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Published: Sunday, 7/4/2004

CD reviews: 'Idol' diva's debut is surprisingly good

Gray was the fourth runner-up on the opening season of American Idol, but is the first artist to release a CD on the new label created by Simon Fuller, the man behind the Idol phenomenon.

Given the questionable vocal ability of some of the finalists in the most recently ended contest, and the uneven recordings released by other contestants, perhaps not a great deal might have been expected of "The Dreamer."

But Gray surprises for much of the 13-track disc, displaying a voice with soul and power, and a nicely expressive quality, which she shows off on the lead track "Star," a pop/R&B hybrid.

She co-wrote almost all of the tracks, and it is asking a bit much that the quality of her writing is at a consistently high level commensurate with her vocal abilities.

Fact is, some of the songs are on the bland side of average - especially the awful "Yesterday/Today."

However she hits the mark more often than not, impressing with her vocal authority on the horn-laced R&B "Legend," the diva emoting on "Raindrops Will Fall," and on the disco/funk "Don't Stop (Keep It Coming)" and guitar-powered "Faces."

The CD ends with the gospel-flavored "God Bless The Dreamer" on which her voice is almost smothered by the sugary strings and occasionally sounds strained.

It's an unfortunate conclusion to a CD on which Gray shows she has what it takes to craft a post-Idol career on her own merits.

- RICHARD PATON

Cultural historian Ann Savoy tests musical boundaries by bringing in pop stars such as Cyndi Lauper, Michelle Shocked, and former Talking Heads Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth to play alongside some of Louisiana's top roots performers including Nathan Williams, Rosie Ledet, and Sean Ardoin. And there's the always-enjoyable, versatile bluesman Taj Mahal on two numbers. Think of "Creole Bred" as a gumbo of musical genres in which all the varied spices blend together wonderfully. Lauper and Shocked especially display a knack for the genre.

- TOM HENRY

For gritty western realism, there's little to compare with the rodeo-themed songs of LeDoux. He's a genuine cowboy who lived the life that he sings about. The hardships of a professional rodeo competitor make some mighty interesting lyrics, even raw at times, but LeDoux has a smooth baritone to make it all a good ride, set to fine melodies with outstanding instrumental work as a background. LeDoux has put out 22 Capitol albums, three of them certified gold, and has a Grammy nomination to his credit. This disc of his 20 best has no weaknesses.

- KEN ROSENBAUM

The two instrumentalists took widely differing paths in the music world, Mann as a seeker of melodies from around the world and Woods as the hard-swinging heir to the Charlie Parker tradition. These differences are marked in the 12 tracks laid down for this disc, which embraces the hottest bebop ("Au Privave") to Hungarian folk ("Jelek"). But when the two play together, the energy is boundless. The last song recorded before Mann's death, the Sammy Cahn/Jule Styne "Time After Time," is included as a bonus track. Great care was taken to produce the concert that led to this recording, including the use of twin rhythm sections to handle the wide-ranging styles of music. There is not one superfluous song or self-indulgent solo included.

- LARRY ROBERTS

Gilkyson has quietly developed into an artist who deserves to be hoisted up on the same lofty rootsy singer-songwriter pedestal as the one occupied by Lucinda Williams or Gillian Welch. This is a powerful release that tackles issues both political and personal, but has a laid-back folk groove that helps ease the biting intensity of some of the lyrics. Gilkyson's voice is a husky, laconic drawl that gives the words time to roll out and around the melodies. "Land of Milk and Honey" is a combination of polished professionalism and bottomless emotional depth.

- ROD LOCKWOOD

DIAMOND DOGS 30TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION, David Bowie (Virgin) Released in 1974 after the powerful "Aladdin Sane" and "Ziggy Stardust" albums, "Diamond Dogs" was bound to be somewhat of a letdown. The ideas Bowie is expressing are especially opaque, but it rocks with a frayed majesty and contains one of his best songs, "Rebel Rebel." This re-release provides an illuminating second disc of extras that includes Bowie's romping cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Growin' Up." R.L.



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