On the first Cotillon album, singer/songwriter Jordan Corso worked with JR White of Girls fame to craft a fairly lush version of what Jad Fair might sound like if backed by a super-competent band of indie rockers. Corso's plaintive, homespun vocals contrasted well with the expansive music, but at times it felt like an ill fit. The second Cotillon album, 2017's The Afternoons, presents a course correction that sees Corso working with producer Shane Butler and a smaller group of musicians. Gone are horns, layers of guitars, and any traces of slickness. Instead, Corso's winning vocals and tales of life are delivered in much scrappier fashion. The guitars are wiry and tough, the rhythm section is recorded live and lively, and the occasional synths drop in to make some noise. Like the first album, the songs are stories and Corso comes across as a lovable guy, with a little more romantic success this time. While most of the tracks lope along calmly in fine post-Pavement slacker style -- both fast like on "Secret" and slow and shambly as on "10 Dish Set" -- Corso mixes in a few changeups to keep it interesting. The vocoder-sung ballad "Promises 2" is a real curveball; the motorik groove of "SFO" is another one that gives the album an energy boost right when it needs it.
The snappy pop tune "Fang" is a tiny pop gem that's likely to be the mixtape pick of Beat Happening fans who are lucky enough to discover the record. It comes together really nicely in the end, with Corso sounding more at home in the stripped-down arrangements, and the album is a definite improvement over the band's debut.
Pert looks and pushup bra? Check. Throaty, pint-sized voice? Check.
Digital reverb, multi-tracking, and arrangements inspired by televised Olympics coverage? Check. Houston, we are "go" for Calculated Crossover! Not to malign crossover, mind you: though it's as far from the heart of classical music as Pat Boone's In a Metal Mood: No More Mr. Nice Guy was from hard rock, it is a distinct genre with a well-established audience base and a number of smartly branded, very bankable artists. The problem here is that, with her cookie-cutter debut La Diva (must we laud ourselves in Italian?), Katherine Jenkins makes no effort to carve out a niche for herself, instead offering uninspired, formulaic retreads of acts already on the market. If you've heard Charlotte Church, Sarah Brightman, Andrea Bocelli, or Josh Groban, you've already heard this album (at times literally, as witnessed by the opening track "Time to Say Goodbye," made famous by Brightman and Bocelli), and for the most part you've heard it done more memorably. Though she is older than Church by a number of years, Jenkins' voice is no more developed or capable (though it is slightly more polished). She doesn't have the flashy high notes or wispy allure of Sarah Brightman, or any of the legitimate chops that made Andrea Bocelli the only crossover singer to actually cross over. But she has cover girl looks and a pleasant, mike-friendly voice, so she may indeed score a hit.In the obligatory "sung in a foreign language" category, Jenkins offers numbers in passable Italian, Spanish, and French. Her "O sole mio" has been drained of its Italian seasonings and omits the usual climactic high note; her sexless "Séguédilla" (often spelled Seguidilla) from Carmen takes its only moment of personality from an interpolated laugh that was obviously edited in. In the "famous piece of instrumental music turned into a song" category, she offers "En Aranjuez con tu amor," based on Joaquín Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez (for guitar and orchestra). Batting cleanup in the "inspirational" category, both John Williams' "Hymn to the Fallen" (from the film Saving Private Ryan) and Rodgers and Hammerstein's "You'll Never Walk Alone" will have you reaching for your snare drum.
Jenkins comes across best in "Calon Lan," sung in her native Welsh: there is a sense of expressive purpose and linguistic fluidity that is sorely missing from much of the rest of the album, and it makes for very pleasant listening. Mozart's mostly unmolested "Laudate Dominum" is similarly enjoyable for its simplicity and faithfulness to its original form.