wears the trousers magazine


barbra streisand: love is the answer (2009)
October 12, 2009, 9:33 am
Filed under: album, review | Tags: , , , ,

s_lp_barbrastreisand_09

Barbra Streisand
Love Is The Answer •••½
Columbia

Love Is The Answer is the product of a partnership between Barbara Streisand and acclaimed Canadian jazz star Diana Krall. Given both artists’ pulling power, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that the album debuted at #1 in the US Billboard chart, giving Streisand a new record of five decades in which she has scored a chart-topping album, and subsequently soared to the top of the UK countdown this weekend. Fans were bound to welcome the album, having waited four years since Streisand’s last outing, Guilty Too, which saw her rejuvenate her multi-platinum selling 1980 collaboration with The Bee Gees’ Barry Gibb. Since Guilty Too was a firmly (and, perhaps, disappointingly) mainstream album, a return to Streisand’s jazzy, stagey roots makes for a welcome addition to her extensive discography.

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trouser shorts: madonna, nerina pallot, dirty projectors

060808_madonna

US website Examiner.com revealed yesterday that Madonna’s long-expected new ‘greatest hits’ album (effectively a severance deal following her move to a 360º contract with LiveNation after 25 years with Warner Brothers) will be titled Iconography. They cite September 22nd as a possible release date, and say that three new songs will be included. Rumoured titles for these are ‘Broken’, ‘I’m Sorry’ and ‘Celebrate’. 

It’ll come as no surprise to anyone that Madonna recently topped Forbes’s annual list of top-earning musicians with a reported $110 million in profits earned between June 2008 and June 2009 off the back of last year’s Hard Candy and the still ongoing Sticky & Sweet tour. Céline Dion and Beyoncé rounded out the top 3, earning $100 million and $87 million in profits, respectively. Full list below.

01 Madonna $110 million
02 Céline Dion $100 million
03 Beyoncé Knowles $87 million
04 Bruce Springsteen $70 million
05 Kenny Chesney $65 million
06= Coldplay $60 million
06= Rascal Flatts $60 million
06= AC/DC $60 million
09 The Eagles $55 million
10 Toby Keith $52 million
11 Bon Jovi $50 million
12 Dave Matthews Band $45 million 

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Nerina Pallot is reportedly following in the footsteps of Emilíana Torrini by writing songs for the next Kylie Minogue album. As hinted in the tabloids this week, it seems that Nerina has contributed at least one song, ‘Better Than Today’, to the upcoming album, with more to come. Kylie has also recruited Girls Aloud/Saint Etienne production team Xenomania for six or seven songs. A ‘source’ told The Sun: “Kylie wants to come back with a bang. Her last album, X, sold quite well but it wasn’t the triumphant return to form many people hoped for. By working with Xenomania she hopes she can create a really coherent album which will connect her right back to the pop market.”

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Dirty Projectors gave us all a bit of a scare on Tuesday night when their tour van was involved in a serious collision just outside of Detroit as the band were on their way to a gig in Toronto, even flipping on to its side. Despite rumours that one of the band was “in a serious condition”, all concerned were in fact discharged from hospital soon afterwards and took themselves off home to New York to recover. The only casualty then was the band’s Canadian dates, which had to be cancelled.

The band will be over in the UK & Ireland in September. See them here:

11.09.09 End Of The Road Festival, Dorset
12.09.09 Bestival, Isle Of Wight
13.09.09 Scala, London
16.09.09 Whelan’s, Dublin 

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Marina & The Diamonds posted the new Rankin-directed video for much-blogged track ‘I Am A Robot’ on YouTube yesterday. The song is the lead track from the Greek/Welsh artist’s new digital EP, The Crown Jewels, released on Monday (June 29th) through Neon Gold Records. Body paint fans rejoice.

