Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Short Takes: Pink Martini, Carole King, Michelle Shocked

So much music, so little time…here’s a few capsule reviews to help me get caught up (and to get stuff filed into the racks instead of just cluttering up the space around my CD player :-)

Pink Martini – Hey

The 14-member band…lead by pianist Thomas Lauderdale and the amazing, multi-lingual vocalist China Forbes…is so wonderfully eclectic that you never know what’s coming next on this great disc. From the big, dreamy, string-drenched, old Hollywood-style ballad (“Everywhere”) that opens the disc to savory Latin flavors of “Tempo Perdido” and “Mar Desconocido” (featuring a sample from a Chopin waltz) to songs sung, quite effectively, in French, Japanese, Russian, and Arabic (as well as English, of course :-) “World Music” is ably represented by this crack band from Oregon :-) Two of the sparkling highlights are the title track, a sly, witty rejoinder to a guy who never called after what seemed like a perfect first encounter, and a sweet, amazing duet between Forbes and the venerable Jimmy Scott on the classic “Tea for Two”. This CD challenges your expectations…unless you’re already a Pink Martini fan…and then rewards you abundantly for your willingness to take the music journey.

Carole King – Love Makes the World

The remarkable Carole King has been making music as a songwriter since the 60’s and as a performer since the 70’s and this disc of songs affirming love and life, put out on her own Rockingale label, shows that she still has the right stuff in spades. This is a a nifty, enormously entertaining pop record that keeps King, in fine voice, squarely in the spotlight even while featuring some fine guest turns by Babyface, Wynton Marsalis (some very nice trumpet work on “I Wasn’t Going to Fall in Love”) , Celine Dion, Graham Nash (a charming, sumptuous duet on “Two Hearts”), K.D. Lang (so fine, as always, on the soaring duet of “An Uncommon Love”), Steven Tyler (some great harmony and background vocals on the rocking “Monday Without You”), Alejandro Lemer (a cool Spanish duet on “Lo Que Tú Eres Para Mí”), and King’s daughter Louise Goffin (a frisky duet on “Where You Lead”.) A simmering revival of “Oh No, Not My Baby” featuring just King’s soulful voice and piano is grand highlight.

Michelle Shocked – To Heaven U Ride

You never know where the muse will take Michelle Shocked but you know it’s always going to be interesting wherever it is. This is a soulfully ragged and heartfelt gospel set recorded live at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in 2003 (the tapes were apparently unearthed fairly recently.) Shocked, backed by a tight band and a gospel quartet, is a credible gospel singer and you can feel the spirit moving through her on her covers of The Band’s “The Weight” and Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “Strange Things Happening Every Day”, on the classic spirituals “Wade in the Water” and “Uncloudy Day”, and on her own “Quality of Mercy”. If the bluesy pathos of Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child” is just a bit beyond her (it’s a game try nevertheless) she is on sure footing throughout most of this uplifting CD.

(Below is a video of Pink Martini performing the very cool “Hey Eugene” live.)

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