Seether, Isolate and Medicate [Deluxe Edition]

Written By: Editor - Aug• 10•14

by Craig P

seetherI’ve been a fan of Seether and have been following their work since their first single “Fine Again”. Their debut album Disclaimer remains a classic and in my eyes their best work. However, for those who follow Seether you will understand what I am conveying by the title of my review. Seether’s newest effort, Isolate and Medicate, is truly what my title stands for at the most part. The album starts off with “See You At the Bottom” which is only an average opener. For those of you who have heard the album already then listen to this track but then go ahead and pop in any of their previous albums and listen to those first tracks. The intro tracks like “Gasoline”, “Because of Me”, or “Fur Cue” gets your adrenaline pumping and eager to hear the rest of album. While a heavier track, “See You At the Bottom” did not give me that same feeling. It comes off as a b-side from their two previous albums Finding Beauty In Negative Spaces and Holding Onto Strings Better Left To Fray and a rather slow start in which I feel it could have been placed as a middle track. Next is “Same Damn Life” which sounds like an attempt to crossover to mainstream pop radio with its power pop verses. There is no doubt in my mind that it would be a contender as the second single of the album. However, the only part of the song I really enjoy are the instrumental sections after the second and final choruses that bring a 90s rock feel. The third track and first single (not counting the bonus track “Weak”) is “Words As Weapons”. On first listen like others I heard the song “Mad World” instantly in the verses. Aside from that I really enjoy the chorus and when Shaun’s more aggressive vocals come into play. I find it to be a good choice as a first single as it is the best track out of the first half of the album. The fourth track “My Disaster” is a heavier track but I find it to once again sound more like a b-side of Negative Spaces and a rather dull chorus. It’s nothing memorable. Next up is a ballad-like song called “Crash” which sounds like no other track Seether has done before. Instrumentally the song is interesting but aside from that it does not grab much interest to me.

We then head into what finally is the best part of the album with “Suffer it All”. All I have to say is YES!! By far the heaviest track on the album and it would not fit out of place as an album track, not a b-side, from Disclaimer or Karma and Effect. It is very aggressive vocally as well as being heavy instrumentally. It is a true standout on the album. The seventh track “Watch Me Down” is kind of similar to “Same Damn Life” only a little less poppy and much better. Sounds like another single contender and not a bad choice. “Nobody Praying For Me” is most likely my second favorite as I find the whole song stands out. After three really good songs the album drops off with “Keep the Dogs At Bay”. The main guitar instrumental sections sound like their own much more superior song “Burrito” from Karma and Effect only to come off as less heavy. Nothing on this track stands out to me whatsoever. The final track “Save Today” is the best slower song on the album but their weakest attempt to close album. A weak opener and a weak closer is not good.

Finally, I was excited to know that they were releasing a deluxe edition of the album as I found the bonus tracks on their previous album to be amongst some of the best on that album. However, this album is the exact opposite. “Turn Around” is a dull repetitive rehash of “My Disaster”. Also, “Burn the World” has a chorus that is very similar to “Watch Me Drown” only slower. “Goodbye Tonight” is a forgettable pop song. Prior to listening to the album I found the addition of “Weak” to be a delight for those like myself who did not need to purchase their greatest hits album. However, after listening to how mediocre the majority of this album is I find it to be lazy to slap it on here.

All in all, I know everyone is entitled to their own opinions like myself with this review. But if anyone says this is their best work then I suggest you go back to your CD collection and pop in Disclaimer or Karma and Effect. In addition to this, I know some people were disappointed in their previous effort compared to their prior releases but I find Holding Onto Strings to be a much better album regardless of it being less heavy because it displayed a more creative side to Seether and the songs all sounded different from one another. As I stated before, for the most part Isolate and Medicate shows no step forward and the majority of the songs sound more like b-sides from their previous two albums or flat out not anything interesting. Aside from “Suffer it All”, you will not find any songs in the vein of “Needles”, “69 Tea”, “Not the One”, “Fallen”, or the hit single “Remedy” that will get your blood flowing and rock out to. You also will find bland ballads that do not hold a candle to the likes of “Broken”, “Walk Away From the Sun”, “Here and Now”, or “Never Leave”. This album contains no memorable tracks such as “Fine Again”, “Sympathetic”, or “Rise Above This”. If you want to hear new Seether then I recommend you save your money on this album as whole and download tracks 3, 6, 7, 8, and “Weak” if you haven’t already. On the other hand, if you want the best of Seether then please purchase the excellent Disclaimer and/or Karma and Effect.

