Retro is always in. Forget fashion forward and dig in your dresser drawers for that T-shirt you've had since 1995. You know, the one from summer camp at Lake Wannasuck. It's worn in and comfortable.
That's pretty much what Christina Aguilera and Ray LaMontagne are doing with their new albums. They are pulling out records buried deep in their collections and said "I can do that."
For LaMontagne, he built off the Van Morrison-meets-Tim Buckley vibe he worked with on 2004's "Trouble," from the album of the same name. But instead of making a modern Tupelo Honey, LaMontagne decided to conjure up a weird and amazing brew of Nick Drake and Otis Redding for his new album, Till the Sun Turns Black.
"Three More Days" easily sounds like a song Redding could have released as a B-side to "(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay." With its woozy keys and subtle horns, the song is part blues torch song and part white-boy funk. LaMontagne's well-aged raspy voice brings the track home so much that it's difficult to imagine anyone making records right now trying to sing it.
Unlike LaMontagne, it's easy to imagine other singers trying out most of the tunes on Aguilera's new double-album, Back to Basics. Maybe that's because Aguilera's muses for this record are much more modern. While at first blush it seems that Aguilera wants to be Ella or Billie, her influences here range more to Madonna's Breathless Mahoney meets Fiona Apple with a canned '40s big band horn section. But there is little doubt that the artist formerly known as X-tina is the right singer for the tracks. Of all the teen queens to come out of the late '90s and early '00s, none have the vocal chops to pull off these songs.
Christina's magnificent instrument soars on the lead single "Ain't No Other Man" and excels on the torch songs.
But the best work, as Matthew Perpetua noted on his brilliant fluxblog.org, is when Christina fuses this new desire to be the considered a pantheon singer with her undeniable naughty song. Where Ella once sang that she wanted to "bite her initials into a sailor's neck," Christina explains that her husband makes "the panties drop" and her "cherry pop." Basically she's at her best when she sings about screwing. The best example is "Candyman," probably her best song since "Genie in a Bottle."