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Jesca Hoop and Simone White will play a one-off gig together on June 30th at the Garage in Islington, London, at a night put together by Uncut magazine. Tickets are on sale now. Jesca will be playing at Glastonbury on Saturday, with appearances scheduled at Hyde Park’s Wireless Festival on July 4th and new London riverside venue Tamesis Dock on July 15th. 

Simone, whose second album Yakiimo was released this week, also has some other dates coming up. Catch her at the following venues:

01.07.09 Start The Bus, Bristol
03.07.09 The Band Room, North York Moors
05.07.09 Freebutt, Brighton
06.07.09 12 Bar Club, London 

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Anyone who has seen Ane Brun perform with her trio of ‘Diamonds’ will be familiar with Jennie Abrahamson, a successful singer-songwriter in her own right. The Swedish artist’s second album, While The Sun’s Still Up & The Sky Is Bright, will be released in Scandinavia on September 16th. Watch the video for recent single ‘Late Night Show’ below:

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Seventies rock legends Heart are in the middle of recording a new studio album, their first since 2004’s Jupiter’s Darling. Guitarist Nancy Wilson told Billboard.com that she and sister Ann were working with producer Ben Mink (kd lang, Barenaked Ladies), and that the album was taking shape organically. “We’re recording with just a real woodshed, small acoustic element, people playing together at the same time and (in) the same room – like what they used to call a hootenanny,” she said. “There’s no ProTools feel to it at all. We’re just sitting around playing guitars together and going for a performance that is on the spot.” Song titles include ‘Hey You’ and ‘Closer’.

The Wilson sisters are also planning to release a children’s book inspired by the band’s 1978 album Dog & Butterfly. “Ann pretty much did the writing, and I kind of was her editor,” Nancy explains. “She made the initial drawings of the dog and I did the butterfly. She drew the characters, mostly, and I painted them. And then we had an artist come in and kind of fill in some of the other designs ’cause we’re kind of busy right now. It looks really good. It’s really simple.” The book will come with a CD that includes new versions of ‘Dreamboat Annie’ and ‘Dog & Butterfly’. 

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The previously reported collaboration between Canadian jazz artist Diana Krall and Barbra Streisand now has a name and a release date. Out on September 28th on Columbia Records, Love Is The Answer will be Barbra’s first new studio material since 2005’s Guilty Pleasures and “presents the artist as a cabaret and jazz singer of emotional clarity, depth and maturity.”

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Cher is to appear in her first major film role since 1999’s ‘Tea With Mussolini’ in upcoming musical flick ‘Burlesque’, which will also star Christina Aguilera. Cher will play retired dancer Tess who runs a declining neo-burlesque club and acts as a mentor to Christina’s character. Incredibly, it will mark her first silver screen appearance in which she’ll use those famous pipes. The film starts shooting in November with first-time writer/director Steven Antin leading the way.

Not to be outdone by her former rival Christina, Britney Spears is apparently in talks to star as the female lead in time travel/World War II drama ‘The Yellow Star Of Sophia & Eton’. She would play the titular Sophia who “creates a time machine and travels back to World War II where she meets a Jewish man called Eton at a concentration camp.” [source: National Ledger] Stranger things have happened I suppose!

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Alan Pedder




sounding off: april/may 2009 (II)

Part II – reviews of Ora Cogan, Kap Bambino, Diana Krall and Lene Marlin.

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Ora Cogan
Harbouring •••½
Borne!

Anyone lucky enough to have heard Ora Cogan live will be familiar with the Canadian singer-songwriter’s ability to create a distinctively fragile and haunted atmosphere using only guitar and her voice. Third album Harbouring ambles along the same quiet, contemplative lines as her live sets, though it often feels as if a little bit of magic has been lost in translation. This is a shame, as when Harbouring hits the right notes, metaphorically speaking, it truly soars, sounding like a long-lost cousin of Cat Power’s Moon Pix. This is especially so of the strong second quarter of the album, in which ‘You’re Not Free’, ‘True Heart’, and ‘My Belle’ work beautiful minor chords to devastating effect.

