His voice is wise and weary, but his imagery and lyrics range from pungent observations to humorous asides, tired recollections and ironic reflections.
Guy Clark’s always been a master storyteller, but his latest release prefers short, wry anecdotes like “One Way Ticket Down,” “Hemingway’s Whiskey” and “If I Needed You” (all three minutes or less). Indeed “The Guitar” and “Eamon,” the disc’s longest tracks, barely exceed four minutes.
But this precision enables Clark to make his tales and his observations crisp and nimble, as he offers a poignant vision of a tired, yet steadfast soul making his way through a tough world.
John Fogerty, The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again (Verve Forecast/Fortunate Son)
John Fogerty’s first foray into country music 35 years ago had a faux band concept. Fogerty played all the instruments and even got a minor hit with the single “Rockin’ All Over The World.”
But this time he’s supported by a genuine band, whose ranks include the magnificent guitarist and bandleader Buddy Miller, and Fogerty puts the same fire and soul into his renditions of tunes by Buck Owens (“I Don’t Care (Just As Long As You Love Me),” Jerry Gillespie (“Heaven’s Just A Sin Away”) and Ray Price (“I’ll Be There”) as he did covering rockabilly and soul classics.
Bruce Springsteen joins him on the masterful finale of “When Will I Be Loved,” while Don Henley and Timothy B. Schmit make capable partners on “Garden Party,” but otherwise this is Fogerty making a strong return to country.
Phil Perry/Melba Moore, The Gift of Love (Shanachie)
The sweet, marvelous tenor of Phil Perry and Melba Moore’s still impressive soprano make an excellent team on this new collection of mostly soul and pop tunes, which is also Moore’s first venture into secular music in many years.
High points include their emphatic renditions of “You’re All I Need To Get By” and “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing,” as well as the charming version of “Weakness” and triumphant harmonies and exchanges on “Optimistic,” “I Believe,” and “Give (The Gift of Love).”
Both vocalists are comfortable in any role from lead to background, and they never turn any number into spectacle or bombast. But the showcase tune is their updating of the Spinners’ ode to motherhood “Sadie,” which emerges as another example of outstanding performers turning a familiar anthem into a contemporary classic.
Barbra Streisand, Love Is The Answer (Columbia)
Few vocalists are better at working with orchestras than Streisand, who’s always had the confidence and ability to either glide above the strings or merge her powerhouse leads into the arrangement.
Her new release was produced by an equally outstanding singer (Diana Krall), and those who purchase the deluxe two-CD edition can contrast Streisand’s approach when backed by a symphony orchestra and a jazz quartet (second disc).
Everything gets subtly changed, from phrasing and mood to pace and delivery, yet each performance of numbers like “Here’s To Life,” “A Time For Love,” “Here’s That Rainy Day” or “Gentle Rain” is magical. Though she’s never been a jazz singer in the strictest sense (especially rhythmically), Streisand shows on Love Is The Answer that she does have an improviser’s flair and style.
Various Artists, An All-Star Tribute To Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly (Brantera)
Maze featuring Frankie Beverly have never been a crossover or mainstream success, but they’re a beloved, extremely influential ensemble among R&B, soul and urban performers.
This all-star set shows just how much impact they’ve enjoyed, with strong contributions from neosoul types like Musiq SoulChild, Kem, Avant and Mary J. Blige to more conventional R&B artists such as Ledisi and Joe, and even gospel acts like The Clark Sisters, Kierra Sheard and J Moss who come together on a fine version of “I Wanna Thank You.”
Raheem DeVaughan, Mint Condition and Kevon Edmonds round out the roster of participants on one of the looser, more ambitious and memorable tribute discs done recently in any idiom.
Jason Aldean —Wide Open (Broken Bow)
Another in what seems like an endless line of youthful country traditionalists able to make vintage tunes and modern rock-tinged sagas with equal ease.
Harry Connick, Jr. — Your Songs (Columbia)
Connick re-enters the 21st century Sinatra sweepstakes with a superb set of show tunes and standards sung without excess or exaggeration, fueled by his own arrangements and conducting.
Sean Kingston — Tomorrow (Epic/Beluga Heights)
Kingston comes as close as any contemporary reggae performer on tunes like “War” and “Face Burning” to echoing the social consciousness and energy of the roots sound, even as he also supplies radio its pop-oriented fare like “Shoulda Let You Go” with Good Charlotte.
Madonna — Celebration (Warner Bros)
Another greatest hits/anthology set available in a one or two-disc package showcasing the Queen of dance pop and her travels through disco, funk, club tunes, plus Top 40 (“4 Minutes with Justin Timberlake and Timbaland) and hip-hop collaborations (“Lil Wayne on “Revolver”).
Monsters of Folk — Monsters of Folk (Shangri-La)
An alternative supergroup finds Mike Mogis, Conor Oberst, M. Ward and Yin Yames (Jim James) converge for an acoustic music and folk summit with each man getting ample spotlight time and everyone contributing at least one stirring composition or explosive lead vocal to a good, if sometimes disjoined, venture.