Godsmack, 1000hp

Written By: Editor - Aug• 10•14

by Andrew Z

godsmackAfter a rather long wait for their next LP, Godsmack finally unleash 1000hp, 4 years after 2010′s, The Oracle. As a band that were going through some rough waters not too long ago and were close to splitting at one point, you wouldn’t know it by listening to this album. It’s everything and then some of what you’d expect from Godsmack at this point. You have the typical Godsmack ballads but sprinkled throughout the album, you have some experimenting with different styles, something we haven’t really seen from Godsmack since IV.The album kicks off with the big lead single, “1000hp”, your typical Godsmack “pump-up” track with an anthem chorus that will definitely get live crowds going. Nothing out of the ordinary for Godsmack. It then heads into “FML” which has a pretty catchy riff to carry the song, but again follows the same Godsmack structure. Godsmack first shows it’s experimental side with “Something Different”, an ironic song title I’d say. The verses of this song are very different compared to anything else Godsmack has ever done and Sully’s vocal phrasing is completely new to Godsmack. “What’s Next” is another stereotypical Godsmack tune, “Generation Day” is a bouncy song and I love it. The instrumental bridge to this song may just be the highlight of the album for me. “Locked & Loaded” serves as the sequel to “Cryin’ Like A B****”, it’s about Nikki Sixx and the well-documented feud he and Sully Erna had during Cruefest a few years back, decent song, but this battle of inflated egos needs to end, time to get over it and move on. “Livin’ In The Gray” is another one of the better songs on the album. “I Don’t Belong” is also a really good song and contains some of the better riffs on the album. “Nothing Comes Easy” I guess you could say is another experimental song, the main riff reminds me of a certain Smashing Pumpkins song… the album concludes with “Turning To Stone”, a very strong closer with some tribal drumming we haven’t heard a lot from Godsmack in recent years.

The downsides of the album are the lack of solos from Tony. He’s not my favorite guitarist by means, he’s right out of the Kirk Hammett school of solos, pentatonic scale with wah and there is every solo he’s ever written, but the fact he only put solos in on less than half the songs on the album, it feels like the album is lacking that final touch that previous Godsmack songs have had. The other downside is the guitar riff writing, again, Godsmack never really had truly great riffs, but 1000hp contains a lot of similar riffs throughout and that makes the album drag along a little bit when you’re listening to it from start to finish.

Overall, if you’re a fan of Godsmack, you’ll like the album. Even if you’re indifferent to Godsmack, there’s a few songs on this album that are different enough that you could like it. The best songs are “Generation Day”, “Livin’ In The Gray”, “Turning To Stone”, and “FML”. Not really any weak songs on the album, just songs that are fairly cut-and-paste Godsmack and don’t really pop out much to me. I give it a 7.5/10, roughly 4 out of 5 stars.

Jeremy Fox, With Love

Written By: Editor - Aug• 10•14

by Constance Tucker

album-cover-jfjpg (2014_04_29 16_45_23 UTC)A-listers in vocal jazz today, exquisitely crafted arrangements of timeless standards and a cavalcade of musicians that bring Jeremy Fox’s stunning ideas to life. This is a keeper.

Jeremy Fox is a mulit-talented, pianist, educator, arranger, and vocal coach, since 2004, Jeremy has coordinated the SMV Vocal Jazz Camps around the United States and Canada (www.VocalJazzCamp.com). For five years, he has also co-conducted a weeklong workshop for music directors each summer called the Jazz Theory Boot Camp (www.JazzTheoryBootCamp.com). He is active as a clinician, and has presented workshops and clinics around the world.  Jeremy has also served as guest conductor for All-State and Honor ensembles in the United States and Canada. The SWCC Vocal Jazz Festival that Jeremy revived brought in such artists as: The Real Group, the New York Voices, Rajaton, Mark Murphy, Nancy King, and m-pact.  After Jeremy’s departure from the college, the festival was renamed the Fox Festival, bearing Jeremy’s name.

With Love, the debut release titled under Fox’s name, was born out of his doctoral work in jazz composition at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music. The idea behind the project was quite self-realized: pull your resources for a stellar line-up of vocalists, arrange for each one, then record and watch you ingenious plan become the finished product.  The line-up in unmatched: Kate McGarry, Kevin Mahogany, Peter Eldridge, Lauren Kinhan, Kate Reid, and more.   Each delivers first-rate performances and are uniquely different from each other. Which makes the release even more enticing, as you feel you are getting the opportunity to have multiple recordings rolled into one experience. I wish all vocal albums were made this way, and I truly hope this idea catches on even more. The material is recognizable and classic, from the likes of Cole Porter, Stephen Sondheim, and other classic songsmiths. Over eighty musicians help to realize Fox’s arrangements, which makes this effort even more remarkable.

