March 2006

Pure Classics
Pop, R&B, Showtunes, Country, Soul, & Good Ol’ Rock & Roll

In my latest lot of CD reviews I’ve included five albums, but I managed to squeeze in at least a dozen legends. How did I perform such magic? It’s pretty simple, two of the CD’s are complete new releases by bonafide legends while one is a set of various artists chockfull of new songs destined to be classics. In between, I’ve managed to review an important reissue and showcase a newcomer that shows promise of joining the ranks of these performers in years to come. Another little trick I managed to pull off is that in these five CD’s, I’ve offered up just about every genre of music. Well almost, Classical music had to sit this one out, but I promise you this, the artists and songs here are pure classics.


Etta James: All The Way
RCA Records
Release Date: March 16, 2006

What becomes a legend most? That question has been posed to several artists over the past few decades, but there’s only a handful that are worthy of the word “legend.” One of these artists is Etta James. All The Way is clearly one of the most diverse albums in her vast catalog, and also one of her best. This legendary artist has recorded everything from Jazz to R&B to Blues to Soul, and in this package, we’re lucky enough to invite all of them back. The CD kicks off with the title track that is most identified as a Sinatra standard, but James’ warm delivery creates something special and makes this song fresh and new. Her take on the Leonard Bernstein masterpiece, “Somewhere,” is nothing less than spectacular, while her warmth radiates on Simply Red’s “Holding Back The Years,” and her soul is inspired on the Marvin Gaye classic “What’s Going On.” Not enough diversity yet? Did you ever think you’d hear anyone dare cover Prince’s jewel “Purple Rain?” The thought of it almost sounds ridiculous, but until you hear these masterful readings, don’t make any snap judgments, especially since I’ve saved the best for last; R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” and John Lennon’s ode to peace and love, “Imagine.” If you have been living under a rock and not aware of Etta James’ gifts, there are eleven tracks on this exquisite disc to warm you up. If this CD doesn’t hit you in the heart, I’ll take a cue from the last track and be “Calling You” to give you the number of a doctor to fix your tin ear.


Grammy 2006 Nominees: Various Artists
Sony/BMG Music Group
Available Now

After watching all of the incredible performers a few weeks ago on this year’s Grammy broadcast, I thought spotlighting many of the nominated and winning artists would be fitting. But how do you spotlight 21 artists and performances into one column? Easy. Once you pick up this CD and take a listen, you’ll realize and revel with some of your favorite artists, such as Mariah Carey and her nominated R&B slammer, “It’s Like That,” Coldplay’s “Speed Of Sound,” Rob Thomas’ “Lonely No More” and Gorillaz “Feel Good Inc.” And those are just four of the nominated artists and songs. What about the other big winners? They’re all here, including Green Day and their brilliant Record Of The Year “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams,” Stevie Wonder’s sensational ballad “From The Bottom Of My Heart,” two-time winning sensation Kelly Clarkson with her electrifying pop rocker “Since U Been Gone,” and the big winners of the evening, U2, chiming in with “City Of Blinding Lights,” and John Legend’s superb song, “Ordinary People.” If that’s not enough, Paul McCartney made his first-ever Grammy performance come alive this year, so it’s only appropriate to spotlight his stunning selection “Fine Line.” Other vets include The Rolling Stones’ “Rain Fall Down,” Neil Young’s “The Painter,” Springsteen’s winner “Devils & Dust,” Seal’s phenomenal “Walk On By” and Sheryl Crow’s splendid “Good Is Good.” Rounding out the disc is Rascal Flatts, Hawaii’s own Jack Johnson, rock and roll’s Foo Fighters, Beck, Death Cab For Cutie and alternative music’s Franz Ferdinand. If it’s a potpourri of music you desire, you can’t miss with this CD!


