Reviews of recent CDs
Carlos Santana Shaman (Arista): Frank Zappa once wrote an instrumental called "Variations on the Carlos Santana Secret Chord Progression," a jokey acknowledgment of the Hispanic guitarist's unmistakable style. Now comes a whole album of variations on the Carlos Santana sound. On "Shaman," the songs range from heavy metal to light pop, from hip-hop to pseudoclassical. Unsurprisingly, this calculated attempt to appeal to all demographics with the help of artists such as Dido, P.O.D., and Placido Domingo never jells. With Santana doing little more than adding full-blooded solos to undeserving castoffs mostly written and sung by others, he seems to be a guest star on his own album. By Stephen Humphries
Rolling Stones Forty Licks (Virgin): This two-CD compilation of nearly 40 years of material should, hereafter, come as standard issue with every car's CD player just test-drive it and see. The track sequencing on this pantheon of greats is superb in both scope and pacing. Disc 1 offers a thrilling précis of the band's explosive prime, from 1965 to 1971. The second half of the album covers the past three decades, when the bright spots and there are many have been more sporadic. There are also four new songs that, if hardly revelatory, at least don't disgrace themselves in distinguished company. Satisfaction? Guaranteed! S.H.
Faith Hill Cry (Warner Bros.): In the credits of her latest CD, Faith Hill writes that this music allowed her to "spread my wings and fly." Fly she does, far afield from the realm of country music and into the mainstream. While this collection of dance tunes and soft-rock anthems is enough to make some country fans cry, fans of Hill's voice won't be disappointed. In most songs, including the waltzy hit title track, her voice glides easily over a quilt of smooth guitar riffs, violin synths, and breathy background vocals. Overproduced? Without question. But "Cry" will most likely lift Hill into the pop diva world of Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, and Celine Dion. By Vic Roberts
Leontyne Price Rediscovered Carnegie Hall Recital Debut and Leontyne Price (soprano), David Garvey (piano) (RCA Victor Red Seal 63908): A year ago, Leontyne Price was onstage at a Carnegie Hall memorial concert for Sept. 11, adding high notes to "America the Beautiful" and the spiritual "This Little Light of Mine." Rarely has a singer so embodied the strengths and best aspects of a country. The Laurel, Miss.-born soprano, a famous interpreter of opera roles like "Aida," sings here in her Carnegie Hall recital debut in 1965 with longtime accompanist, David Garvey, in a never-before-available recording. Two Handel arias are among the previously unreleased delights. Everything here is at the peak of Price's art. The bellows of joy from the New York audience when Price announces the encore "Vissi d'arte," followed by a hullabaloo that sounds like seats being torn up seems the only reaction to singing as wonderful as this. By Benjamin Ivry
The Streets Original Pirate Material (Vice/Atlantic): It may take you a while to get past the accent of this new British hip-hopper not to mention the notion of English rap. But Mike "The Streets" Skinner sings about everyday life, from money problems to bumpy relationships. And you can actually understand his lyrics, unlike some British movies. His lyrics are carefully crafted. In the pretty-sounding "It's Too Late," he sings, "This love game's expensive/ Nothing holds relevance/ All I can think of is her elegance." The beat moves at a slower pace than Eminem, and Skinner's voice can even be soothing at times. I can already see Americans giving a green light to The Streets. By Lisa Leigh Connors
Diana Krall Live in Paris (Verve): After a career misstep with last year's schmaltzy "Look of Love" CD, fans and critics wondered aloud whether the beautiful and talented Canadian songstress was changing lanes to the middle of the road, leaving jazz behind. Not to worry. This relentlessly swinging, sublimely played, compellingly sung collection of American standards (as well as tunes by Billy Joel and Joni Mitchell) is an undeniable confirmation of a major talent at the pinnacle of her art, whether it's called jazz or just simply great music. You'll probably want the DVD version with bonus tracks and fascinating rehearsal footage. She and her talented ensemble are as much a joy to watch as to hear. By John Kehe
Mark Knopfler The Ragpicker's Dream (Warner Bros.): What's the opposite of flashy? Whatever it is, the ex-guitar hero of Dire Straits has got it down on these 12 new songs, opting for intimate storytelling and keenly observed characters with a sound that combines American Delta blues with traditional English folk. It's music for adults, featuring superb musicianship. A subtle and quirky humor pervades many of the tracks, especially on "Quality Shoe," an affectionate ode to the King of the Road, Roger Miller. There are many subtle pleasures to be discovered throughout this charming disc. J.K.
Madonna Die Another Day (Warner Bros.): For all the prestige that comes with writing the theme to a James Bond film, there's always the limitation of having to write a whole song around a ridiculous 007 title like "The Man With the Golden Gun." Thus Madonna's approach to "Die Another Day" is to offer vaguely philosophical musings, breathlessly taunting, "Sigmund Freud, analyze this...." (Now there's a shrink session the world would like to eavesdrop on.) Insistent orchestral strings, uncompromising dance grooves that both stutter and glide, and an arm-waving chorus make this the best Bond song in years. S.H.