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trouser shorts: patty griffin, shawn colvin, deerhoof

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Patty Griffin is rumoured to be recording (or planning to record) a new gospel-influenced album in a church with good friend Buddy Miller on production duties. The follow-up to 2007’s Children Running Through is expected to be out later this year. Before then, the pair head out on a short US tour with Buddy’s wife Julie Miller and Shawn Colvin as a preview of the Millers’ upcoming collaborative album – their first to be attributed to both spouses since 2001’s self-titled album – Written In Chalk, which features Patty on ‘Don’t Say Goodbye’ and ‘Chalk’, and Emmylou Harris on a cover of Leon Payne’s ‘The Selfishness In Man’. It’s out on March 3rd in the US; UK release unconfirmed. Find out more here.

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Shawn has an album coming out too – an as-yet-untitled live collection, her first in a 20-year solo recording career – and is currently writing fresh material for the follow-up to 2006’s These Four Walls. That album may hit the shops by the end of 2009 if we’re lucky. She’s also in the middle of writing her memoirs, to be published by Collins in 2010, which she says will be a natural extension of the intimate, personal and often hilarious stories that she weaves into her live shows.

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Lovable strangelings Deerhoof are set to release an iTunes exclusive live EP on February 3rd, featuring versions of ‘The Tears & Music Of Love’, ‘Blue Cash, ‘Buck & Judy’, ‘Makko Shobu’, ‘Basket Ball Get Your Groove Back’ and ‘Milk Man’. Just one song from Apple O’ then. Speaking of ‘Buck & Judy’, a new animated video for the song premiered yesterday on the BLURT website.

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More video goodness, this time embeddable, this is the video for the new Emmy The Great single, ‘First Love’, the title track of her long-awaited debut album, out February 9th. Right now, if you pre-order the album from the Rough Trade webshop, you can get an exclusive edition featuring a bonus disc of acoustic performances of some of the album tracks. The single is out on February 23rd.

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Speaking of Rough Trade exclusives, if you pre-order the new Alela Diane album, To Be Still (out February 16th), you get a 12-track bonus disc called Calm As The Owl Glides: Songs For Stillness featuring songs by other artists handpicked by Alela herself, including tracks by Mariee Sioux, Cat Power, Karen Dalton, Kate Wolf, Fairport Convention and Jackson C Frank. Here’s the link.

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Lastly, here’s a bit of a hit out of leftfield. Diana Krall and her band are producing the new Barbra Streisand album – her 63rd! Completion of the as-yet-untitled album is due any day now and may be packaged and promoted in time for a May release. Diana and Barbra have recorded a duet – inevitably – and some of the songs will feature a full orchestra.

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Alan Pedder




a buyer’s guide to christmas albums

christmas

a buyer’s guide to christmas albums

originally published Christmas 2006

Aware of its public service remit and the need to protect the health and welfare of its readership, Wears The Trousers has taken a deep breath and dipped a toe into the murky waters of the Christmas album. And what dangerous territory is the seemingly innocuous holiday record! Certainly not for the faint of heart or the intolerant of insulin. Sugar, schmaltz and saccharine certainly seem to be the alliterative order of the day. However, hidden in amongst all the tacky tinsel it is possible to find a star or two to follow. But first let’s lay down some ground rules. We’ll assume that there’s already a copy of Now That’s What I Call The Best Crimble Album In The World…Ever! Vol. 27 lurking in your collection alongside a Carols From [insert name of Oxbridge college here] freebie spewed from one of the tabloids – well, that’s all your Slade/Wizzard/Bing Crosby/chorister needs catered for and Saint Cliff’s seasonal output is mercifully excluded from Wears The Trousers’ catchment. This is ‘proper’ Christmas albums we’re talking about; even Laura Nyro’s sublime Christmas & The Beads Of Sweat doesn’t qualify. But then again, you’ve already got a copy of that…haven’t you?!

