Loreena McKennitt, Nights From The Alhambra
If someone invited you over for dinner and served up this album; you would be able to tell an effort was being made to impress. Mckennitt’s epic musical narratives are always of grandeur, offering arrangements including instruments from all over the world (Uilleann pipes, Kanoun, cello, Lyra, etc.). On this 2 CD/DVD combination, the presentation is even more spectacular. The concert was recorded in the most important Renaissance building in Spain: The Palace of Charles V on the grounds of the Alhambra. You’ll hear the words of Yeats and Tennyson embellished by Loreena’s unmatched delivery. You may have seen part of this as a PBS-TV special. Included are highlights from her recent studio recording, “An Ancient Muse,” and several taste treats from earlier in her career. If you invite someone over for dinner, you can play it as you dine, and then watch it afterwards. You’ll make an impression too.
Buddy Greene, Happy Man
Who is Buddy Greene and why is he smiling? I was encouraged by our David Fuente to move this up on the list and now I see why. Buddy toured with the legendary Jerry Reed playing harmonica. On this collection he also plays fingerstyle guitar and sings with a lot of style. He choose sideman well: Bryan Sutton, Pat Flynn, & Aubrey Haynie. The songs are mostly traditional, with a few gospel numbers to create excitement. I was worried when I saw a couple songs which have been over-cooked (Darlin’ Corey, Sugarfoot Rag, Walkin’ in Jerusalem) but Buddy has added his own spices; you’ll won’t feel like you’ve been to this restaurant too many times. I’m also betting you’ll smile through his entire menu.
K.T. Tunstall, Acoustic Extravaganza
Have you ever ordered up an omelet at a diner, raved about it, returned to order something else and it was flat? This CD is like that experience. The first two songs are catchy, even filling, despite the bad language. The album drops off seriously after that. Tunstall doesn’t have much to say and the melodies are dull or same-sounding. Based in England, she outsold every other female singer in that country in 2005. She quotes Kahlil Gibran. She sounds like she ought to sound good. In order to play “Ashes,” the best song, we had to edit out the F-word twice. She should go back and re-read Gibran and learn not to rely on cheap and cliche words. I’d recommend buying the 1st song and not the album, but you’d have to do your own editing. Eat somewhere else.
Over The Rhine, The Trumpet Child
The mark of a good band is when you don’t compare them to anyone else. With Linford Detweiler’s piano and arrangements and Karin Berquist’s knack for turning a phrase, no one sounds like Over The Rhine. Sometimes criticized for albums of sound alike songs, “The Trumpet Child” is different. They cover politics, the environment, and sex; Karin sings of confidence in one offering, and desperation in another. For a country sound they use pedal steel; in the next song that sound is absent in favor of cello and violin. The last song is a real gem: “If a Song Could Be President.” It’s very clever, and you’ll have to listen to discover which governmental offices would belong to Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, & John Prine. I thought this group was making a comeback, but now I think they’re just hitting their stride. Order from this menu without hesitation.
Barely in their 20s, this English band is already working on their 4th album. They are rooted in tradition – their parents all played, but they are full of youthful invention. So why don’t we know about them? I can think of two reasons. One, there are MANY talented young bands sprouting up. Two, there is a glut of new releases, many by amateurs, crowding out the good CDs. Mere numbers tend to cause delays in finding talent. We can thank our Chris Boros for discovering Kerfuffle. He saw them at the Cropredy Festival outside of London this summer. (Read his blog entires) Hannah James plays accordion and sings. No leftovers here, and they offer a full meal.
Jesse Harris, Rocha, Willie Nelson, others, “The Hottest State” soundtrack
I haven’ seen the movie, but I believe it’s a road film about a young actor and a young singer trying to find their way in life and love. Jesse Harris wrote all the songs and had the guts to ask Willie Nelson to sing one. Willie hopped off his bus, asked Harris to sing “Always Seem To Get Things Wrong” to him and then he sang it back. Two takes. Norah Jones played piano. Rocha sings for the actress in the film. The songs are all full of angst and missed opportunities. Since our lives are full of the same, Harris was smart enough to leave the songs open-ended so we could jump in. If we continue with the food analogies, this album is like a cookbook: lots of recipes, but everyone who uses them makes the meal their own. This album is sad but very real.
Michelle Shocked, To Heaven You Ride
Shocked brought a big band and several singers from churches from inner-city LA to the high peaks of Colorado to play Telluride in 2003. The Festival normally records the concerts, but in this case management left strict orders not to. Everybody agreed but nobody reminded the sound crew. Four years later Michelle’s people changed their mind and asked if the tapes did exist.
The festival couldn’t lie, so we have an album. (Is there a message here?)
The songs are primarily gospel, and Shocked gets a little preachy, but the album is very authentic. It sounds like we’re evesdropping on what happened that night (or that Sunday). The reggae number “Can’t Take My Joy” is quite danceable and “The Weight” always makes people smile. Nick Forster sits in on steel guitar. I wouldn’t suggest the entire menu, but 3 or 4 choices would be just enough spice.