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Archive for Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Most recent music releases earn passing grade

April 6, 2005

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April is busting out all over with new albums from Garbage, Mint Condition, Mariah Carey, Frank Sinatra and many lesser known but very deserving talents. Grades for albums released Tuesday:

Two days shy of what would have been her 90th birthday comes "Billie Holiday: The Ultimate Collection" (Hip-O), and what a joy it is. Spanning the entire career of this uniquely subtle, heart and soul interpreter and songwriter are two CDs with 42 recordings, stretching from "Miss Brown to You" and "What a Little Love Can Do" to "One for My Baby" and "I'm a Fool to Want You." The digital remastering done on the later material is more apparent and welcome. But what really sets this collection apart is a bonus DVD with a juicy selection of Holiday movie and television appearances, plus audio performances. Among the latter is broadcast interview with a young, awestruck Mike Wallace. Grade: A

Faith Evans, a sensual soul singer who has experienced more than her fair share of real-life melodrama, seems to be opening the pages of her life on "The First Lady" (Capitol). Co-writer on more than half the tracks, Evans sings of starting life anew on "Goin' Out" (featuring Pharrell and Pusha T), of not regretting her past on "Again," of romantic commitment issues on "Stop N Go"... well, you get the idea. Strings give several of the tracks an old-school feel, as does her Aretha-like testifying (and George Benson guitar sample) on "Mesmerized" and the gospel-flavored closing benediction "Hope," featuring Twista. B+

For another take on soulful faith, try Donnie McClurkin's double-disc concert set, "Psalms, Hymns & Spiritual Songs" (Verity). This pastor's choir-endowed music is so polished and grandly arranged it could pass (except for the occasional "Thank you, Jesus!") for Broadway musical fare. B+

Lisa Marie Presley still sounds more like a foul-mouthed Cher than her dad on her sophomore set, "Now What" (Capitol), but that's probably a good thing. The tough babe co-wrote all but one song, her apt cover of the Don Henley-authored anti-press rant "Dirty Laundry." Kindred spirit Pink guests on "Shine." B

On "What I Want" (Say Yes), Nora York mixes jazz-tinged pop originals and smartly arranged covers that reflect on the American Dream. B

Desperate housewives everywhere will adore Mother, Inc. and its album "S/T" (Seven Seven). The caustically funny synth-pop duo of Yvonne Force Villareal and Sandra Hamburg spin droll songs about staying thin, postpartum depression, cosmetic surgery, outfit coordination and "hot" soccer moms. B

"California Classic Rock" (Kultur/SRO) captures a 1986 concert collection of '60s icons Eric Burdon, John Sebastian (with NRBQ), Peter Noone (Hermit's Hermits) and remnants of Canned Heat, Buffalo Springfield, War, the Chambers Brothers, Spirit and the Standells. B

The veteran Afro-Cuban jazz pianist Bebo Valdes and highly expressive Spanish flamenco singer Diego El Cigalo turn in a breathtaking collaboration on the concert DVD "Bianco y Negro: Bebo and Cigal en Vivo" (Bluebird). Certain to bowl over fans of the Buena Vista Social Club, this small ensemble performance is intimate, richly developed and beautifully articulated in the super-fi, 5.1-channel surround mix. A second disc enhances the import of the event with rehearsal footage and interviews. A+

A Static Lullaby serves up dueling vocalists -- one crooning, the other a howling metalhead -- with hideous results on "Faso Latido" (Columbia). D

Merry Christmas? The theatrically minded pop/rock trio Groove Lily jumps the gun with the first Christmas album release of 2005 on PS Classics, a concert recording of their amusing holiday show "Striking 12," which "rewires" Hans Christian Anderson's "The Little Match Girl" in cheery, story-propelling songs and cute narrative interludes reflecting urbane struggles. B+

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