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diana krall invites us to share her quiet nights
December 10, 2008, 2:37 am
Filed under: news, trouser press | Tags: , , , ,

101208_dianakrallNew album has a distinct Brazilian flavour

Bestselling jazz artist Diana Krall has been looking west for her newest album, the romantic Quiet Nights, released March 30th through Verve Records. Recorded once again in Hollywood’s Capital Studios with longtime co-producer Tommy LiPuma, the album takes inspiration from Brazilian and west coast jazz styles to spice up her usual formula.

Featuring three covers of songs by bossa nova legend Antonio Carlos Jobim, including the title track and ‘The Boy From Ipanema’, a gender reversal previously (and famously) executed by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, The Supremes and Shirley Bassey, among others, Quiet Nights displays a renewed willingness to experiment following the release of her first career retrospective last year.

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2007 reviews dump: k

The following reviews were published on our old MySpace blog in 2007.

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Lucy Kaplansky
Over The Hills •••
Red House

Having graduated from the early ‘80s New York folk scene that brought us Shawn Colvin and Suzanne Vega, Lucy Kaplansky’s star has been a long time rising. But after a longstanding live collaboration with Colvin, the recording project Cry Cry Cry with Dar Williams and Richard Shindell, a period as a highly sought after backing vocalist, a career as a clinical psychologist and a string of five well-received solo albums, she is now regarded as one of the most able singers in the Americana market. Over The Hills further cements this hard-earned reputation and shows her increasing development as a deft and sensitive songwriter. The 10 country-tinged songs on her sixth studio album include a selection of numbers written by Kaplansky and husband

Richard Litvin and some well-chosen covers, most notably the Bryan Ferry-penned Roxy Music love song ‘More Than This’, her take on which could not be more tender.
Many of the self-penned songs on the album deal with family. “The moon’s shining on her too; she’ll see it and she’ll think of you” from opener ‘Manhattan Moon’ is Kaplansky’s reassurance to her adopted daughter about the feelings of her birth mother. ‘Amelia’ is another song about her adopted daughter, but just as you’re worried that the album might wander into drippy sentimentalism, Kaplansky niftily sidesteps a quagmire of schmaltz with a jaunty cover of ‘Ring Of Fire’. Her warm vocals are perfectly suited to this country standard, and Kaplansky captures June Carter’s sentiment as well as anyone but Johnny himself.

A veteran of many longstanding collaborations, this is an artist who really knows how to pick her guests and instrumentalists. Former bandmate Richard Shindell lends guitars and vocals, while the mellifluous vocals of Eliza Gilkyson harmonise beautifully with Kaplansky’s throughout. And the instrumentation is spot on. That said, the absolute standout is ‘Today’s The Day’, a stripped-down solo lament for Kaplansky’s dead father.

Without ever being showy or overwrought, Kaplansky’s voice is always expressive and sensitive – traits that have made her a popular backing vocalist. With Kaplanksy having leant her talents to Nanci Griffith recordings in the past, to let the similarity between their vocal styles go unnoticed would be remiss. Akin in phrasing and tone, though slightly less idiosyncratic than Griffith’s, Kaplansky’s voice lacks some of Nanci’s flair, but has no problems bringing life to her own tender songs and the covers. For all that, when up against the ever-enthusiastic Buddy Miller on the cover of ‘Somewhere Trouble Don’t Go’, penned by Miller’s wife Julie, she seems a little lacklustre.

For all its merits, perhaps Kaplansky’s greatest problem is her association with other artists. Aside from Griffiths, her association with Shawn Colvin elicits comparison with a singer-songwriter against whose work tracks such as ‘Swimming Song’ and ‘The Gift’ seem to be clunky metaphor, while her collaborations with Dar Williams bring to mind the twee failings of her former bandmate – this album is certainly not without its saccharine moments: perhaps there’s just one too many song for her daughter, and one too many over-sentimental paean to her family. Yet, despite invoking such comparisons, she generally stacks up pretty well. Moreover, where former releases have suffered from heavy-handed production, the bare acoustic nature of Over The Hills is light and suits the songs and Kaplansky’s voice well. Mostly heartwarming or moving, Over The Hills is, if not quite up with the best country-flavoured Americana you will hear this year, the sound of a talented artist who continues to develop and refine her craft.

