"Stronger For It" Janiva Magness (Alligator)
Detroit-born Janiva Magness is a powerhouse in the blues genre, one of those rare performers who lets go and exposes the vulnerability of her weary soul -- a vulnerability that, she argues, has given her as much strength as pain.
Although she's known mostly as a reinterpreter, doing fantastic takes of songs by Tom Waits and other artists on this album, her writing skills stand out on three songs. The most memorable is her haunting-yet-hopeful, anthem-like "I Won't Cry," which takes a message of mental toughness and resilience deep into the listener's bones with the repetition of vocals about how the singer gets cut, might bleed, but won't cry.
Magness has endured her share of anguish, having lost both parents to suicide at age 16, moving from one foster home to another and, without going into detail, pulling through a fair amount of heartache more recently, all of which she says has made her stronger. And that's the theme of this disc and all great blues performances: There is hope no matter what life throws at you.
Magness has the musical chops that help her connect with listeners as someone other than just a talented performer. Among her many high-profile awards and nominations is the 2009 Blues Music Award for B.B King Entertainer of the Year, which put her in an elite class of two women who have ever received that honor, the other being the late, great Koko Taylor.
-- TOM HENRY
"Where We Meet" Tyrone Wells (Position Music)
Singer/songwriter Tyrone Wells' fifth studio album and fourth full-length release is contemporary pop rock at its best. It quickly becomes obvious why Wells has made a name for himself in the music business, with song credits on numerous TV shows, including One Tree Hill, Vampire Diaries, Private Practice, Cold Case, and Grey's Anatomy.
From the first track through the eleventh, listeners are treated to a sensory voyage through no-nonsense lyrics and intriguing melodies, with no boredom or sense of sameness anywhere.
"Freedom" opens the album with a rock-tinged anthem to hope, sprinkling poignant words among sparkling backbeats and handclaps. "You're The One" is a straightforward song of hope and a new future. "I Can't Save You Now" boasts a smooth, catchy melody with powerful lyrics that speak directly to the frustration of futility.
In a little more than 40 minutes, Wells addresses some of the most common issues involving matters of the heart. Both the lyrics and the tunes are memorable. It's probably not top-of-the-chart stuff, but it is certainly worth hearing and enjoying.
-- KEN ROSENBAUM
"Eleven" Tommy Igoe and the Birdland Big Band (Deep Rhythm Music, Inc.)
Big Band jazz does not have to be a boring throwback to yesteryear. Just listen to this knockout by drummer Tommy Igoe and his 19-member New York-based Birdland Big Band and you'll hear why.
Igoe, who has played with Blood, Sweat and Tears, Art Garfunkel, Dave Grusin, Stanley Jordan, and others, serves up a delightful mix of fast-paced, loud, brassy, and sophisticated modern jazz, funk, Latin, and blues -- just about everything a stereotypical big band is not.
The group sizzles through 11 hot renditions of songs written by the likes of Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Michael Brecker, Michel Camilo, and Mike and Leni Stern. It's a hoppin' debut for a band that thrives on the frenetic tempo established by Igoe's marvelous percussion, an artist who had a hand in directing drum work for the Broadway production of The Lion King.