Stew Pot of Cookin' Tunes
Rowdy mix of musicians shakes up current compact-disc releases
On this busman's holiday of sorts, John Hiatt, Ry Cooder, Nick Lowe, and Jim Keltner (best known as drummer for the Traveling Wilburys) take breaks from their solo careers to careen through this high-spirited country/rock hybrid. The quartet brings a rowdy playfulness to "She Runs Hot" and "Solar Sex Panel," slyly delivered by Mr. Hiatt. They're equally adept on the wistful, loping "Big Love" and on the moving "Don't Think About Her When You're Trying to Drive." The whole may not be greater than the sum of its parts, but with results this good it really doesn't matter.
Magic and Loss
Inspired by the passing of two friends less than a year apart, Lou Reed delivers this passionate, highly personal, 14-song exegesis on death, taking on both the roles of the dying and those left behind. That Mr. Reed never sinks into bathos or melodrama only makes the often wrenching tunes more affecting.
On the devastating "Magician," Reed pleads with a higher power to "fly me through this storm and wake up in the calm." Then he ruefully chides himself for still phoning his dead friend in the driving "Gassed and Stoked." Though it seems relentlessly grim at first, "Magic and Loss" ultimately proves a catharsis for anyone who has ever experienced a meaningful loss and stands up as one of Reed's finest works.
- Melinda Newman JAZZ
STAN GETZ & KENNY BARRON
This last recording by the late tenor saxophonist Stan Getz (captured live in Copenhagen) finds him waxing soulful and life-affirming with an especially empathetic playmate. Pianist Kenny Barron's point-of-reference owes much to the kind of bop-inspired lyricism that Getz virtually patented. Here, the two virtuosos use standards as launch points for their rich improvisations. The resulting music is as personal as it gets, each player offering signature stylings that encapsulate the all of human emotion. Especially noteworthy are readings of "East of the Sun," "Like Someone in Love," and "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise." This double CD is unusual, at the very least - a jazz champion substantiating the restorative power of music.
BOBBY MCFERRIN & YO-YO MA
Bobby McFerrin and Yo-Yo Ma marry their instruments with a wink and a nod toward the child residing in us all - playful stuff but no less exacting artistically. This mating of cello and voice works well because each player is determined to broaden the experience of his respective audience. Mr. McFerrin, more than Mr. Ma, quite obviously, actuates the duo's exchanges. When he finds that perfect mix of vocal mimicry and innovation - as he does on "Vocalise" (Rachmaninoff) and "Air" (J.S. Bach) - he's a gen re-grafting whiz kid with one foot in the sound lab and the other in the sandbox.
- Jeff Levenson COUNTRY
EMMYLOU HARRIS AND THE NASH RAMBLERS
At the Ryman
Boldly shucking electric instruments and enlisting Nashville's finest acoustic pickers, Emmylou Harris went one step further in choosing to record her latest album live at the historic Ryman Auditorium, former home of the Grand Ole Opry.
Ms. Harris's combination of classic country and bluegrass songs by the likes of Hank Williams, Bill Monroe, and Johnny Cash, with relevant fare by such contemporaries as Bruce Springsteen, Steve Earle, and Nanci Griffith, yields an exquisite work that rates with her best.
Tourist in Paradise
As a noted Washington-based cardiologist and the first black country recording artist since Charley Pride, Cleve Francis enjoys built-in curiosity.
But his major-label debut album goes well beyond novelty, boasting the warm, good-natured sincerity so central to singers such as James Taylor and Randy Travis.
Augmenting Mr. Francis's vocal advantages are the album's easy-going arrangements and an expert choice of material, with stand-outs including the title track and fellow country newcomer Billy Dean's "How Can I Hold You."
- Jim Bessman WORLD MUSIC
Raised in an artistic family in the West African nation of Benin, Angelique Kidjo left home for the world-music mecca of Paris, where she's made a name for herself by mixing a potent, poignant blend of African and international styles. Ms. Kidjo's full-throttle vocals energize Jamaican-inflected songs "Kaleta" and "Tche-Tche" - the latter features sax whiz Branford Marsalis.
Kidjo imitates stuttering dance-remix effects on the Afro-funk tune "Batonga," and in a typically high-tech twist on her roots, the synthesizers on "We-We" replicate the woody tones of the traditional thumb-piano, the kalimba.
On Logozo, Kidjo creates her own African traditions.
Feet on Fire
Virunga is a volcano in Zaire, and singer/songwriter Samba Mapangala uses its name to signify his band's magmic overflow of earth-shaking soukous, a style of African dance music. In Virunga's rhythmically propulsive soukous, hypnotic guitars interweave to create a sinuous, incessant counterpoint that backs deeper layers of harmony from the horn section and Mr. Mapangala's smooth, caressing vocals.
This multidirectional pop creates not chaos, but rather the kind of hot-footed, electric eruptions worthy of that Zairean volcano.
- Drew Wheeler R&B/RAP
In the Storm
Former front man for family group DeBarge, whose skilled, gentle tenor injected a mellow jazzy note into R&B with early 1980s hits "All This Love" and "I Like It," Mr. DeBarge has more recently made his mark on the charts with recent guest stints on Quincy Jones's Grammy Award-winning "The Secret Garden" and Fourplay's smash "After the Dance." The renewed exposure and credibility laid the groundwork for this album effort.
"In the Storm" gives El a laboratory to combine his pure funk roots, latent songwriting talent, and cool-as-lemonade vocals. The result is a rumbling concept album that casts the singer in the simultaneous roles of hard-funking groove master ("Fast Lane," "Thick and Thin"), sensitive romantic ("Cry," "Love Me Tonight"), and concerned humanitarian ("In the Storm"). The first single, "My Heart Belongs to You," is a sprightly funk groove that owes as much to Sly & the Family Stone as it does to Prince and i s hooky enough to tangle both pop and R&B ears. The album indicates that the best is yet to come from this artist.
Fruits of Nature
Wild Pitch Records
Young New York natives C. Evans and K. Sharpton are fans of 1960s-era cool jazz and classic R&B. With echoes of the Modern Jazz Quartet, Ramsey Lewis, and Al Green surfacing in the stew of samples that are the springboard for the UMC's energetic, self-possessed rhymes, it's hard not to feel completely at home with this soulful mix. This is a hip-hop album, however, and there are plenty of dope beats, def rhymes, cool breaks, and danceable funk grooves as well.
The UMC's fit into the East Coast trend toward clever rhyming with a nod toward black musical tradition, while delivering messages of self-reliance, individuality, friendship, education, and respect between the sexes. This album is cutting edge without resorting to risque or controversial lyrics. It's one you can buy for your kids with a clear conscience.
- Janine McAdams