Peter Hayward

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Rose Kemp
A Hand Full Of Hurricanes ••••
One Little Indian

Have you ever been so far from home, speaking on the telephone, hearing the pain in the voice on the line when it says it misses you, feeling so desolate when you realise that there is nothing you can do to make it better apart from give the promise you’ll be home soon? The standout track on A Hand Full Of Hurricanes, Rose Kemp’s second solo album, ‘Sister Sleep’ is the perfect mix of heartbreak and hope, the reassuring breath on the back of your neck in the middle of the night, a folk-inspired a cappella prayer to the mystics which is, quite simply, worth the price of this album alone. Fact.

But there’s more. Often falling steadfastly between a deep and powerful PJ Harvey and the supernatural quality of Regina Spektor, I suspect that it’s not often you find a 22-year-old from Carlisle who makes songwriting something so magical. Of course, her stellar folk pedigree helps. The daughter of Steeleye Span luminaries Maddy Prior and Rick Kemp, Rose has a genetic advantage.

A world away from her early folk releases, Kemp is almost witch-like in her ability to hold you in thrall of her pure feminine angst, commanding the raucous melée of sound with enviable superiority. Last year’s single, ‘Violence, displayed a vocal so powerful it could knock you off your feet and throw you into a wall, while the beautiful ‘Tiny Flower’ is the musical equivalent of kissing it better.

A Hand Full Of Hurricanes certainly makes for an apt title. The songs here twist and turn in and away from a despair so strong it could whip even an angel into an all-out fury in a single stamp of a guitar pedal. This really isn’t a storm in a teacup. It’s really very good.

Anna Claxton

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Chaka Khan
Funk This ••
Warner Bros.

With eight Grammy awards and a handful of gold selling albums to her name, Chaka Khan could quite justly be considered one of the all-time greats of R&B. And doesn’t she know it! Despite having spent the last nine years mired in compilation album money-spinning exercises and pretty much just resting on her laurels, you might think that the commanding title of Khan’s 12th album signifies a triumphant return to her 1970s heyday. And, in a way, it does. Much of Funk This sounds like it could have been recorded 20 or even 30 years ago. Trouble is, the scene has moved on. Modern R&B is a genre where Kanye West can remix Shirley Bassey and someone like Nelly Furtado can go from the whimsical pop of ‘I’m Like A Bird’ to the vamp crunkess of ‘Maneater’ in a few short years. Khan just can’t cut it in the face of such competition.

It’s not as if she doesn’t try. ‘Disrespectful’, featuring Mary J Blige, is a clear standout with its pure Motown feel and handily sounding a bit like Amerie’s monster hit ‘1 Thing’. ‘Ladies’ Man’, too, is good – a slow-burning jam with a protruding chromatic chant of the title bubbling beneath Khan’s soulful vocal. Though it works quite well here, there’s a tendency to over-rely on a backing chorus line on other tracks. The appealingly quirky intro of ‘Will You Love Me?’ fizzles into nothing as Khan gets carried away with adding in voices blander than her trademark throaty purr. There’s really no need; vocally, she sounds as great as ever.

Still, you can understand why Khan has stuck to what she’s known to be good at; so many artists who try to update their sound meet with limited success. But a little pushing of the envelope, even a small one, would have been good. Nothing on Funk This sounds inventive or original. It’s as if she’s copied and pasted a template of what used to work and hoped for the best. There are obvious influences of funk, soul, jazz and classic power balladry – see the emotionally powered ‘Angel’ if you like that sort of thing – and to her credit Khan can work the different genres well. But Funk This is not slick. It’s not sexy. It won’t make you want to get your groove on. It may have sounded more remarkable had it been released all those years ago, but in 2007 it’s dated, tired and little more than mediocre.

