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Published: Sunday, 11/6/2005

CD reviews: Rod Stewart's latest 'Songbook' has its moments, but maybe enough is enough

You can't argue with success. So far, the "Great American Songbook" series has sold more than 13 million copies. No surprise, then, that there is now a fourth disc, although the record label says there are no immediate plans for Volume V.

And that's a good thing.

Volume III won Stewart a Grammy, signaling a peak in the series in which he adds his distinct vocal touch to American standards. His versions of those classic popular songs, done with flair and obvious affection by the former rocker, were irresistible.

But this 13-track disc is flat in places, in part because of not-entirely-successful duets with Sir Elton John on "Makin' Whoopee" and Chaka Khan on "You Send Me" (the Sam Cooke song and only a classic at a stretch). The collection also is awash in other guests: Diana Ross, George Benson, Chris Botti, Roy Hargrove, and Dave Koz.

Of course, when a disc features songs by Irving Berlin, Ira Gershwin and Jerome Kern, and Rodgers and Hart among many others, there have to be successes. And there are.

Stewart excels on "I Wish You Love," the arrangement cushioned in warm strings, the more uptempo "Taking A Chance On Love," and perky "Blue Skies." And his swaying, orchestrated "Long Ago and Far Away" creates an almost irresistible urge to reach for a martini and a partner with whom to glide across the dance floor.

The disc ends with the title song - which would also be a fitting conclusion to the "Songbook" series. Great musical memories, but time to move on.

- RICHARD PATON

This two-disc collection is a bi-coastal recording from live gigs performed with separate trios in 2003 and 2004. Jazz guitarist Frisell intersperses original compositions with wonderfully lush jazz reinterpretations of "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" and "I Heard It Through the Grapevine." Frisell also offers his take on "Crazy" and "Tennessee Flat Top Box," but seems less comfortable with them. There's more traditional jazz renditions on material from the Gershwin brothers, Henry Mancini, and Johnny Mercer. Overall, Frisell captivates listeners with a broad, sweeping, and momentum-building sound.

- TOM HENRY

Chapin, who has specialized in contemporary folk music in a 30-year career, remains hugely popular with his albums aimed at youngsters and their families. "Some Assembly Required" features 15 charming creations that offer irony, humor, and stories in a way that kids past the toddler stage will understand and appreciate. The music is light and breezy, while the lyrics of everyday life are straightforward, yet not at all condescending to the target age group. Parents and kids alike will enjoy the melodies and clever wordplay. Every dad who has tried to put together a kid's toy, usually with great frustration, will appreciate the title track.

- KEN ROSENBAUM

HOUSE OF OM, Various Artists mixed by Groove Junkies (Om) Featuring a few of their own club-rocking tunes, Groove Junkies mix a 2-CD set of pumping house music for early evening and late night. The disc s hallmark is the number of vocal tracks with infusions of Latin, soul, and even gospel that makes it so much more than just dance beats. R.P.

DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES: MUSIC FROM AND INSPIRED BY, Various Artists (Hollywood) Here s a fairly likeable, tongue-in-cheek collection of covers and a few other songs from Shania Twain, Liz Phair ( Mother s Little Helper ), the Indigo Girls and Martina McBride ( Mrs. Robinson and Harper Valley PTA, respectively), and others. Quips from the women of Wisteria Lane are interjected every few songs and the album ends with Danny Elfman s theme for the show. T.H.

THE ROAD TO HERE, Little Big Town (Equity) This quartet failed to make much of a mark with their first album. With this second release, they show some promise on tunes heavy on the harmonies, but they don t quite hit the mark yet. The light-country sound is distinctive as the band s two females and two males share the vocal work, making it different from most groups that rely on a lead singer. Little Big Town is still on the outskirts of big success. K.R.



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