Kate Reid sings and scats over a swinging “That Old Feeling,” Reid alto voice is so tantalizing and a great way to kick off the CD, McGarry is enchanting on a peregrinate ofstrings “All My Tomorrows,” is a winner. Mahogany’s deeply resonate voice is a wonderful compliment to “Three Little Words.” Fox uses his pen to settle the mood with a strings arrangement of Sondheim’s “Not While I’m Around,” which features stirring vocals from Sunny Wilkinson, while “Girl Talk” is given a bluesy chanteuse feel by Wendy Pedersen.  Additional highlights are a glamorous version of “Moonray,” which gives Kinhan a chance to open up vocally. Reid is given another opportunity to shine, and shine she does in the setting she excels at in spades with a gentle version of “So Many Stars.”

Every vocalist is considered, every arrangement refined and every result is seamless. It takes a truly gifted arranger to take this many musicians, this many vocalists shine, and still convey a cohesive concept that is entertaining, enjoyable and quite musical. It shows in every cut, and it shows it was done With Love.

Track Listing: That Old Feeling; All My Tomorrows; Three Little Words; Get Out Of Town; Not While I’m Around; Girl Talk; Dindi; Friendship; I’m Glad There Is You; Moonray; So Many Stars.

Personnel: Jeremy Fox: arrangements, conducting, piano (5), keyboard (6); Kate Reid: vocals (1, 11); Kate McGarry: vocals (2); Kevin Mahogany: vocals (3); Derek Fawcett: vocals (4); Sunny Wilkinson: vocals (5); Wendy Pedersen: vocals (6); Rose Max: vocals (7); Ramatis Moraes: vocals (7); Anders Edenroth: vocals (8); Peter Eldridge: vocals (9); Lauren Kinhan: vocals (10); Cassandra Eisenreich: flute; Ernesto Fernandez: flute; Allison Hubbell: flute; James Drayton: oboe; Rachel Lueck: English horn; Peter Bianca: clarinet; Derek Smith: clarinet, bassoon, bass clarinet; Isabel Thompson: clarinet; Carlos Felipe Vina: bassoon; Julia Paine: bassoon; Stanley Spinola: horn; Larysa Pavelek: horn; Jon Lusher: horn; Sarah Williams: horn; Matthew Shefcik: flugelhorn; Adam Diderrich: violin; Michelle Godbee: violin; Patricia Jancova: violin; Karen Lord-Powell: violin; Zachary Piper: violin; Katrina Schaefer: violin; James Schlender: violin; Arianne Urban: violin; Abby Young: violin (5, 7); Steffen Zeichner: violin; Amanda Diaz: viola; Emily Jones: viola; Robyn Savitzky: viola; Kathryn Severing (5, 7); Joy Adams: cello (5, 7); Sarah Gongaware: cello; Cecilia Huerta: cello; Chris Young: cello; Pedro Fernandez: percussion; Nathan Skinner: vibraphone; Maria Chlebus: vibraphone (6); Vivek Gurudutt: table; Phuttaraksa Kamnirdratana: harp; Ryan Chapman: trumpet, flugelhorn; Paul Equihua: trumpet, flugelhorn; Jared Hall: trumpet, flugelhorn; Derek Ganong: trumpet, flugelhorn; Eric Bowman: trombone; Stephen Szabadi: trombone; Chris Gagne: trombone; Major Bailey: bass trombone; Neil Carson: saxophone; Dan Andrews: saxophone; Alex Weitz: saxophone; Matt Burchard: saxophone; Derek Smith: saxophone; Mark Small: clarinet; Ernesto Fernandez: flute; Erin Fishler-Branam: vocals (8); Sherrine Mostin: scratch vocals; Daniel Strange: piano, keyboards; Rene Toledo: guitar; Geoffrey Saunders: bass; Michael Piolet: drums; Ramatis Moraes: guitar (7); Lindsey Blair: guitar (6); Zach Larmer: guitar (6); Steve Lewis: drums (6); Angelo Versace: piano (4); Tim Jago: guitar (4); Daniel Susnjar: (4).
Record Label: Self Produced

Annette Genovese, Dream With Me

Written By: Editor - Jun• 28•14

by Constance Tucker

annette cd coverAnnette Genovese, bandleader, arranger, who has recorded dozens of songs for her own albums, Indie artists, and commercials, this busy Tri-State artist has released a winning release entitled Dream With Me. Managing her own projects, she has created several professionally produced albums ranging from new wave, gospel rock, pop, funk, and jazz. For each project, she has provided primary creative oversight from initial vision through song arrangement/writing, recording, mixing, and final mastering.