The sworn Chaka faithful and those who love their prescription diva fare will no doubt lap it up, but anyone else would do better to just funk off and forget about it.

Michelle Ruda

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Angélique Kidjo
Djin Djin •••
EMI

For want of a better phrase we’ll call it ‘doing a Carlos’. Ever since the respected but (until then) commercially overlooked guitarist Carlos Santana invited his showbiz chums to play and sing on his Supernatural album, sold a gazillion units and cleaned up at the Grammys, the guest celebrity album has become all the rage. Now it’s world-music genius Angélique Kidjo’s turn and, frankly, it’s an approach that’s only partially successful for her. Kicking off with the joyous ‘Ae Ae’ makes for a glorious start, displaying all the best elements of what is often stereotyped as African music – complex rhythms, intricate jangling guitar lines, impassioned vocals; it’s all in there. The title track keeps the standard high as Branford Marsalis weaves his soprano magic across a languid track that Bebel Gilberto would be proud to call her own. Alicia Keys shows just how good a singer she is here, holding her own and complementing the duet perfectly (though the song could really have done without her sub-Fugees “uh huh, one time”-ing on the outro).

And then it’s back down to earth with a bump as Joss Stone demolishes an abysmal cover of the Rolling Stones’ ‘Gimme Shelter’ with her unfocused warbling. Gimme shelter? Gimme strength! Ziggy Marley’s contribution passes all but unnoticed in a haze of cod reggae before Santana himself puts in an appearance doing what he does on ‘Pearls’ and helping Josh Groban overcook an unsubtle “I-am-woman-hear-me-roar” ballad. I’m sorry, but encapsulating the plight of dispossessed Somalians with the line “…and it hurts like brand new shoes”? Where’s Mariah when you need her for a quote?

It’s interesting to note that the most effective contributions come from artists who truly understand music beyond the Western pop canon. Peter Gabriel is stunningly good duetting on ‘Salala’, a track that approaches the best of either his or Kidjo’s work. It’s a truly worthy inclusion. Similarly, ‘Senamou’, which features the Malian husband-and-wife team of Amadou & Mariam, hits all the right notes. Infectious and affecting, it’s one of the album’s brightest highlights. With the collaborations out of the way, the six tracks where Kidjo goes it alone are equally strong and diverse, blending African rhythms with influences as diverse as Arabic music, super-freak funk and classical as the album closes with a stunning take on Ravel’s ‘Bolero’.

Ultimately Djin Djin is an album of 13 tracks that merits three stars when had it featured only 10 it may have deserved four. Ach, the price of celebrity.

Trevor Raggatt

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Diana Krall
The Very Best Of ••••½
Universal Classics

“I feel like I really don’t have to prove anything at this point other than what I’m doing…I work very hard at being the best musician I can be because I love it.”

So said Canada’s finest jazz export, Diana Krall in 2001 upon the release of her eighth album. Six years, four albums, an Order of Canada and a marriage to Elvis Costello later, Krall is now seemingly unassailable; so much so, that we are now treated to that well-worn retirement gift, a ‘very best of’. Thankfully, Krall is not about to pop on her slippers and buy a rocking chair. Let’s face it, when you’ve won two Grammies (Best Jazz Musician in 1999 and Best Vocal Jazz Record in 2001) the desire to continue influencing, performing and accruing gold-plated desk ornamentation is pretty strong. This release does not signify an imminent farewell tour or eye-poppingly cringeworthy ‘Audience With…’ TV special; if anything, it’s a chance for the recent mother-of-two to take a well-earned rest.

