With Joni Mitchell in semi-retirement, this star-studded tribute reminds us of what an interesting songwriter Mitchell was (and presumably still is). When artists as diverse as Bjork, Prince, Brad Meldau, Annie Lennox and James Taylor can find something in common with the music, you know youre onto something. Sarah McLaghlans take on Blue is mesmerizing, and no less is Lennoxs reworking of Ladies of the Canyon. Those two tracks are followed jarringly by Emmylou Harriss twangy The Magdalene Laundries. If it all sounds a bit bizarre, youre beginning to get the idea. So what works, and what doesnt? Elvis Costellos Edith and the Kingpin features bass clarinet leading the horns alongside vibes in an altogether brilliant arrangement, while Lennox is her always original self. But best of all is k.d. langs version of what may be Mitchells most familiar tune - Help Me. Arresting, engaging, and occasionally uneven, this tribute is every bit as arresting as Mitchell herself.
the bird and the bee the bird and the bee - Metroblue
The bird and the bee all lowercase please is the duo of instrumentalist Greg Kurstin and singer Inara George, daughter of the late Little Feat vocalist Lowell George. Georges almost-little girl voice is never overwhelmed by the instrumental backing, and much of it works very well. Occasionally it brings to mind other duo efforts, such as Yaz or Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin. But George is no bluesy belter, a la Yazs Alison Moyet. No, shes all soft and breathy - more like a Suzanne Vega, to whom she bears an uncanny resemblance at times. This contrasts with the deliberately artificial-sounding synths and programmed percussion, giving the project an off-kilter vibe; the robotic backing vying with the very human sound of Georges voice. Points off for the unnecessary profanity that mars the overall success of the album. Just because you can do something doesnt mean you should do it.
Ryan Shaw This Is Ryan Shaw - Red Ink
Remember soul music? Ryan Shaw certainly does, and if there is any justice in this world, this disc will help bring it back to the fore. The disc harkens back to artists as diverse as James Brown, Otis Redding and Was (Not Was), with a little Jackie Wilson thrown in for good measure. But while young Shaw is just 26 he sings like hes been around a while. The backing instrumentation varies from track to track. Working On A Building Of Love is a great singalong, with guitars and drums pushing things along. On Ill Be Satisfied, its a greasy organ and bari sax assisting Shaw. The concluding Over & Done features a backing vocal group and handclaps that concludes it nicely. Riding atop it all for all hes worth is Shaw, one minute moaning, the next crooning, then putting it all together as he testifies. Shaw pulls out all the tricks and all the stops, and it works.
Ricky Skaggs & Bruce Hornsby Ricky Skaggs & Bruce Hornsby - Sony Legacy
Those looking for some kind of balance between Skaggss rootsy sound and Hornsbys jazzy pop are in for a shock. This is full-throttle bluegrass, including a hilarious take on Rick Jamess Superfreak. Funky its not. But Superfreak, which closes the album, and Hornsbys opening, The Dreaded Spoon, an ode to dessert, are alone worth the price of admission. In between, Skaggs and his band Kentucky Thunder are matched stride for stride by Hornsby, who channels the countrymost leanings of his jam-band days with the Grateful Dead. Once you get past the initial shock if you do the highlights are many. Across the Rocky Mountain, Come On Out, even Hornsbys Mandolin Rain all feature the sound of friends furiously getting down with mandolins, fiddles, and piano, vying with vocals for airspace.