Harry Connick Jr.: Smokey Mary
New Orleans Mardi Gras starts on Fat Tuesday, Feb. 12 this year, and Harry Connick Jr. has released this so called ‘limited’ (limited to what?) edition album to celebrate the upcoming celebrations and street parades.
In fact, Connick and his father, Connick Sr., started their own street parade, Krewe Of Orpheus, 20 years ago and it has grown to be one of, if not the biggest entrant, in the festivities with his float built around a glowing vintage steam locomotive (and hence the album title).
Connick Jr. wrote all 11 songs for this album but he has leaned heavily on the rootsy funk syncopations of The Meters (later a few members formed The Neville Bothers) with songs like Cuddina Done It and Nola Girl.
There is a more pop bent to the seemingly Allan Toussaint-inspired songs such as the opener and title track, while rock guitars guide the energy of Angola (At The Farm) with former Meters bassist George Porter on hand.
Meanwhile, Connick captures the sense of the street party with the almost exclusively percussive Mind On The Matter.
Smokey Mary isn’t so much retro as it is the timeless New Orleans heritage that informs this disc.
Odd however, that there is no hint of Professor Longhair’s massive piano influence anywhere on this album.
Meanwhile, Mardi Gras fans ought to search out the supreme and only Wild Tchoupitoulas album from 1976 that is the best New Orleans gumbo album of all time.
Classical Barbra (Sony)
This album is pretty much what the CD title says.
That is, an album of classical music where Streisand sings what are referred to as European art songs, classical music and the occasional aria. Nowadays the classical album charts are rife with these sorts of light classical and pop-opera releases from the likes of mega selling stars such as Jackie Evancho, Andrea Bocelli, Josh Groban and Hayley Westenra.
Last year the top 10 classical albums also included singing groups such as The Tenors, Il Volo not to forget our own Canadian Tenors.
But Classical Barbra is a re-issue album of a recording she made in 1973 that wasn’t released until 1976 when so-called crossover classical music was all but unheard of.
And I was unaware that Streisand even ventured into such uncharted territory, taking along her huge fan base who had also little experience with classical music.
When Classical Barbra came out it sold only to her core fan base but luminaries such as Leonard Bernstein and Glen Gould gave glowing reviews where Gould even said he wanted to be in on the action should Streisand ever record another classical album again (she didn’t).
There is a much more serious and academic musicological bent to Classical Barbra than the light classical performers of today.
There is no bending and reinterpreting songs by the likes of The Righteous Brothers or Roy Orbison to approach faux classical fare where Streisand aims strictly for high brow music but as ever with her expressive and impressive vocals.
There are extensive liner notes to each song that are sung in a variety of languages including Latin, Italian, Spanish, and German from highly admired composers such as Claude Debussy, Hugo Wolf, Gabriel Faure, Carl Orff and Handel and Schumann.
Furthermore, this new re-issue has a couple of added songs not on the original release including piano and vocal demos of Franz Schubert’s An Sylvia (Who Is Sylvia) and Auf dem Wasser Zu Singen that are the only two tracks that have no orchestral settings.
It will be interesting to see how well this album fares now that the musical world has expanded so widely with light classical singing and its audiences.
At times though, Classical Barbra sounds as if there is a tad too much reverence and caution taken with the material but, then again, Streisand was in uncharted territory.
Wow Gospel 2013: (EMI)
This gospel anthology comes subtitled: “30 Of The Years Top Gospel Artists And Songs” and marks the 15th year of these highly successful releases that began back in 1998.
In fact, this franchise is so popular that every successive year is still available and every year has seen the collections turn either gold or platinum in sales.
This current two-CD set isn’t the old school tambourine shaking, traditional gospel.
In fact, there are no traditional songs or even well known tunes on this collection at all.
All 30 songs are originals where the recording artists also act as their own producers and the sound is mostly contemporary R&B and hip hop.
The lead off song of encouragement, I Smile by Kirk Franklin, has pure hip hop beats, while the mid-album track, Good & Bad by J. Moss, is a sensuous love song to Jesus that, if you didn’t listen closely, could come off as a more earthly love song between two people.
Also a lot of the songs here seem to run off a template maybe because they are all Atlanta Georgia performers where the usually male lead testifier is backed by a sanguine chorus of women who often repeat the encouragements and lyrics.
There are 30 songs here by 30 different acts with the vast majority by black singers that makes for an uplifting listen.
There is range here too, from the gentle ballad by Vashawn Mitchell, hell fire testifying by Isreal & New Breed while Kierra Sheard belts out a power ballad with wailing guitars and all.
Fans should note that this also comes as a video release.