The Very Best Of Diana Krall is at once an accessible album for jazz starters and an impressive treat for Krall’s legion of fans. ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ is a great example of her vocal prowess and stylistic flair. She treats Frank Sinatra’s well-worn classic to a thorough revamp, replacing the recognisable swing sound with a dreamier composition, laden with sensuous vocals and mellifluous strings. Similar in tone is the first of three previously unreleased inclusions, ‘Only The Lonely’, for which the word ‘languid’ must have been invented: a voluptuous fantasia of strings, piano riffs and Krall’s thoughtful musings on solitude, this song gives her a chance to show off the depth and rich expressiveness of her voice.

For those who seek something a little less philosophical, ‘Frim Fram Sauce’ is Krall’s demonstration of her ability to match Nat King Cole’s hard-edged voice with her own brand of cheeky freestyle jazz. The Live In Paris performance of ‘East Of The Sun (& West Of The Moon)’ is another case in point: a funky ensemble whose double bass foundation and virtuoso soloist cello bridge are both perfect foils for Krall’s smooth-as-cream voice. The list goes on; suffice to say, the only criticism worthy of repeating is that, on occasion, Mantovani-style string accompaniments descend worryingly close to a muzak nightmare. Thankfully, Krall’s charismatic performances consistently prevent her songs from heading for a future in elevators, but a little more funk, á la ‘Peel Me A Grape’, certainly wouldn’t go amiss.

For an artist as varied, successful and influential as Krall, choosing which tracks to include on such a compilation must have been a formidable task. Thankfully, this album is a near-perfect cross-section of the oft-honoured singer’s remarkable repertoire. It is indicative of Krall’s excellent self-analysis, too: she really doesn’t need to prove anything any more. As long as there’s more to come.

Andy Wasley

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Alison Krauss
A Hundred Miles Or More: A Collection ••••½
Rounder

This collection of 16 tunes by veteran bluegrass artist Alison Krauss presents the reviewer with something of a dilemma: how on earth to describe it? It’s certainly not a ‘best of’ – how could it be when it ignores all her Union Station output? Nor is it a ‘greatest hits’. Sure, it may include the acclaimed ‘Down By The River To Pray’ from the ‘Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?’ soundtrack, but with a quarter of the tracks previously unreleased ‘A Collection’ is the only fitting appellation. And what a collection it is! Krauss’s versatility is displayed in all its glory as she takes on and masters a number of styles far beyond her beloved bluegrass roots. The duet with Jon Waite on his enduring classic ‘Missing You’ shows just how far she can stray stylistically and still nail the song. No wonder so many of the artists Krauss is heard duetting with here have called upon her to add a layer of class and sophistication to their own songs.

Unsurprisingly, the five previously unreleased songs collected here all prove to be present on their own merits. These aren’t the usual studio floor sweepings which haunt so many collections but worthy explorations of the folkier fringes of country. A particular treat is the mandolin, banjo and fiddlefest ‘Sawing On The Strings’, recorded live at a Country Music Television awards ceremony. Other highlights are found in songs already famous for gracing movie soundtracks, including ‘The Scarlet Tide’ and the Oscar-nominated ‘You Will Be My Ain True Love’ from the epic ‘Cold Mountain’, the latter being a duet with Sting who mercifully limits his contribution to background texture. Final mention must go to ‘How’s The World Treating You?’, a collaboration with James Taylor taken from a Louvin Brothers tribute compilation. A perfect blend of these two eminent voices, it’s a laidback affair that nevertheless suggests that if they ever decided to stretch out to a full duets album Wears The Trousers would be first in the queue at HMV.

A Hundred Miles Or More is a fitting testament to an artist acknowledged as one of the voices of her generation. The very fact that this collection has been compiled only from recordings created away from her day job with Union Station only serves to underline the breadth and depth of her brilliance.

Trevor Raggatt

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Robert Plant & Alison Krauss
Raising Sand ••••
Rounder

Say you were to compile a list of duets album dream teams. Some combinations wouldn’t spring readily to mind. For instance, pairing the darling of modern bluegrass with a hairy-chested rock behemoth. Evidently someone has a better imagination than you (possibly the same person who last year teamed Mark Lanegan with Isobel Campbell). And it works. From the ominous opening chords of ‘Rich Woman’, guitar swaddled up in layers of tremolo and reverb, it’s clear that something special is about to happen to your ears.