Recently, the loss of Horace Silver rocked the jazz world and Genovese’s version of “Senor Blues” is a fitting tribute to this legendary artist. Genovese has a pop infused style that offers the listener and easy way to connect to jazz. The track is driving and upbeat and is a good solid version of this well-covered standard. Genovese does it justice with good pitch, interesting phrasing and pleasing delivery. “Ain’t Nobody” made famous by Chaka Khan/Rufus lends itself to the versatility of styles contained within Dream With Me. The album closes with a P. Mendes composition “So Many Stars,” in almost an ala Burt Bacharach style. Dream With Me is a mix of jazz and pop standards, a perfect recording for reminiscing through a time past or if I may; almost a collection of eras. Genovese truly switches between the jazz and pop jazz renditions with an easy style that has a 70s sensibility to it, which is becoming a popular approach in easy listening and jazz pop genres, a well-crafted listen.

 

Soundgarden, Superunknown (20th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition – 4CD + 1Blu-ray Audio Disc)

Written By: Editor - Jun• 28•14

soundgardenby Derek P

By 1994, grunge had hit its peak and began to decline in popularity. Bands like Pearl Jam had released material that divided its fanbase, refused to make any music videos, and were battling Ticketmaster over high prices. Nirvana released the brilliant-but-funereal “Unplugged in New York” as its swansong. Alice in Chains released the ingenious acoustic EP Jar of Flies, but frontman Layne Staley’s addictions severely limited the band’s outgoings. Pop punk, art metal, and neo-grunge were now rising in popularity. Kurt Cobain’s death unofficially signified the twilight of an all-too-brief world domination ruled by ingenious, sludgy riffs and flannel-wearing poets. However, the following summer, Soundgarden, who had not only seen it all, but had also SURVIVED the peak-and-burn of the scene, just happened to release their magnum opus. Welcome to the Superunknown….

Production:
Though the album is undeniably Soundgarden, a few key differences immediately set this release apart from both its predecessors and its successors. The album has a more subdued sound to it- not nearly as in-your-face as the ballsy art-metal of Badmotorfinger. Even the rockers have a more balanced edge to them, but that’s not to say that they’ve lost their power. Though the album is more tame at first listen, repeated listens reveal that Soundgarden have not lost their edge. Not by a long shot. If anything, Superunknown is darker and more personal than anything they had released up to this point in their career. Much of this is due to the crisp production, which keeps any single instrument from dominating the mix, instead concentrating on the aura of the band itself- bleak, gray, and wonderfully apocalyptic. Chris Cornell’s vocals are more ghostly and controlled than before, and while the riffs are still heavy, they help to keep the songs afloat instead of racing ahead of them or weighing them down. The atmosphere paints an existence that basks in the black sunshine of its own mortality. The music is borderline uncomfortable at times, but such dissonance adds to its genuine depression, as art. And if you read between the lines, you’ll find a hint of hope in the darkness…

Material:
The material is far more focused than on any other Soundgarden release, and arguably, than any other release by ANY Seattle band. Soundgarden have thrown their murky expositions out the window in favor of the more experimental elements that were merely hinted at in “Badmotorfinger.” Though Cornell’s compositions generally stand head-and-shoulders above the other members’ contributions, every song has its place in this album. The consistency is impeccable, and even the song titles blend well as a whole, as if belonging to some sort of grand, dank concept about the dissatisfaction of life. The album kicks off with the 4-note assault of “Let Me Drown,” a perfect opener to such an album. “My Wave” soon follows, beginning with a simple riff in a not-so-simple time signature. The chorus creates a sort of surfer-ambiance fused with heavy punk, and it’s catchy as hell. Next up, one of my favourite songs in the SG catalog: “Fell on Black Days.” This song slows the tempo a bit and possesses a waltzy, Eastern groove to it. Probably the best single on the album. Other standouts include the meditatively dissonant “Head Down,” the dreamy-but-dreary “Black Hole Sun,” the punk-metal of “Spoonman,” the desperation for escape inside “The Day I Tried To Live,” and the stunningly poetic (and extremely morose) “Like Suicide,” which is arguably the best song on the album. Although some tracks are more drawn-out than necessary (“Limo Wreck” sludges on a bit too long), each song feels like a piece of a puzzle. Each has its own character and purpose, if not immediate accessibility.

Conclusion:
This is, arguably, Soundgarden at the height of their career. Each and every instrument is taken into account equally, every member sounds very comfortable, confident, and satisfied behind their instrument, and the album flows as smooth as butter melting into a scorching pan. This is possibly the best grunge album of all time, and without a doubt, the most focused and mature. If there is one grunge album you absolutely must buy, let Superunknown be it. You won’t be disappointed.

