Cyndi and Anne take different directions on latest releases

Cyndi Lauper and Anne McCue
WHO’S THAT GIRL? | Venturing into different genres, Lauper, above, and McCue change their music game by trying on new sounds.

RICH LOPEZ | Staff Writer

3 out of 5 stars
Broken Promise Land
Anne McCue
Flying Machine Records

With four albums under her belt, Anne McCue takes a musical turn on her fifth, Broken Promise Land. She veers from her usual acoustic fare and plugs her guitar in to satisfying effect. With some high pedigreed musicians backing her up, Promise Land works — except that she drowns out her vocals so much.

McCue’s step is a valiant effort, but the album plays as if it’s wearing a veil. A muddled production takes away the drive and her vocals are reduced to unintentional mumbling. Either that or I got a bad copy. Much is lost in the album’s final production value that she, um, also produced.

Beyond that, it isn’t half bad. Promise Land opens with the strong “Don’t Go To Texas (Without Me),” a vibrant ode to an almost lost lover. This is also the album’s first single and its most commercial. Had she put the closing song, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Outlaw.” next to “Texas,” the album would make more a declarative impression of her rocker chick ways. Instead, we downshift into the slower “Ol’ Black Sky.”

McCue has a nice grip on the dreamy rocker song ala The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm.” She’s never as epic but McCue maintains a magical latch to keep an audience alongside her. Her voice, which is notoriously thin on this album, is suitable for this and similar songs “Motorcycle Dream,” and “The Old Man’s Talkin’.” The trio of songs is seductive and lulls the listener into fascinating depths of aural journeys.

Her guitar growls on “Lonesome Child” and follows a similar galloping gait in “Cruisin’ Paradise (Tenerife)” and the title track. However, she almost falls victim to it. McCue almost wants too much to break away from her usual sound, that her guitar playing takes center stage and begs the question: Who is the star of this album, Anne McCue or her guitar playing?

McCue never lashes out vocally until “Outlaw” when she had plenty of opportunity in the nine songs prior. She felt restrained and almost afraid to have at it vocally. Perhaps a part of her thinks she’s not ready to be the next Joan Osborne or Sheryl Crow.

But if Broken Promise Land is any sign, then she’s at least not far off.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Memphis Blues
Cyndi Lauper
Mercer Street Records

Two things are absolutely true when you put Memphis Blues on. First, if you don’t like blues music, you won’t like this one. Second, if you’re a Cyndi Lauper devotee, you may wonder what she’s up to.

Calling this the album she’s always wanted to record, Lauper heads to the south for some blues on her 11th CD. Boiled down, this is a cover album, but consider it a celebration of the genre. Lauper may not be vocally adept for this style, but her appreciation shows in both her conviction of delivery and some star-studded help from the likes of Allen Toussaint, Jonny Lang and B.B. King.

Lauper’s signature voice is a little too quirky for these blues bits as in the bawdy “Just Your Fool”or “Rollin’ and Tumblin’.” She doesn’t have that soulful quality or throaty longing in most blues, but her efforts are respectable. Lauper is giving herself all to this style and the good intentions don’t go unnoticed.

In fact, the album plays more like Lauper the actress singing rather than the pop star. Her performance is just that instead of an emotional delivery. The artist isn’t saying much here that would further her credibility, but she has fun here like she’s introducing listeners to some old friends of hers.

Her raspiness though is ideal for the slower tracks. “Down So Low” reflects that bluesy downtrodden tone while “Romance in the Dark” makes the most of her nasally vibrato which can be an acquired taste. But here, she’s less gymnastic with her vocals. She gives in to the song and almost lets it take her where she needs to go.

The music itself is lush. Blues may play better with some grit, but Lauper and Scott Bomar have produced some intricate layers of horns, drums and guitars that are as comfortable as any Serta mattress. Lang’s and Toussaint’s appearances are most prominent but when Lang chimes in on “How Blue Can You Get?,” all is just right with the world.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 25, 2010.