Ryan Adams: "Ten Songs from Live at Carnegie Hall"

August 2015

Pax Americana/Blue Note B002263402
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
***

Overall Enjoyment
****

In an earlier, less-cluttered musical era, Ryan Adams would be a much bigger star. He has the charisma and the songwriting chops of Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty, but, at 40, he is a generation younger and remains a cult favorite -- far from a household name (except, perhaps, for those who confuse him with Bryan Adams). In some quarters, he is best known as the romantic partner of quirky women like indie-film diva Parker Posey and actress-singer Mandy Moore.

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Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell: "The Traveling Kind"

July 2015

Nonesuch Records 2-548243
Format: CD

Musical Performance
***

Sound Quality
***

Overall Enjoyment
***

Close harmony lives at the heart of rural American music, a reflection of the fact that, in its early years, it was frequently created by family members or friends -- as much self-entertainment as anything meant to share with others.

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Laura Marling: "Short Movie"

May 2015

Ribbon Music B00R8SN5U4
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

At 25, and after creating five albums, British singer-songwriter Laura Marling is no longer the startling young ingénue she was when she scored three Mercury Prize nominations, but she can still stun you with the freshness of her music and the depth of her emotion.

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Ted Kooshian: "Clowns Will Be Arriving"

February 2015

Nostalgic, Fun Jazz

Summit Records DCD 644
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

I have to admit that it was the cover of this CD that called to me. It seemed to say, "Play me first." I expected some sort of circus music, and it was there, but not until the clowns had already arrived on tracks 2, 3, and 4. Truth be told, this exceptionally amiable jazz set is about Ted Kooshian's nostalgia, which includes not only clowns but other fun memories too. This is a guy who still remembers the pleasures of boyhood. I relate.

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Suzie LeBlanc: "La Veillée de Noël"

December 2014

La Veillée de NoëlBeguiling and Energetic Holiday Songs and Dances from Canada

ATMA Classique ACD2 2523
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
****1/2

Overall Enjoyment
****

This hasn't been a bumper year for new recordings of holiday music. But there have been a few, and La Veillée de Noël is one of the best. It's the only holiday album I will be writing about here this year, in plenty of time for you to order a copy from Amazon.com or any other reputable mail-order house.

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The Villains: "A Little Something for the Pain"

August 2014

The VillainsAnother Comfortable Album from the Villains

Toucan Cove/Universal Records
Format: CD

Musical Performance
***1/2

Sound Quality
***

Overall Enjoyment
***

One of the neatest things about being in my position is the flood of indie recordings that arrive weekly in my post-office box. Back in 2010 one such package introduced me to the Villains, an Atlanta-based bar band. Dan Call produced the album, and he also played bass, sang vocals, and wrote many of the songs. It was simply called The Villains, but it was re-released the same year with one track, "Amie," added, as Just Another Saturday Night.

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Henry Mancini: "Music for Peter Gunn"

July 2014

Peter GunnHenry Mancini’s Jazz Score in a Modern-Recording Homage

Harmonie Ensemble/New York; Steven Richman, conductor
Harmonia Mundi HMU 907624
Format: CD

Musical Performance
***1/2

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

Remember TV's pioneering Peter Gunn? From 1958 to 1961, women wanted to meet someone like him and men wanted to be him -- both thoughts that would apply to James Bond seven years later. He wore a suit and tie, was oh so debonair, and was so very cool and hardboiled. He had a gorgeous girlfriend (Lola Albright) who sang at the waterfront jazz club Mother's, and he dispatched villains with aplomb (after all, it was a half-hour show). But I bet that more people remember the name of the show's composer (Henry Mancini) better than the actor who portrayed Gunn (Craig Stevens).

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Barb Jungr: "Hard Rain: The Songs of Bob Dylan & Leonard Cohen"

May 2014

Hard RainProtest Songs Still Relevant Today

Kristalyn Records KLCD1
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

Barb Jungr is an English singer-songwriter known as a chansonnière and cabaret performer. Though she has drawn from many different styles to fashion her arrangements, it's her singing of the songs of Bob Dylan that has made her famous. She recorded two albums for Linn Records that feature his songs, and even in albums devoted to other performers such as Elvis Presley, she has managed to slip in a song or two from Dylan.

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Jeremy Fox: "With Love"

April 2014

With LoveThe Art of the Arranger

Jazzbill Records
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

Music arrangers seldom get their due. Though they handle instrumental ensembles that can make or break the artist out front, their names are usually in fine print on the back cover of the album. I found With Love intriguing because it is the arranger, Jeremy Fox, who takes top billing. Fox has degrees from Western Michigan University and the University of Miami, and since 2001 has coordinated the SMV Vocal Jazz Camps around the US. Since 1999 Fox has received ten awards from DownBeat Magazine, including Best Written Song, Best Arrangement, and Best Studio Engineering.

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Will Kimbrough: "Sideshow Love"

April 2014

Sideshow LoveWill Kimbrough Takes the Lead

Daphne (self released)
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
*****

Overall Enjoyment
****

Will Kimbrough has often served as a sideman in backup bands for the likes of Rodney Crowell and Emmylou Harris (just to name a couple; the list is long), but on his new album, Sideshow Love, it's all his show and he proves more than up for it. He's a terrific songwriter, an appealing singer, and he plays mean, lean guitar, banjo, mandolin, and more. At times I heard shades of Rodney Crowell (no surprise there), Tom Waits, and Loudon Wainwright III. I use those names merely as a reference point, because Kimbrough doesn't actually sound like any of them, but he triggered those connections in one way or another when I listened to his superb CD.

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