Barbra Streisand, Classical Barbra

Written By: Editor - Jun• 28•14

barbara streisandby Vance

It’s not often I get to use the phrase “sui generis” — fancy talk for “unique” — but this album truly is a genre unto itself … and to Streisand, to classical music, to new age sounds.

In the 1970s, Streisand took on all challenges: Bowie? Check. Post-Beatles John Lennon? Check. Disco? Check. Hard guitar pop? Check. Voice & piano? Check. In an amazing ten-year period, Streisand pushed her beautiful voice in every musical direction to see what she could do outside of the show tunes and quirky cabaret music that defined her 1960s output. So “going classical” was just par for the course of that decade.

Classical purists hated this album. Streisand lovers hated this album. Everyone suspected — as with the equally wonderful 1966 “Je M’appelle Barbra” album — that it would flop. And it did. However, listening to this album 35 years later, commercial considerations are irrelevant. Streisand always said she brought her acting chops to songs and created characters for each number. Most of these songs originated in opera. Doesn’t it make sense that she would be drawn to — and know what to do with — classical material?

The arrangements here are unfailingly lovely and border on the edge of “new age” — and I mean that as a compliment. Think about the best moments of a Win Mertens or a Michael Manring on Windham Hill — not a John Tesch or “Hearts in Space” treacly misstep — and you’ll get the idea of what I mean.

Her singing here is also uniformly restrained. She has nothing to prove, which ironically proves just how good she is when she jettisons irony (her standard ’60s mode) for intimacy and tenderness.

Her takes on Debussy’s “Beau Soir” and Fauré’s “Pavane” are flat-out beautiful. Coming close are Wolf’s “Verschwiegene Liebe” and Claus Ogermann’s adaptation of Pushkin’s “I Loved You” (a rare time when Pushkin also wasn’t being ironic.)

If you leave your expectations aside and think of this album as a set of ten of the best-written songs Streisand ever sang — and sang with out the occasionally overwrought belting or too-coy comic moments — you’ll be surprised at first and, eventually, as pleased as you are with an excellent red wine that leaves a warm, warm glow.

Nancy Goudinaki, I Wanna Be Your Star

Written By: Editor - Jun• 28•14

nancy g web cd

by Constance Tucker

Vocal Jazz is a genre that reaches far and wide and pleases audiences globally, so it is a natural fit that a Greek born young girl would find her desire to pursue the legacy of vocal jazz by moving to New York, taking countless lessons, spending hours of study to create a debut release with a cast of outstanding New York musicians known beyond the confines of the popular New York jazz scene was inevitable.

From the first notes you hear the continental sound infused by Goudinanki’s voice and the muscularity of the cavalcade of today’s stars.  Nancy’s debut album, I Wanna Be Your Star features a stellar line-up of prominent NY jazz musicians. Her record is produced by renowned bass player Richie Goods. Grammy Nominated Pianist, Orrin Evans who arranged several of the compositions on this album and accompanied by three of New York’s finest jazz innovators- the phenomenal bassist Dwayne Burno (passed on in December 2013), soulful tenor saxophonist JD Allen and drummer Rudy Royston, guest appearances by vocalist, Miles Griffith, percussionist Daniel Sadownick and bassist Richie Goods make it all the more sweet.   What is even more impressive is Goudinaki’s talents on acoustic nylon strung guitar. “Milonga” is well-played and Goudinaki soars on guitar, her eloquence and virtuosity is immediately evident. I know this is a vocal jazz review, but I had to mention it – because she truthfully is just that wonderful on guitar. Now back to our programming. Goudinaki has an airy light voice that commands wonderful control and good use of her head voice, her voice exudes femininity, which is a very pleasing virtue and makes her singing that much more appealing. On “Birds of Paradise” a Nancy G original, the listener is transported by the Latin rhythms and upbeat cheery melody. A standard “Just Friends” is augmented by guest vocalist Miles Griffith. The two have such ideally contrasting voices that the lilting voice of Goudinaki is underpinned by the masculine gravel of Griffith’s well-seasoned voice, and the result if magical. The title track “I Wanna Be Your Star” is an English translation of Goudinaki’s tune, written when she was 16 years old, which features Goudinaki on guitar and singing in her native tongue of Greek, giving the disc a further transnational sound. A wonderful debut release by a continental artist who I look forward to watching with each new release, my only comment is – next time, Nancy give us a balance of instrumental and vocal cuts, as you truly are quite talented on guitar too – and it would be very nice to have a full balance of both aspects of your jam-packed talents.

