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Dita Von Teese goes from burlesque queen to French style pop songstress

French singer and songwriter Sébastien Tellier with Dita Von Teese.
French singer and songwriter Sébastien Tellier with Dita Von Teese.
Gilles Laurent

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Every week we get a preview of new music for our feature Tuesday Reviewday. Following are this week's picks from music journalist Steve Hochman. 

Joey Dosik

Album: “Game Winner”

If there was ever a song tailor made for A Martinez, here it is: A concept EP inspired by a love for basketball, made by a lifelong Lakers fan, Los Angeles-based keyboard player and composer Joey Dosik. What’s more, he wrote and recorded this while recovering from surgery after tearing an ACL in a regular pick-up game. Here's his song, "Game Winner."

Dosik may have come of age in the Kobe Bryant era, and the song “Competitive Streak” includes sly references to his formative heroes Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but his musical tastes clearly run to the time Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West were winding up their careers in the early ‘70s. The sensual balladry of Marvin Gaye and the Spinners comes to mind, the former particularly on the slinky “Running Away.”

Now, he’s no rookie. A protege of Quincy Jones, he’s collaborated with Vulfpeck, Nikka Costa and many others, and toured with Lake Street Dive. But this expanded EP is his point-guard moment, a chance to make a name for himself, the homemade release recently picked up by national indie label Secretly Canadian. This is just a start. He’s got the ball. Now let’s see what he does with it.

Janiva Magness

Album: “Love Is an Army”

There's a theme running through Janiva Magness’ recent work. Her last album, for which she had a 2016 Grammy nomination for contemporary blues album, was titled “Love Wins Again.” Now, after a 2017 EP to recharge her batteries by plumbing the depths of some classic blues standards, she returns with “Love Is an Army.” Love, it seems, is a fight for her. But more to the point, it’s what keeps her fighting.

A long-time Los Angeleno, the Detroit-born Magness has been fighting her whole life. Her parents both committed suicide when she was young and she was raised in a series of foster homes, before taking to the tough road of trying to build a life as a blues singer. It took a long time, but the work paid off and recognition came, not just the Grammy nomination but seven Blues Music Awards from the Blues Foundation, including 2009’s B.B. King Award as Entertainer of the Year, becoming only the second woman to win that, Koko Taylor being the first.

The confidence earned through her work and the recognition shows more than ever in “Love Is an Army,” her 14th album proving a breakthrough to new levels for her as a writer and singer in a series of songs about speaking up, persevering and finding your strengths, even while fighting off heartbreak. the opening song “Back to Blue” deals with communication breakdowns on a personal level but sets the stage for some cultural breaks that come later on the album, such as the look into the immigration debate on “Home.”

And she has put together quite the army to help her with this battle. In addition to assembling a band that included drummer Stephen Hodges (who’s played with Tom Waits) and bassist Davey Faragher (of Elvis Costello’s Imposters), she and producer/guitarist/co-writer Dave Darling recruited a stellar troop of guests, including such vaunted veterans as Texas singer Delbert McClinton and Memphis-Chicago harmonicat Charlie Musselwhite, plus North Mississippi hill country guitarist Cedric Burnside and former Poco steel guitarist Rusty Young.

Some comparisons have been made between this album and Bonnie Raitt’s career and personal breakthrough “Nick of Time” 20 years ago, and the comparison has merits. But this breakthrough belongs to Magness — and her army.

Dita Von Teese

Album: “Dita Von Teese”

Dita Von Teese is best known as Hollywood’s key revivalist and modernizer of bawdy burlesque, as well as for her brief marriage to Marilyn Manson in the mid-‘00s. But on her debut album, she shows a softer side. A very sexy softer side, mind you. But not played for shock, nothing salacious and, befitting the burlesque tradition, not fully revealing. And yet it allows her to show some things we’ve never seen of her.

“Dita Von Tesse” is a collaboration with French musician Sébastien Tellier, and in large partit's  an homage and 21st century update of classic ‘60s collaborations of another bombshell, Brigitte Bardot, with another French figure, the brash musical polymath Serge Gainsbourg. Now, those are two true French heroes, and there’s no way for Von Teese and Tellier to compete, and to their credit they don’t try. But using that model as their guide, they more than hold their own.

Von Teese has made no bones about not being a singer, but she needn’t be so modest. She’s no Adele, of course, but the breathiness of her voice unaffectedly fits nicely in the Gallic-pop tradition running from Bardot to Stereolab. That’s pretty much where Tellier’s music sits as well. Lush music provides perfect showcases for the coy come-ons, nicely gimmick-free — no cooing or moaning or anything — Von Teese inviting the listener along on relatively innocent trysts, such as on the tropical “Rendez-vous.”

Heck, Von Teese even does a fine job en Français on “La Vie Est Un Jeu” — “Life is a Game” — spiking the song with laughs and giggles, playful not provocative. It’s a Teese tease, in the best way.