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Pop Making Sense
Special to the Online Edition of Windy City Times
by David Byrne with Tony Peregrin

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Please, overlook Britney Spears' The Singles Collection.

She has made little go a very long way with that nasally, weak voice. There are several talented female singer-songwriters who deserve more of the spotlight. Keeping the spirit of their inspiring predecessors alive, these artists shed the stereotype of a woman toting her guitar to yet another coffee shop.

It may have taken a long time for Billie Myers to follow up her 2000 sophomore set Vertigo, but Tea & Sympathy is worth the wait. She previewed some of the material at 2008's Northalsted Market Days.

The opener, "Lady Jane," shares the struggling theme found on "Am I Here Yet ( Return to Sender ) ." However, it is in heartache that the bisexual beauty finds her voice. Myers could have a monster hit equivalent to her breakthrough "Kiss the Rain" with "I Hope You're Happy Now." There is no chance for love's remedy by the time "Anonymous" comes on. Even favoring the strumming of an acoustic guitar, Myers finds strength on "No Regrets Allowed." On the polished pop effort "Painfully Happy," she collaborates with Marcella Detroit, formerly of Shakespears Sister. Myers' Tea & Sympathy is out now on her label Fruitloop Records.

Imogen Heap has gone from obscurity to becoming the object of the O.C.'s affection to debuting in the Top 10 with her latest, Ellipse. This time her take on electronica is more accessible. The catchy "Bad Body Double" already has been heard on the TV show Heroes. Ellipse also has the dramatic "2-1" and the mostly a cappella "Little Bird." But "First Train Home" and "Wait It Out" are the set's highlights.

The two-time Grammy nominee is a spectacle live. She samples her own voice and loops it for a rhythm section. Heap's tour comes to Chicago on Tuesday, Nov. 24, at The Vic Theatre, 3145 N. Sheffield.

Need more Heap? Check out her duet with IAMX "My Secret Friend." In the video the statuesque Heap and Chris Corner swap gender roles.

She has designed aprons. Now Kathleen Blackwell is releasing her debut outing, To Be Human, before launching her clothing line Cougar Rock. Drawing influence from Tori Amos, the classically trained Blackwell makes quite an impression on the piano-based "I Don't Know." Her edgier side is revealed on "Imago," but seduces listeners on the breathless, jazzy title track. Also featuring the lush "Crush" and the rocking "Broken," Blackwell's To Be Human is out now.

Fronted by Florence Welch, Florence and the Machine has taken Britain by storm. Now the buzzworthy act's debut Lungs is exploding within the blogosphere stateside. In particular, the tale of violence in relationships on "A Kiss with a Fist" has garnered a lot of attention. Here, Welch sings, "a kick to the teeth is good for some, a kiss with a fist is better than none." Sex and the City fans should recognize the closing track "You've Got the Love." This is a remake of the number played during the final scene of the HBO series.

Newcomer Diane Birch conjures up the spirits of the great songwriters from the 1960s and '70s on her debut, Bible Belt. Despite its title, Bible Belt is not a preachy record, although religious images are present as the Michigan-born Birch sings "Devil's got my baby" on "Choo Choo." On "Fire Escape" and "Nothing But a Miracle," she resembles Carol King, whereas she steps into Joss Stone's turf on "Photograph." Even "Ariel" could be a long lost Elton John treasure. Bible Belt is out now on S-Curve Records.

Adding some flare to these songbirds is Ledisi. On her latest, Turn Me Loose, she recruits elite producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis on "Higher Than This" and soul mastermind Raphael Saadiq on "Love Never Changes" and "Please Stay." Ledisi brings in the fun and funk on "Running'" and "Everything Changes," whereas "Goin' Thru Changes" and "The Answer to Why" show off her vocal range over a mid-tempo arrangement. Along with Eric Benet and Mint Condition, Ledisi is part of The Sexy Soul Tour, which will be at The Arie Crown Theater, 2301 S. Lake Shore, on Friday, Nov. 13.

Anjulie's '60s-flavored self-titled bow serves as a relief of retro-darling Amy Winehouse's constant drama. The lead single, "Boom," has been licensed to different shows like Melrose Place and Vampire Diaries after it held the top spot on the dance charts, courtesy of the Blank & Jones remix. However, Anjulie does misstep with "Colombia" and "I Want the World to Know." These come across as cruise-ship commercials. But redemption is found is the romantic "Rain" and "Day Will Soon Come." Remixes of "Love Songs" are getting this nugget some airplay in nightclubs. Anjulie's debut is one that is worth sharing with young-at-heart gay friends in their 40s and tween nieces alike.

With a name like Polly Scattergood, show biz is a definite destination. The young English storyteller has a light, airy voice that is perfect for the ethereal "I Am Strong." "Bunny Club" recalls the underappreciated Black Box Recorder. This self-titled debut comes to life with the slow-building "Other Too Endless" and concludes with the piano ballad "Breathe in Breathe Out." This Mute release leaves Scattergood coming across as a fresh, quirky protégé of Bjork or Kate Bush.

Lastly, to further celebrate the world of wonderful female musicians, is now live. Yes, the women's music concert series will return next year. Select stops for the international 2010 tour have been posted.

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