Aussie superstar makes U.S. debut

"DELTA," Delta Goodrem (Mercury/Decca)

The grandiose elements of Delta Goodrem's "Delta" don't negate the core of the polished release: the humble traits of its star performer.

Although "Delta" is her U.S. debut, Goodrem, 23, is already a sensation in her native Australia and a hitmaker around the world. The new release (her third overall) is slickly produced, yet the honesty she projects makes it easy to imagine Goodrem, under less fortunate circumstances, on a modest career track, an earnest singer/pianist pouring out her soul in tiny clubs across her homeland.

"Delta" also reflects uncommon maturity for a young-adult singer, even one with such a smoky and well-rounded voice. However, Goodrem's history -- becoming an Aussie superstar and also battling Hodgkin's lymphoma while she was just a teen-ager -- put her on life's fast track.

Her self-titled project sounds like the work of an old pro. On "Delta," Goodrem packs the honest and uplifting qualities of her mentor, Olivia Newton-John, plus the stylized bombast of Celine Dion, the sense of adventure of Madonna, the introspection of Alanis Morissette and the vocal stunts of Mariah Carey.

It only takes one listen to the giant power-pop first single, "In This Life," to confirm Goodrem's broad reach as a performer. And she follows through with everything from the fun electronica/reggae of "You Will Only Break My Heart" to the stately ballad, "Angels in the Room," from the vulnerable cancer-fighter of "Possessionless" to the ethereal dreamer of "One Day."

There's a bit of pandering going on with the hokey hip-hop nuances of "Barehands" and "Brave Face" as well as too much Dion-esque grandstanding, which temporarily gets in the way of Goodrem's seeming sincerity. Plus there's the question of whether there's much of an audience in the United States these days for new, upbeat adult-pop songs.

Fortunately for Goodrem, she's already made her place in the world and doesn't need America to validate her.

Rating (five possible): 3-1/2

"MEDIOCRE," Ximena Sarinana (Warner Music Latina)

Actors often have the ego to want to record music though not the good sense to refrain. Witness Scarlett Johansson's dreadful "Anywhere I Lay My Head" from earlier this year. Singing actors also tend to avoid being overly histrionic by scaling down their performances too much -- again, witness Johansson's near-comatose delivery on "Anywhere."

Yet Mexican actress Ximena Sarinana, 22, sounds like a natural on her new "Mediocre," only occasionally slipping into a too-casual style and, by contrast, only once stretching too far out of her comfort zone (on a moody "Un Error" that arcs into a ruckus).

Americans who haven't heard of Sarinana won't have an anti-actor bias against "Mediocre." However, unless she pulls some kind of Shakira-sized crossover (which is unlikely), non-Spanish-speaking Americans likely will never even hear the non-English release.

"Mediocre" is a pop-jazz fusion recorded in Buenos Aires and produced by Argentinian Tweety Gonzalez and Uruguayan Juan Campodonico. Yet to its credit, the release often sounds no more exotic than a typical piano-based singer-songwriter project by a young American woman.

"Mediocre" does kick off with a regal title-track opener that pits classic "lazy" verses against bold, belting choruses. But then it settles into the meandering soul of "Vidas Paraleleas," the smoldering sleekness of "Sintiendo Rara," the electronic modulations of "La Tina" and the sophisticated cocktail music of "Pocas Palabras (Juan)."

Sarinana's understated, inviting vocals are a solid fit for the warm rhythms, and she generally holds her own against the sometimes-florid arrangements, even bringing them down to earth from time to time.

Given her age, her talent and her dual career in entertainment, chances are we'll be hearing much more from Sarinana. Or at least Latin America will.

Rating: 3-1/2

"HOW FREEDOM SOUNDS," Red State Update (Dualtone)

More so than their Northern counterparts, Southern comedians love to make fun of themselves. Sure, New York and Boston comics might take self-effacing jabs, but few humorists from the South can resist mining the sharp caricatures of their region. That works to endear a crowd when it puts the comics at (or below) audience level, though the inevitable idiot-savant shtick can be off-putting.

Jackie Broyles and Dunlap of the comic duo Red State Update are sometimes guilty of formula abuse, exaggerating their accents to irritating effect and playing the redneck theme too hard. Yet the two also show more brilliance in both their performance and material than might be expected from successors to the likes of Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy.

The Murfreesboro, Tenn., act got into the comedy game in 21st-century fashion -- via political-humor videos for YouTube and MySpace and appearances on CNN. Yet the deceptively titled "How Freedom Sounds" only rarely addresses politics. Instead, the song "Iraq (I Don't Wanna Go)" (one of more than a half-dozen songs) isn't about the war, it's about the duo's steadfast refusal to put themselves in harm's way. And "Illegal Immigration" is mainly about Jackie's fondness for such food as "Mexican salad" (taco salad) and "Mexican hot ketchup" (salsa).

Elsewhere, the hedonistic Dunlap espouses the joys of trucking ("You can take speed, and it's OK" and you can "crush the spirit of children by refusin' to blow the horn"), and storeowner Jackie rails at Bonnaroo-goers on the riotous "Get the Hell Outta My Store Hippie."

There are also bits on crashing funerals for the free food, a futile quest for any stripper who doesn't have kids, a future where Dunlap's kids "will live in space ... Muslim space" and a mind-tripping "Noodles, Powder, Water & Meat" that veers into surreal death-metal territory.

Still, blue-state folks might dismiss "How Freedom Sounds" based solely on the cover and title. And that's the danger of stereotyping.

Rating: 3-1/2

(E-mail Chuck Campbell of The Knoxville News-Sentinel in Tennessee at Campbell(at)