Album reviews: Katy B's "On A Mission" and "Acoustic Cafe" - Reverb

Album reviews: Katy B, “On a Mission” and Various Artists, “Acoustic Cafe”

Katy B, “On a Mission” (Columbia)

Because we needed another pop diva named Katy.

Only this time, Katy B is a very different creation than Katy Perry. Whereas Perry attained worldwide fame via accessible melodies, sinfully addictive hooks and good, old-fashioned sex appeal, Ms. B arrived via a very different path.

Katy B’s “On a Mission” was released in the U.K. in April, drawing attention for its genre-skipping love of electronic music. Instead of hiring the biggest names in pop music (Perry, for example, worked with Swedish hitmaker Max Martin) B worked with stars of the U.K. underground, including Geeneus, the groundbreaking DJ/founder of Rinse FM radio in London.

After months of U.K. love, which included a prestigious Mercury Prize nomination, “On a Mission” was released stateside earlier this month. And in a way, it’s the perfect record for late 2011.

This release is more adventurous and spirited than anything Perry has ever released. And B has a voice that is ideal for the Year of Adele — a full-bodied, voluptuous alto as seductive as it is authoritative.

It helps, too, that her preferred mode —- from bass-heavy dubstep to fun-loving house music —- has never been bigger. Electronic music is filling arenas as often as rock ‘n’ roll anymore, and that might just help B become a mainstream presence a la Bassnectar and Tiesto.

The dark beats and sassy vox of “Disappear” make for a savvy update on the trip-hop model, which needed the polish B provides. “Katy on a Mission” is an expert melding of her two worlds, electronic and pop, and she handles the crossover with more grace than the Black Eyed Peas and more street cred than David Guetta.

Katy B and her smart team of producers are teaching a thing or two to pop artists, who’ve been relying more and more on electronic production for their hits. By focusing on challenging dance aesthetics as opposed to the ease of pop, she’s created something that actually sounds different. And you just can’t say that about many records in 2011.

Various Artists, “Acoustic Cafe” (Putumayo)

Putumayo’s work in releasing quality world music is largely unparalleled, and now the respected label is laying the rail for a slightly more local compilation.

“Acoustic Cafe” is Putumayo’s first contemporary singer-songwriter mix, and you can’t take away from the pedigree of its featured artists. Sarah Jarosz is a rising star in both the bluegrass and folk worlds. Justin Townes Earle, the son of legend Steve Earle, has a talent that runs beyond his privileged bloodline. And the Waifs have spread their Australian folk all over the world for nearly two decades now.

There’s even a Colorado boy in there —- Gregory Alan Isakov, one of the most prolific voices in the metro area. Isakov, who lives outside of Boulder, has his “The Stable Song” featured here, and it’s a winning, sweeping composition deserving of such company.

A couple of the lesser-known standout tracks here come from Brown Bird and Lucy Kaplansky. Brown Bird’s understated, bluesy folk music triumphs in their “Danger and Dread,” and Kaplansky’s “Manhattan Moon” features a memorable, pop-rooted melody that could easily stick in your head — along with her seemingly familiar voice.

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Ricardo Baca is the founder and executive editor of Reverb, the co-founder of The UMS and an award-winning critic and journalist at The Denver Post.