Shemekia Copeland, "33 1/3" (Telarc)
The Congregation, "Right Now Everything" (The Congregation)
Continuing Chicago's hot season for local releases, these two scorchers advocate forcefully for the city's soulful roots. Shemekia Copeland, nearly 15 years into a career but only as old as this album's title, seems to have been bequeathed Koko Taylor's title as Queen of the Blues. She deserves it, showcasing on "33 1/3" the worthwhile effort and resulting majesty in successfully blending old-world soul with new-age sass. Sticking with producer Oliver Wood (who guided her first post-Alligator Records outing, 2009's "Never Going Back") and restocking the cupboard with rich material (Bob Dylan, Sam Cooke, her dad Johnny Copeland) -- and joined on one track by Buddy Guy ("Ain't Gonna Be Your Tattoo") -- Copeland delivers a moody, smoky set worthy of some kind of crown.
Meanwhile, the Congregation makes its debut with a formidable full-length filled with churchy soul and jazzy rock. After a summer sharing stages with Wilco and the Flaming Lips, this eight-piece ensemble arrives in the wake of buzz surrounding some other old-school contemporaries, Alabama Shakes. The Congregation's Gina Bloom, though, is a different kind of singer -- more eager, mischievous, alluringly androgynous (a female foil for Taylor Hanson?). The band, too, is nimble and highly caffeinated, applying gospel grooves (the title track) as easily as slinky sugar-daddy lovin' ("High Class"). Yes, they can get my amen!
David Byrne & St. Vincent, "Love This Giant" (4AD) -- A baffling combination, this cross-generational collaboration is more exciting on paper than it delivers to the ears. A collage of left-turn melodies and herky-jerky rhythms -- plus an initially endearing then wearying brass band -- the two disparate personalities intersect on occasion (the vocal interplay of "Lazarus") but never quite blend. The tracks with Byrne in the lead are most enjoyable (the sweet pining of "Dinner for Two," the "Miss America"-like jubilee of "The One Who Broke Your Heart") and he at least sounds somewhat invigorated. Anything that inspires more recording and fewer books from him is a good thing.
Postscript -- Shadowing Byrne like a vengeful ex, the Tom Tom Club (comprised of fellow former Talking Heads and now husband-wife team of Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth) showed up the same week with a new song, their first new material in more than a decade. But "Downtown Rockers" is a dull, limp little romp down memory lane, name-checking bands from New York's glory days, and a video featuring Richard Hell and Debbie Harry.
More '80s notes -- Not only has a superb, two-disc tribute album to Talk Talk just been released -- "Spirit of Talk Talk" (Fierce Panda) , featuring Zero 7, Duncan Sheik, Turin Brakes and many more interpreting this transformative and often misunderstood band's hits and deep cuts -- but Talk Talk's Mark Hollis showed up last week with his first new music in 14 years. Alas, it's less than a minute long and only played during the closing credits of the Sept. 21 episode of Chicago-centric series "Boss." Sigh, we'll take what we can get.