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Mary J. Blige takes on Led Zeppelin, the Lilith Fair heads to Tampa, the Court Yard Hounds rock

Check out these cover girls:

Bliged & Confused

It was a head-scratcher at first: Mary J. Blige, the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, covering Led Zeppelin? Her 2005 take on U2's One was earnest, heartfelt, seemingly inevitable. But MJB with a bustle in her hedgerow? I was skeptical. After hearing her belt Stairway to Heaven on a recent American Idol, however, it made over-the-top, blow-your-lungs-out sense. To hear her go after Robert Plant's tight-panted, macho notes was, at the very least, an empowering, bombastic thrill. But wait, it gets better: If you liked her Stairway, you'll love her randy B-side studio version of Zep's Whole Lotta Love, also available on iTunes. Most people are going to despise this, but I say loosen up and have some fun. Blink-182's Travis Barker keeps a hard dance beat, guitar superfreaks Orianthi and Steve Vai metal-shred the licks and a hilariously horned-up Blige goes after it: "Waaay down inside-uhhh!"

Spektor's 'Surprises'

There was never any doubt about this cover-girl equation: Russian-born singer Regina Spektor + art-rock champs Radiohead = weird, otherwordly magic. An iTunes exclusive benefiting Doctors Without Borders, Spektor's cover of No Surprises is stripped bare, just her piano and her cutely bittersweet vocal, like a Kewpie doll with an eye missing. Capturing the drudging monotony and quiet alienation of modern life, song and singer slowly swell until Spektor's breathing becomes labored, gulping for air, for escape, for hope, etc. Radiohead fans will get her sly hyperventilation reference: The original video for No Surprises was a closeup of frontman Thom Yorke wearing a space helmet that slowly, ominously filled with water. Gulp, indeed.

To hear Blige's Whole Lotta Love and Spektor's No Surprises, go to Pop Life online at blogs.tampabay.com/popmusic.

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The Lilith Playlist

Remember Lilith Fair? The chicks-rule-boys-drool summer music fest spearheaded by Canadian chanteuse Sarah McLachlan? Back in the '90s, before I had two daughters who turned me from an unrefined goon to a fat Alan Alda, I didn't pay much mind to "Girlapalooza." Sure, Lilith was a smash hit, the most successful multi-act tour of its ilk. But like a true Neanderthal, I always got the vibe that Y chromosomes were verboten. That if I tried to enter, the womyn would howl at me like Donald Sutherland at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Lilith only lasted a few years, but McLachlan is bringing it back this summer, including an Aug. 11 stop at Ford Amphitheatre in Tampa. Smart move. A la the late '90s, the pop marketplace is again dominated by great female singer-songwriters. When I heard about the Lilith reincarnation, I immediately thought of my daughters, ages 6 and 2. Good music, great message? I'm bringing them! In fact, we're practicing our rallying cries each night after dinner: Hey, hey, mister, mister! Get your laws off my sister! The local Lilith extravaganza won't have Mary J. Blige, Miranda Lambert or Rihanna, all of whom are appearing elsewhere; instead, we're getting a super-mellow star-packed set. So in festive playlist form, here's the lineup for the Aug. 11 Tampa stop of the Lilith Fair (plus each act's top tune). Go to livenation.com for ticket info.

1. The Path of Thorns (Terms), Sarah McLachlan

2. Sunrise, Norah Jones

3. This One's for the Girls, Martina McBride

4. Ain't No Son, Court Yard Hounds

5. Ya Me Voy, Ceci Bastida

6. Demon Kitty Rag, Katzenjammer

7. Turn Me Away (Get Munny), Erykah Badu

8. Breathe Me, Sia

9. Imperfect Is the New Perfect, Caitlin Crosby

10. Put Your Records On, Corinne Bailey Rae

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ALBUM REVIEW

Court Yard Hounds

Album: Court Yard Hounds (Columbia)

In stores: Tuesday

A new pecking order: Imagining the Dixie Chicks without Natalie Maines isn't much fun. For all her spitfire irascibility and political screech, the lead blond has one of the great siren calls in roots-rock, a twangy octave-spanning yelp that breaks hearts (Cold Day in July) as well as smashes them (Goodbye Earl). The other Chicks — sisters Emily Robison and Martie Maguire — add sweet harmony and dazzling musicianship, but there's no question who's the catalyst. Or so we thought. With Maines taking a prolonged creative break, the Other Two have flown off on their own, creating the totally winning side project Court Yard Hounds. Robison (she's the tall lanky one) takes the lead role, singing and writing, with Maguire (she's the fiddle-playing one) adding cowpunkish verve. The bootstrap spirit, inspired by Robison's recent divorce, is introspective and uplifting, reminiscent of the freedom-craving liberation of the Chicks' breakout album, 1998's Wide Open Spaces. And just like that record, the thematic story-songs here catch like crazy. There's a star-cross'd duet with Jakob Dylan, See You in the Spring, that gives new meaning to May-December romance; Robison's Sheryl Crowing vocal brushes up beautifully against Dylan's husky plea. Opener Skyline ("What am I doing here, in such a lonely place?") is a sly, solemn ballad about a young woman's gift for bounce-back-ability. The album isn't without its Chicks-style playfulness and spunk, either. The downright awesome Ain't No Son is a slugfest of a rocker and should sound great when the Hounds play the Lilith Fair in Tampa on Aug. 11.

Download these: See You in the Spring (with Jakob Dylan), Ain't No Son and It Didn't Make a Sound

Grade: A

ALBUM REVIEW

Mary J. Blige takes on Led Zeppelin, the Lilith Fair heads to Tampa, the Court Yard Hounds rock 04/30/10 [Last modified: Friday, April 30, 2010 6:55pm]
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