more than recently completed compositions, before the album sales, before the awards, before the radio airplay. The rough-around-the-edges recordings are the audio equivalent of grainy black-and-white photos from your parent’s scrapbooks. They are a remarkable moment captured in time.

When you hear songs such as “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” “It’s Too Late” and “You’ve Got a Friend” for what might have been the first time the songs were committed to tape, it’s something special. It’s also a testament to King’s talent how good these demos sound. They weren’t meant for commercial release, but instead as a way to show potential artists or record companies what a particular song sounded like. Despite that, the recordings here are magic.

Key Tracks: “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” “It’s Too Late”

Counting Crows Underwater Sunshine (or What We Did on Our Summer Vacation)/Collective Sounds

As hard as it might be to fathom for those of us who saw them at the Music Farm in 1994, next year will mark the 20th anniversary of the release of Counting Crows’ debut album, “August and Everything After.”

The album was an unexpected blockbuster thanks to strong songwriting, the voice of lead singer Adam Duritz and the infectious single “Mr. Jones.”

That album has allowed Counting Crows to enjoy a long and prosperous career, and the band recently released its first totally independent album, “Underwater Sunshine (or What We Did on Our Summer Vacation).”

While one would expect a band releasing its first album free from the constraints of a record label to swing for the fences creatively, Counting Crows instead has curiously opted for an album of cover songs. The potentially disappointing move is saved by one thing: the choice of songs included here.

Counting Crows has always loved throwing a cover or two into its shows, and the material here at least features some thought, even when it comes to the inevitable Bob Dylan cover. “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” is not a Dylan song that you hear covered as often as, say, “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35,” and Duritz and the rest of the band do a good job trying to make it theirs.

Other notable covers on the album include songs by Teenage Fanclub (“Start Again”), The Faces (“Ooh La La”), Big Star (“The Ballad of El Goodo”) and even Pure Prairie League (“Amie”).

While not really groundbreaking, “Underwater Sunshine” is a pleasant and fun detour by a great American band. Hopefully Counting Crows’ next release will demonstrate some true indie attitude.

Key Tracks: “Ooh La La,” “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” “The Ballad of El Goodo”

By Devin Grant