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the bird and the bee (2007)

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The Bird And The Bee

As a label, Blue Note has been changing its focus, drifting closer and closer to mainstream pop material -- not that there's anything wrong with this, but it is a bit of a shock that the name label in jazz since 1939 is looking for hits with Elisabeth Withers and a third Norah Jones offering. That said, the Metro Blue imprint of the label is as adventurous as ever, and the self-titled offering from the Bird and the Bee is about as eclectic as it gets. the Bird and the Bee are vocalist and songwriter Inara George (for music historians, she is the daughter of the late Little Feat singer, guitarist, and songwriter Lowell George) and multi-instrumentalist/producer Greg KurstinInara George issued her solo debut, All Rise, to little notice in 2004, and Kurstin handled keyboard and drum machine chores on that one. The duo's debut album is a showcase for ten small, elegant, and strangely sophisticated pop songs that incorporate French pop (and Europop in general), some tropicalia and samba, and a postmodern form of space age bachelor -- and bachelorette -- music. Yet, the end product is more musical and complex than all of them. In its own way, this is as strange as anything by Jane Siberry or Brigitte Fontaine, as quirky as Jill Sobuleor Jane Birkin (during her latter Serge Gainsbourg period), and much drier than (while remaining as confessional as) Sam Phillips during her Martinis & Bikinis phase. All of that said, mood music or a backdrop hanging sound isn't the point or the end result. Inara George is more than simply hip -- she's savvy, poetic, and quick-witted: "A pretty idiot is kissing/Everyone she doesn't know/And the pigs are eating popcorn/Selling tickets to the show." The shimmering pop samba in "My Fair Lady" could have been in Breakfast at Tiffany's if the film had been made in 2007 and starred Dorothy Parker in the lead role: "I need someone to show a little kindness/If he can turn his head, a little blindness/I know I might seem a little aimless/And I can also be a little shameless." Kurstin wraps these irony-filled lyrics in layers of skeletal keyboards and beats. The music shimmers, shakes, slightly jerks, and shimmies. This is the place where smart little drinks and hidden emotions find their adjoining playgrounds. And ultimately, this music is playground pastiche, but that's far from a criticism. The sheer instinct and musical dexterity at work here make the album irresistible -- and in particular "I Hate Camera," with its rounded and warm skittering loops and faux harpsichord keys keeping pace with jangling keyboard sounds and sputtering vocal effects. This is a record that gives up its secrets slowly, while being charming and delightful at every turn.