Watching the video discs of two new DVD/CD concert packs drove home the point how "targeted" (or divisive) musical performers have become in the post- Michael-Jackson age.
A GUY THING: Whenever the film director shifts from the Paris stage to audience reaction shots in Bjork's "Voltaic: The Volta Tour" (Nonesuch, B), the view shows a sea of guys. This quirky, global pop diva's screechy, incantational vocals and halting, "Bjorklish" ruminations - here revved up with scorching synthesizers and pounding percussion, an all-female brass ensemble and florid tribal costuming and dancing - add up to a heavy, disorienting assault to the senses. Men embrace the head trip; women (including my usually open-eared wife) reject it as torture.
LOVE STRUCK: Same could be said, in reverse, with the new DVD/CD celebrating "Michael Buble Meets Madison Square Garden" (Reprise, B+). As this schmoozy smooth operator works through his swinging versions of "Me and Mrs. Jones," Leonard Cohen's "I'm Your Man," the Buble-penned "Home" and his cool cover of Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," the reaction shots show a sea of delighted female faces.
Buble even takes pity on a poor fella in their midst who's "already looking at his watch" during the first number. Bet he won the reluctant guy over, though, as he could you, too, gents.
AIMING FOR THE STANDS: It's not exactly fair to say Regina Spektor has sold out on "Far" (Sire, A-). Yet this set is clearly the singer/keyboardist's most targeted and accessible, focusing on the plaintive, pretty side of her creative pursuits while hiding away a prior, spitfire rocking nature.
HEARTLAND TREATS: If you relished the distinctive Dixie grit, thump and slip-shuffle of the Band, you'll likely lap up the new solo album by that group's raspy singer/drummer Levon Helm, "Electric Dirt" (Dirt Farmer Music/Vanguard, B+). Make a Band-Dead connection on "Tennessee Jed" and "Growing Trade," an original about a farmer forced to harvest a more lucrative crop. Other standouts: Louisiana-flared renderings of Randy Newman's "King Fish" and "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free."
Americana auteur Jeff Tweedy and bandmates work several kinds of wonderful on the self-titled "Wilco (the album" (Nonesuch, A-). Even more redundant, the set opens with a semi-mocking, rocking anthem to the restorative powers of "Wilco," then chops us up with the murderous "Bull Black Nova," pulls kids back from the brink of despair with "You Never Know" (note the George Harrison-like guitar riffs) and evokes John Lennon, too, on the forceful piano ballad "Everlasting Everything."
Another heartland hero, Patterson Hood (of Drive By Truckers fame) ventures out with the bristling, guitar-jamming "Murdering Oscar (and Other Love Songs)" (Ruth Street Records, B+). Nothing new, though juiced to a pulp.
Amy Speace revels in her commanding growl on "The Killer in Me" (Wildflower, B). Fans of Melissa Etheridge and the Indigo Girls could connect.
BLUES NOTES: Blues basher and cancer survivor Candye Kane flexes her muscles and regains her special sense of humor on "Superhero" (Delta Groove, B).
Davy Knowles of Back Door Slam takes top billing on "Coming Up For Air" (Blix Street, B), produced by Peter Frampton for maximum warmth and outreach to the Clapton fanbase.
Eccentric voodoo blues man Otis Taylor aims for something different in collaborations with jazz keyboardist Jason Moran on "Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs" (Telarc, B-). Some hits, some misses.
WHO NEEDS WORDS? Local bassist/composer hero Christian McBride clearly did his homework for "Kind of Brown" (Mack Avenue, A). The crafty tunes feel like instant classics, the solos (with Warren Wolf Jr. on vibes; Steve Wilson, sax; Eric Scott Reed, piano; Carl Allen, drums) are vibrant, concise and democratically shared.
Newly discovered on the German jazz label Pirouet, Nicolas Thys fronts "Virgo" (B+), evocative of those fine Keith Jarrett/Jan Gabarek collaborations. And Jurgen Friedrich walks the tightrope between jazz and contemporary chamber music on the artfully titled and phrased "Pollock" (B). *