Salute to International Women's Day: Holly Near, Sweet Lizzy Project and more

by Kevin Wierzbicki

In honor of March 8 being International Women's Day, today we take a listen to some of our favorite recently-released titles by women and woman-fronted groups. We start with a very on-topic documentary film about singer, actor and activist Holly Near.

Holly Near: Singing for our Lives (DVD)
This excellent film chronicles Near's life and career, showing her evolution from folk singer to actress to feminist and activist. Those only familiar with her musical output and activism may be surprised to learn that Near appeared in popular TV shows like "The Partridge Family," "All in the Family," "Mod Squad" and "L.A. Law" as well as feature films like "Slaughterhouse Five." This part of Holly's life is touched upon, and with film clips, but as a whole the film concentrates on how she became an activist for gay, women's and human rights and her work in the anti-war movement. With commentary from Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden, her cousin Kevin Bacon, some of her musical contemporaries and Near herself, a clear picture of why Near is so beloved develops. Of course there's lots of music too in this informative and entertaining film from multiple Emmy Award winner Jim Brown.

Sweet Lizzy Project - Technicolor
Imagine how difficult it must be for a Cuban rock band to make it in the U.S. in the current climate. Sweet Lizzy Project, fronted by singer Lisset Diaz, got a serious leg up on that thanks to Raul Malo of the Mavericks, who is of Cuban descent. Malo sponsored the band when they needed U.S. work visas, and his family even housed them. Flash forward three years and now this impressive debut album is available, featuring memorable pop-rockers like "Turn Up the Radio," the punk-tinged "Ain't Nobody to Call," and "Tu Libertad," a sublime groove that is one of only a couple of cuts here that reflect the band's Latin roots. Malo and the rest of the Mavericks appear on "The Flower's in the Seed," "Travel to the Moon" is a percussion-driven cut about love having grown cold while album closer "December 31st" is a quiet reflection of a not-so-great year coming to a close. Diaz's vocals are very easy to get used to and fans will no doubt be falling in love big time with Technicolor.

Karney - Better
Bay Area songstress Anna Karney presents four original songs on this five-cut EP. The title cut kicks off the effort; the song is a message of hope about how every person on the planet is in agreement when it comes to trying to feel better. "Trust" is also cautiously optimistic while "Snake Oil Salesman" is, as the song title indicates, a warning about falling under the spell of a silver-tongued devil. These three songs are done as folk-rockers with a bit of a prog bent; they mesh nicely with the more sedate arrangement of "Round and Round," a cut that recalls the work of acts like Renaissance. The one included cover song is a take on Led Zeppelin's "Ramble On" that sticks to the song's original arrangement. Karney sings and plays guitar and keyboards, assisted here by the likes of bass player Kevin White, guitarist James DePrato and trumpet player Bill Ortiz.

Jennifer Saran - Smoky Nights
Saran has had quite a run in the past few years, releasing records in the adult contemporary, holiday and R&B genres, with stars like Carlos Santana, Narada Michael Walden and Ladysmith Black Mambazo joining her in the studio. Here she shifts into a jazz mood for this five-song EP, and she's not content to cover jazz standards; she and Walden wrote all the tracks. Tommy Hall's piano and a sax and trumpet horn section set a sultry mood for the title track, and velvety sax also flavors the regret of "The Love is Now Gone." "Let the Waves Wash Over Me" has Jennifer singing to a Brazilian beat, "Don't Forget My Name" lives in the last glimmer of a love gone wrong and "Get Over Yourself" is a sassy and swinging cut, delivered so smoothly that the lyrical putdown might not hurt so much. Clearly Saran is very comfortable here and fans will be too.

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