Verdi at the MET: Legendary Performances from The Metropolitan Opera

Written By: Editor - Dec• 27•13

by S. Kohl

verdi at the metVerdi’s 200th birthday provided a good excuse for this boxed set of Metropolitan Opera performances that were broadcast live between 1935 and 1967. These have appeared in other editions, most “unofficial,” though UN BALLO IN MASCHERA and OTELLO were in the Met’s “historic broadcast” series on LP, issued for fund-raising purposes around 1980. All but two of these had been run by Metropolitan Opera Radio on Sirius/XM prior to release of this set, and the AIDA was also heard in 2005 as an “archive” performance during the Saturday network radio broadcasts.

The sound quality varies, and as might be expected the 1935 LA TRAVIATA requires the most indulgence from the listener. The sound has been improved considerably from earlier copies, and while quite a bit of distortion from the source recording remains, noise and speed variation issues have been addressed. Applause after arias has been truncated, possibly when the original transfer was made years ago from the acetate discs, but the defects are worth tolerating to hear Rosa Ponselle’s Violetta, and Lawrence Tibbett when he was still in prime vocal condition.

While sounding far better than the TRAVIATA, there’s a small amount of distortion in the 1945 RIGOLETTO, 1949 FALSTAFF and 1959 MACBETH. The RIGOLETTO seems an odd choice; the sound is a little dim and, as noted by the critics at the time, The Duke of Mantua was not one of Bjoerling’s better roles from a dramatic standpoint. But the voice is splendid, and Leonard Warren supplies plenty of drama. It’s also good to have an example of Cesare Sodero’s competent conducting, since he was busy at the Met in the early 1940′s, and his commercial recordings are not representative of his abilities, made when he worked as music director for the Edison phonograph company.

The MACBETH, from the Met’s first production of the work, invites comparison with the commercial recording RCA Victor made with the same cast. The live performance has a strange acoustic, evidently not sourced from the microphones used for the broadcasts, providing more resonance than usual. The frequency response is good and the voices are captured fairly well, but the orchestra sounds like it was in another room. I’m guessing the microphones were above the stage, without a direct path to the orchestra pit. Distortion levels aren’t extreme, but do unfortunate things especially to Leonie Rysanek’s voice. While the voices and orchestra sound better in the commercial recording, it was made in the early days of stereo, emphasizing separation of the channels, distracting enough that playing it in monaural mode helps. Even so, the balance between singers is better in the live performance.

The two from 1940 are especially attractive, being fine performances with interesting casts, and the sound is quite good with low distortion and a surprising amount of dynamic range. The OTELLO is very impressive, energetic and precisely executed by all forces under Ettore Panizza, with Martinelli’s voice captured far better than it was in the studio-recorded excerpts he made at the same time for Victor.

The sound quality is also fine on the rest of the performances, with the 1950 SIMON BOCCANEGRA and 1952 LA FORZA DEL DESTINO excellent for the time they were recorded, and having little surface noise from the discs.

I have a couple minor gripes about the editing. Scene and act changes happen without a break; I don’t expect commentary by Milton Cross, but a few seconds of silence would have helped. There is also no hint in the notes as to how these were presented in performance “at the Met” where RIGOLETTO and LA TRAVIATA were usually given in four acts. In a couple places the applause has been truncated; it may make some sense at the end of a disc side, such as after the tenor aria in Act III of LA FORZA DEL DESTINO, but there isn’t much excuse for dropping 30 seconds of it after “O patria mia” in the 1967 AIDA. Fortunately this only seems to occur in a few places, so I don’t consider it a major issue.

The 136-page booklet has plot synopses of the operas and some information on events surrounding the performances, with the text in English, German and French, but very little technical detail on the recordings, other than for the 1935 LA TRAVIATA. The cast lists and pictures are probably the most useful parts of it.

Access to the discs is somewhat awkward, since they are in cardboard envelopes arranged as folders. Squeezing the envelope open near the “spine” of the folder usually allows the disc to drop out far enough to grab the center hole, and the cut-out on the edge is an improvement over the similar packaging of the Wagner collection. At least the box doesn’t take up a lot of space, and the envelopes provide plenty of area for identifying the tracks on the discs.

With ten operas in generally fine performances, this is an excellent release, a bargain at the price, and despite a few minor issues it is fully deserving of a 5-star “I love it” rating.

Redmond, Langosch, Cooley – Compared to What

Written By: Editor - Dec• 27•13

by Constance Tucker

cd coverTake a blues chanteuse that has been thrilling audiences for years with an impressive discography, put her with a couple of jazzers and the result is a gritty, rugged, big-voiced belter whose jazz sensibilities shine through in spades. Supported by Paul Langosch on bass and Jay Cooley on keys, this is a truly swinging date that is well worth the shelf space in your prime jazz library.

