Giant Step’s Resident 43: Jack Peñate, Asher Roth, Buraka Som Sistema, Chrisette Michele

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Photo of Asher Roth (c) Hannibal Matthews

By Mawuse Ziegbe

One of my favorite songs right now is Jack Peñate’s calypso-laced “Tonight’s Today.” The cheery percussion is buoyed by a heady choir, balmy guitar, plucky Kalimba and possibly the best of the use cowbell since The Rapture. A pale English kid with artfully mussed hair who’s besties with stars like Adele and The Maccabees, his 2007 debut Matinee features jittery rock with faint doses of ska tossed in for good measure. But any pouty kid with a garage and some guyliner can churn out guitar-driven pop. Cheers to Jack and his beachy jam; I raise my Mai-Tai in praise.

Another music man I must toast is Asher Roth. (Yes, that stoner kid with that stoner anthem, “I Love College.”) He and Chester French rocked the Blender Theater the day after the release of his debut, Asleep In The Bread Aisle. And I had so much fun! He and his equally blithe crew ripped songs like “Lion’s Roar” and “Be By Myself.” The band joined him for a quick rendition of Soul For Real’s “Candy Rain,” complete with the cheese-laden ’90s dance moves and then Beanie Sigel bounded out of irrelevancy to kick a verse. When the crowd erupted during “She Don’t Want A Man,” the flail of uncoordinated frat-boy arms was almost poetic. I was truly converted when he fired off a pro-organic food freestyle that both dropped jaws and silenced nonbelievers. The gleefully drunken college kid thing usually screams shallow, trendy hype but I really can’t hate on this. Sometimes, blonds just have more fun.

And if you’re into fun your new favorite band is Buraka Som Sistema. The Portuguese collective infuses the snappy Angolan genre of Kuduro with gritty club beats on their LP Black Diamond. They gripped a sold-out Bowery Ballroom with their urgent dance-or-die rhythms. I’ve posted up in more than a few venues but I’ve never seen New Yorkers go batshit like that. The group is officially four dudes but guest frontwoman/dancer/party-starter MC Blaya shut it down with her tremulous booty. The crowd bounced en masse, yelping along to hits like “Sounds Of Kuduro” and Buraka barely left the stage before the revelers whooped for an encore. Then, while DJ Sega gracefully crowd-surfed, the rest of the band splattered the audience with a Super Soaker.

Also doing the tour thing is Grammy-winning songstress Chrisette Michele. Her jazzy style harks back to that gin-swishing, smoking coat era when dames were dames and she flaunted her sass throughout her hour-long BB King’s set with angsty anecdotes about men who done done her wrong. With her platinum pixie and prefacing of “Best Of Me” with “has anyone ever fallen in love with an idiot?” she read like an adult contemporary Etta James. She also chatted about her John Legend collaboration, “Love Is You” breezed through her boppy single “Epiphany,” and enjoyed a brief guest appearance from Danity Kane’s D. Woods. Even with post-breakup bitterness, a 45-minute wait and random pop vixen cameos, the crowd was enamored with her. And that’s what makes a dame, a dame.

Chrisette Michele’s Epiphany Out Today

26 year old sultry-voiced singer Chrisette Michelle bestows her sophomore recording Epiphany upon us today. The follow up to her gold-certified, double Grammy-nominated debut I AM, Epiphany marks a transition away from her traditional leanings to a fuller integration of hip-hop soul. Opening with spacey keyboards and girl group backgrounds, Chrisette’s bold declaration of fly girl independence (“It’s over,” she sings) on “Epiphany (I’m Leaving)” featuring Ne-Yo sets the tone of most of the disc.

While angst and heartbreak is part of Chrisette Michele’s persona on this project, the power and strength of her material gives it the sound of a future classic.  Without a doubt, this is the first great album of 2009.

Stream tracks from the album here.