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Merchant back with original tunes Lykke Li hauntingly lovelorn on ‘Learn’

Natalie Merchant, “Natalie Merchant” (Nonesuch Records)
Natalie Merchant has never been one to pull punches.
From her start singing deceivingly jovial-sounding tunes about tough topics like child abuse and air pollution with seminal 1980s alternative rock band 10,000 Maniacs through her 21 years as a solo artist, Merchant has made her mark as an unflinchingly honest artist.
That fearlessness continues on the self-titled and self-produced “Natalie Merchant,” her first collection of entirely original songs in 13 years.
On the haunting “Giving Up Everything,” Merchant sings about mercy killing her craving, giving up her “cursed search for meaning.” Think of it as her version of John Lennon’s album.
Not everything is a downer. The opening track, “Ladybird,” is a jaunty toe-tapper. But that’s quickly followed by “Maggie Said,” which begins with the line: “Maggie said dig one more shallow grave before I’m dead.”
With her distinctive voice still in strong form as she enters her 50s, together with the lush backing of strings, piano, organ and the occasional woodwinds, Merchant creates a rich musical tapestry that transcends the typical vagary of pop music.

“I Never Learn,” Lykke Li (Atlantic)
Sweden’s Lykke Li delivers a full fusion of deep, soul-searching lyrics on “I Never Learn,” her third studio album and an artistic zenith for this talented singer.
“Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone” is a minimalist guitar-and-vocals-only track. Li’s voice strains in all the right places and pleads for love in others, meshing nicely into a raw display of emotion. The title track carries more production sheen, but retains an authentic feel as Li sings about falling too deeply in love.
There are no weak songs here, and the best comes on “No Rest for the Wicked.” Ghostly piano stabs echo until an avalanche of percussion falls over it all. It’s a poignant song about fighting to keep a relationship alive as it tears apart, territory that sounds personal when Li sings it.
In the end, it is love that is at stake on “I Never Learn.” Lykke Li adroitly captures the struggle that one must endure to keep love at the risk of losing it forever.
 

Jason Derulo knows his recent hit, “Talk Dirty,” is risque, but he’s not too worried about it.
“I try to be conscious of offending anybody, but not that much,” he said. “I really just try to do my thing and of course there is going to be backlash on every song that I do, so I don’t worry myself too much on that. People saying things like ‘objectifying women.’ I’m like, ‘What are you even talking about?’”
“Talk Dirty” has dominated pop radio, and the song has peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It has sold 3.2 million tracks and features lyrics like “but your booty don’t need explaining” and “first-class seat on my lap girl.”
“I wasn’t surprised that it would hit mainstream. I think in 2014 things, you know, are getting more and more free (and) liberal,” he said. “I hear a lot worse.”
The smash is from Derulo’s third album of the same name; it debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 albums chart last month. The album was released internationally last September under the title “Tattoos,” but the renamed American version features some new tracks.
Derulo, 24, says both his new album and single reflect his growth as a singer and songwriter.
 

“I’m comfortable with talking about what my life is and things that I go through,” said Derulo, whose hits include “Whatcha Say” and “In My Head.”
“This album is a direct representation of who I am as a person and how I speak,” he added. “If I was talking to my best friend, you know, this is how I would explain it.”
The album is Derulo’s first to feature guest stars, and hip-hop acts are a strong part of the pop singer’s project. Snoop Dogg, 2 Chainz, Pitbull, Tyga and Kid Ink make appearances.
Derulo, who is finding more success on the urban charts thanks to “Talk Dirty,” says he started musically in the hip-hop scene.
“Most people don’t know my background, but when I first started writing songs for other people it was for hip-hop artists,” said Derulo, who co-wrote Birdman’s “Bossy” and songs for Diddy that didn’t make his album.
“The world knew me as a pop artist when I first came out, which was cool, you know. I think I’m the first black male artist to actually come out as a pop artist,” he added. (AP)

By Scott Bauer

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