Born and raised in Richmond, VA, Redmond majored in voice at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and studied classical voice. By night, she performed in various rock and jazz bands on and around the VCU campus. Although the faculty at VCU felt that Redmond had great potential as a classical singer, she decided that a classical career wasn’t for her and opted to concentrate on rock, R&B, and jazz instead. After moving to the Washington, DC area in the early ‘90s, Redmond was hired as a featured vocalist for the soul/funk-oriented band that saxman/flutist Al Williams led in DC and its suburbs. Eventually, the singer left Williams’ employ and formed her own band, which performed a combination of covers and Redmond originals. As a solo artist, Redmond developed an enthusiastic following in the Washington DC area, and along the way, she won quite a few Wammie awards. The Wammies are the local DC equivalent of the Grammies, and in the ‘90s and early 2000s, Redmond won a total of 22 Wammies (including awards for “Best Rock-Pop Vocalist,” “Best Female Jazz Singer,” “Best Roots Rock/Traditional R&B Vocalist,” “Best Urban Contemporary Vocalist,” and “Best Female Blues Vocalist”). Locally, Redmond created enough of a buzz to open for major soul veterans when they passed through DC, including the O’Jays, the Pointer Sisters, Smokey Robinson, Ashford & Simpson, and the Neville Brothers.  Eva Cassidy who was an enthusiastic Redmond supporter, (she died of cancer in 1996), can be heard together on WAMA Volume VII DC101 edition. Redmond’s solo albums have included, Prisoner of the Heart, 1997′s Live!, and 2000′s Here I Am, all of which she released on her own Spellbound label. In 2002, Prisoner of the Heart was re-released by the independent Q&W Music Group, and in 2005 Redmond again released Send the Moon also on Spellbound Records. Now in 2013, Compared to What, Self-Released, offers a strong addition to Redmond’s extensive discography.

“Come Rain or Come Shine” opens the proceedings and immediately signals to the listener this will be a soulful reading with a swingin’ tempo reinforcing the lyric, that is given more of a reverent pledge of love vs. the mournful approach that most vocalist take on this well documented cut. Redmond is divine, her voice is incredibly soulful, and immediately strikes the listener to engage. Langosh and Cooley swing hard, laying out a strong canvas for Redmond to paint her bluesy vocal runs atop. Absolutely superb!! “Dance Me to the End of Time” is a remarkable approach; it yearns, and deepens the lyric’s meaning with Redmond’s mournful reading. The lyric on this cut is already an amazing Leonard Cohen original, but with Redmond at the helm, her rendition just may be one of my favorite interpretations to date. “Storm is Coming” a Redmond original, adorns the almost halfway point of the album, though characteristically a contrast in style, it gives the listener an opportunity to peek into some of Redmond’s additional qualities and talents. Redmond is such a delight to hear; she could sing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and make me believe it.

“Ain’t That Peculiar” is where Redmond really lets her blues slip show. It is always a treat when someone really can deliver the blues; it should be the marker for a great jazz vocalist, at times you hear so many modern day vocalists who are wonderful technicians, but they have lost the most important element and role of the vocalist, to convince the listener of the lyric and deliver it with meaning. There are no shortcomings here, as Redmond knows how to treat a song and how to do the most important role of a vocalist – sing with conviction, believability and most importantly deep down soul. Thank you Mary Ann, you have answered my daily pulpit preach.

Overall Compared to What, is a stunning offering of varied styles, all based or underpinned in jazz, blues and sprinkles of Americana. Redmond, Langosh and Cooley serve it up with conviction, maturity, and most importantly authenticity. Something the younger generation could take a bit of advice from these veterans. Mastery is not created in nothing less than years on the bandstand, and these folks have the street cred to pull it off, highly recommended.

Billie Joe + Norah, Foreverly

Written By: Editor - Dec• 26•13

by Jef Fazekas

bilie joe and norahIt goes without saying that some combinations are just unfathomable, among them a Rodham Clinton/Bush ticket in 2016, broccoli and whipped cream, and Kanye West and humility. On the other hand, hard as it is to imagine, some pairings just work, including oil and vinegar, chocolate and peanut butter and Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy.
Believe it or not, we can now add Norah Jones and Billie Joe Armstrong to the latter list. On FOREVERLY, a reimagining of the Everly Brothers’ 1958 release SONGS OUR DADDY TAUGHT US, this disparate pair not only come together, they totally pull it off. (Armstrong, in particular, shines, showing off a whole other side of himself).

Mind you, this is no good-time collaboration….seeped in traditional country, folk and Appalachian roots music, these songs are full of death, loss, death, betrayal, death, regret, death, and….oh, yeah…death. But the pair nails it, never once coming across as posseurs or phonies.

