Stevie Wonder - A Time to Love (Motown):
In his first album in 10 years, Wonder lives almost entirely in the land of good vibes. Of 15 cuts, 10 are love songs. Fans who hoped for pungent social commentary along the lines of "Living for the City" will be disappointed by the preachy lyrics in the more political songs. But the funky "Tell Your Heart I Love You," which features Bonnie Raitt on slide guitar, would find its groove on any party playlist. Less impressive is "So What the Fuss," which could have been more fun had Prince's guitar been less restrained. Wonder's rich voice finds its best expression in the languorous, jazzy "True Love," proving again why he is Motown's greatest asset.
- April Austin
Bette Midler Sings the Peggy Lee Songbook (Columbia) and Linda Eder: By Myself, the songs of Judy Garland (Angel):
A half-century ago Peggy Lee and Judy Garland turned tunes into classics. But if those songs are to survive, they need new interpreters. Two of today's best take up the challenge and prevail. Bette Midler bows to Lee, whose simmering sensuality and deceptive simplicity made the Queen of Cool the defining sound of a buttoned-down era. Understated rarely applies to Midler, but instead she brings her expressive, supple voice and strong storytelling talents to Lee's hits like "Fever" and "Big Spender."
Linda Eder, less well-known outside Broadway and concert halls, comes close to channeling Garland but wisely doesn't try to mine all the tragic depths. Eder's gorgeous voice, in turns powerful or tender, fills tunes like "It Never Was You" and "Do It Again" with exquisite beauty and bittersweet pain.
- Gregory M. Lamb
Nov. 1: Burt Bacharach releases a ... hip-hop album?
We haven't been this surprised since Pat Boone's 1997 heavy metal CD. The composer, famous for such hits as "Walk On By," teams up with rap producer Dr. Dre, as well as Elvis Costello and Rufus Wainwright, for the album "At This Time."
Santana, too, has a colorful roster of collaborators on "All That I Am," his latest album to feature more guest stars than a season of "Will & Grace." Carlos duets with Bo Bice, winner of "American Idol," as well as Joss Stone, Mary J. Blige, and Outkast's Big Boi.
After one last Phishing trip, guitarist Trey Anastasio releases "Shine."