Lianne Smith, "Two Sides of a River." Back in the day, she mesmerized Twin Cities audiences singing with the rockabilly band Safety Last. Thirty years later, with her first solo recording, she's equally mesmerizing with a collection of finely crafted, personal and haunting songs.
Smoke Fairies. Gorgeous English female harmonies and sorrowful melodies underscored with hypnotic, earthy slide guitar. They don't have a U.S. record deal, so start online (www,smokefairies,com) with their videos; once you're under their spell, order all their discs.
"Twin Cities Funk & Soul." Leading up to the fabulous soul revue at the Cedar, the Secret Stash Records crew was all over the Twin Cities airwaves -- the Current's Local Show, KFAI's Rock House and Radio K. Missed all of it? Get the just-released compilation of original recordings and relive the Twin Cities R&B scene from 1964 to 1969.
BRIAN BALLERIA, Minneapolis
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Esperanza Spalding, the State. Her outstanding "Radio Music Society" presentation featured the singer/bassist's excellent 11-person, horn-heavy band and her own varied voices: sweet, soulful, soaring, sexy, dusky, airy, harmonic, scatty, jazzy. Spalding cleverly used spoken-word dramas to set up songs. Highlights: "Black Gold," a duet with Chris Turner (who sounded strikingly like Stevie Wonder) and a closing duet with just Spalding's bass and the lovely scatting voices of Leala Cyr and Spalding.
Michael Kiwanuka, Fine Line. The 24-year-old British newcomer's honeyed, raspy voice echoed such past greats as Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke and Bill Withers. Even though he did a Hendrix cover and one tune from his England-only debut, he didn't have enough material to justify 75 minutes of the same tempos, textures and ordinary jams. But this talented vocalist/guitarist would be a perfect opening act.
Yasiin Bey, the Guthrie. With his dancing, demeanor and words, the rapper/actor formerly known as Mos Def displayed a gracefulness seldom witnessed in hip-hop. He definitely added a new dimension to the Guthrie. JON BREAM, Star Tribune