Things kick off on one of the few upbeat notes, with the rollicking “Roving Gambler.” Armstrong and Jones both shine vocally, blending together perfectly in a totally complementary manner. However, it’s the relaxed arrangement that’s the true star here, what with the subtle percussion, shimmering acoustic guitars and spirited harmonica. GREAT way to start things off!
If you didn’t know better, you would swear “Long Time Gone” was a classic recording lifted right from the 50′s. One of the disc’s few love songs, it allows the dynamic duo to really play off of each other, with Armstrong all assured, yet vulnerable, and Jones almost coy and kittenish, yet strong and steely. THIS is what harmonizing is all about! Brilliant.

You might think “Lightning Express” would be a rambunctious rockabilly rave-up, but you would be oh, SO, wrong….the first of those aforementioned odes to death and sorrow, it’s anything but! And yet, with it’s delicate vocals and subdued instrumentation, this sad story/song is a thing of beauty. You can just picture the pair singing this on a front porch as the sun sets and the fireflies start to dance around. Lovely.
There’s a nice lilt to “Silver Haired Daddy Of Mine” that’s both enticing and confounding. Yes, you have more down beat lyrics about regret and atonement, but you also have an arrangement that lopes along at almost a cheerful pace. Anchored by the pair’s confident co-lead vocals, this is one of those things that shouldn’t work….but just does!

“Down In The Willow Garden” is one of my favorite cuts off of FOREVERLY. A dark, gothic tale of greed, murder and paying for your sins, this haunted, haunting tune is just captivating. However, the stand out star here is Armstrong, who seems to be channeling his inner Don and Phil. Seriously….based on this performance, Billie Joe COULD be a long lost Everly! Wow!

Things take a slight dip at this point. It’s not that “Who’s Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Little Feet” and “Oh So Many Years” are bad….it’s just that we’ve pretty much heard (or will hear) both tracks elsewhere on the disc, albeit to slightly stronger effect. That said, “Who’s Gonna Shoe…..” is a master class in harmonizing. Once again, Armstrong comes across as the long lost third Everly brother, while Jones brings a whole other perspective to the song with a feminine vibe. You would swear that these two have been singing together for years! There’s a nice country swing groove to “Oh So Many Years”, but this yearning love song seems out of place at this point (However, a full album’s worth of this style and sound down the line would definitely work!).

“Barbara Allen” is my other favorite cut. Armstrong takes the lead lead on this hoe-down stomper about lost love, death and maybe even a curse or two. The arrangement is mesmerizing, full of fiddle, tamborine and twang, but it’s the lyrics that really get you: “They buried Willie in the old church yard/And Barbara in the new one/From Willie’s grave there grew a rose/From Barbara’s a green briar.” So sad….and so, so SWEET!
The only problem with concept albums like this is that you have to take the good with the bad, and “Rockin’ Alone (In An Old Rockin’ Chair)” isn’t just bad, it’s AWFUL! Trite and chiched, this song has not aged well. Jones and Armstrong are in fine form vocally, but it just seems wasted on sappy lyrics that may have seemed sweet 55 years ago. The disc’s only real misfire.

Jones takes the lead on “I’m Here To Get My Baby Out Of Jail”, and it’s a total winner. Jones has been dabbling in Country for a while now (her guest vocal on “If The Law Don’t Want You” from Rodney Crowell’s 2012 KIN album was especially rewarding!), and the results show here…she wears the track like a fine silk shawl, wrapping herself around in it to pitch perfect perfection. Once again, VERY nice!

There’s almost a tinge of flamenco to “Kentucky”, which brilliantly shakes things up. This longing ode to a deeply-missed home state chugs along, pulling at the heartstrings. Armstrong and Jones’ lead vocals are softly subdued, yet full-bodied. There’s a dreamy quality here, tempered by an undercurrent of whistfulness. Gorgeous….just gorgeous.

Things wrap up with (what some are calling) “another one of those ‘dead baby’ songs.” Yes, the child at the center of the song is dying, and, yes, they even bring his/her last Christmas into the mix, but you can’t help but be in awe at how the pair makes it all so very touching, vs. maudlin and/or creepy. THAT’S singing at it’s most honest, universal and transcendetory.

And it’s singing that leaves you wanting more! Here’s hoping that FOREVERLY is just the first of many collaborations between Norah Jones and Billie Joe Armstrong (personally, I’d like to see everything from Western Swing to 60′s rock!), a pair that shouldn’t work, but, much like peanut butter and chocolate, is oh, so, sweet!
(As with all my reviews, I’m docking the disc half a star for not including the lyrics).