James Blunt: Back To Bedlam
Custard/Atlantic Records
Available Now

Speaking of the Grammy’s, take a good listen to this debut album by England’s latest sensation, James Blunt. I guarantee his will be a name that will be repeated several times at next year’s ceremony. If you listen to mainstream radio, it’s almost certain you’re already familiar with his Top 5 hit single “You’re Beautiful.” If not, you should be. But even if you’re not a fan of the song, please don’t dismiss the rest of this CD, which is the best from a new artist in months. With Blunt’s flawless falsetto and his imaginative lyrics, he brings something fresh that has been missing in the industry for a long time – uniqueness. Blunt has slowly crept into our heads over the past couple of months, and a listen to selections such as “Tears and Rain,” “Goodbye My Lover,” “Cry” and “No Bravery” will secure the fact that the music industry is still chockfull of artists that have something exceptional to offer. If I were to compare Blunt to any legends, it would be to the early days of the Bee Gees, prior to their Saturday Night Fever heyday, when they were making darker and more introspective recordings such as “Lonely Days” and “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart.” I urge you to pick this one up and give it a listen. The best barometer of a record is when it can appeal to 16 year-olds on up to listeners in their 40’s, and for those who appreciate intelligent lyrics and melodies, in their 60’s and beyond. This is a man for all ages. Pick it up and prove me right. If anything I described appeals to you, I guarantee you will have found YOUR favorite new artist, as I have found mine.


Barry Manilow: The Greatest Song Of The Fifties
Arista Records
Available Now

There’s no escaping Barry Manilow this past month, and with this spectacular tribute to the fabulous songs of the fifties, why would you want to? Between his performances on nearly every TV show for weeks, it’s clear that the Barry Manilow that millions fell in love with over thirty years ago is back, with his signature arrangements and killer key changes that made him a superstar with a capital “S.” Barry has teamed up with the man that put him on the map, producer and record mogul Clive Davis. After hearing this CD, one may wonder why they ever parted company. Barry breathes new life into gems such as “It’s All In The Game,” “Moments To Remember,” “Rags To Riches,” and “What A Diff’rence A Day Made.” Manilow dares to cover Elvis Presley’s “Are You Lonsome Tonight?” Sinatra’s “Young At Heart,” Mathis’ “It’s Not For Me To Say,” and Bobby Darin’s “Beyond The Sea. But his dares become beautiful tributes. My personal favorites are his crescendo building renditions of “Unchained Melody,” “Love Is A Many Splendored Thing” and his duet with the legendary Phyllis McGuire on the medley “Sincerely/Teach Me Tonight.” This album astonished the record industry when it debuted at #1 a couple of weeks ago. It’s the first time in nearly thirty years that Manilow has topped the charts. It’s also the first time in his amazing career that he’s debuted in the top spot. This is a testament to how great this CD is. Never underestimate true talent – it shines through no matter how musical tastes change over the years. This album’s success is so grand, Davis and Manliow are already researching material for his next album, The Greatest Songs Of The Sixties. Until that album arrives, I’m just going to be caught up in all of this Manilove and the wonderful voice that makes the whole world sing.


Liza Minnelli: Liza With A “Z”
Release Date: March 7, 2006

For the younger generation who only know of Liza Minnelli as a tabloid queen because she had the wedding and divorce of the decade, and as Dorothy’s daughter, then you don’t know Liza at all. There are stars and then there are STARS. Liza falls into the latter. She was best known for being the daughter of a legend until she became one herself. In 1972, the same year her Oscar-winning role in Cabaret was released, so was this soundtrack from her four-time Emmy-winning television special that originally aired on September 10, 1972. Filmed in New York the previous May, Liza exploded onto our television screens as few performers can do, and left an indelible mark on the audience as well as in show business history. This reissue is just a reminder of the spectacular talent that is Liza. Half of the album’s songs were written by the great songwriting team of John Kander and  Fred Ebb, which include the ferocious opening track, “Yes!,” as well as the title track “Say Liza (Liza With A “Z”)” and a medley from Cabaret, including the exquisite torch song “Maybe This Time.” In between, Liza treats us to a haunting version of the Billie Holiday classic “God Bless The Child,” the Maurice Jarre-penned “It Was A Good Time,” the funk of Joe Tex’s “I Gotcha,” and a stunning rendition of Dusty Springfield’s “Son Of A Preacher Man.” There’s also a bit of nostalgia with “Bye Bye Blackbird,” “My Mammy” and the Charles Aznavour jewel “You’ve Let Yourself Go.” This CD showcases Liza’s enormous versatility, and it is probably safe to say it’s one of the best, if not the best, full recording of her illustrious career. As a special treat, Showtime television is airing this original 1972 special on April 1, 2006. For those who never understood what the fuss was about, I highly suggest listening to this CD and tuning into the special. For those who don’t receive Showtime, not to worry, this special has been immaculately remastered for DVD and will be made available shortly after it airs. There are only a handful of artists that are known by one name. We have Judy, Barbra, and Bette to name three. After listening to Liza on this album, which was recorded when she was only 26, it’s easy to see why she is considered among the crème de la crème of entertainers. This production gets an “A,” and that’s for Astounding!

© 2006 Steven M. Housman. All Rights Reserved.