But, you might wonder, how can Krauss’s gentle, country voice ever blend with Plant’s million-decibel roar? That’s the power of programming, you see. So ubiquitous is the rock iconography of Led Zeppelin that it’s easy to forget that their range went far beyond the likes of ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and ‘Immigrant Song’, or that Plant’s formative years were spent singing roots-based music. Led Zeppelin’s eponymous debut was essentially a blues album, albeit cranked right up to 11.

Here, Plant’s approach is more delicate than you might have foreseen. Indeed, his vocals harmonise perfectly with Krauss – he supplies the gruff bluesiness while Krauss covers all the bases between angelic and seductive. The pair also mix up their tactics. On some tracks, such as ‘Killing The Blues’, they sing almost in unison or interweaving countermelody; on others, one provides the lead while the other fleshes out the texture with mellifluous oohs and aahs across the stereo spectrum (witness the beauty of ‘Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us’, written by Sam Phillips, aka Mrs T-Bone). The way the pair have tackled each treatment is almost instinctive, as if it all just magically fell into place.

But, of course, this is partly the hard work of a stellar band of backing musicians (including drummer Jay Bellerose, lap steel player Greg Leisz and none other than Mike Seeger on autoharp) and the production skills of iconic roots producer T-Bone Burnett. A constant presence (and pleasure) is guitarist and jazz virtuoso Mark Ribot, whether Plant and Krauss are tackling Louisiana swamp blues, tender lovelorn country or moments that would not seem out of place at the bluesier, more psychedelic end of the Zeppelin canon. From the Zeppelin-esque throb of ‘Fortune Teller’ to the grind of Townes Van Zandt’s ‘Nothin’, from the roots and country of Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan’s ‘Trampled Rose’ and Gene Clark’s ‘Through The Morning, Through The Night’ to the zydeco tinges of the Everly Brothers’ ‘Gone Gone Gone’ or ‘Let Your Loss Be Your Lesson’, Raising Sand convinces and entrances with immediate effect.

Raising Sand is no celebrity novelty piece, it’s a serious artistic achievement. Drawing from the pens of some of our greatest songwriters and lovingly crafted by two supremely talented singers, it’s an unexpected delight.

Trevor Raggatt

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Chantal Kreviazuk
Ghost Stories ••
Nettwerk

About 10 years ago, I’d just arrived in Toronto on holiday with my parents and before leaving the hotel room I flicked on a music channel. At that fortuitous moment, the video for Chantal Kreviazuk’s ‘Wayne’ was airing; I completely fell in love with the song and couldn’t get it out of my head for months. Eventually I found her debut album Under These Rocks & Stones back in the UK and thought I’d found an artist who was going to be huge. Two albums later and UK awareness of Ms Kreviazuk’s music seems to still be almost non-existent, save those few people who bought her touching cover of John Denver’s ‘Leaving On A Jet Plane’ from the ‘Armageddon’ soundtrack. Ghost Stories, her fourth release, clearly has its work cut out if it hopes to bring her music to a wider British audience.

Unfortunately, Ghost Stories continues to whittle away at what made Kreviazuk stand out from the crowd in the first place. The passion and raw energy of her debut are very much spectres on this record, which is so far from Under These Rocks… she’s virtually unrecognisable. Fair enough, she’s now happily married to Our Lady Peace singer Raine Maida, has two baby boys and a successful second career as a behind-the-scenes songwriter (Kreviazuk and Maida co-wrote most of Avril Lavigne’s 2003 album Under My Skin), but with each of her albums becoming progressively glossier and jumping up the rungs of shimmering, slick production, the spark is dimming.

Just looking at the song titles uncovers a certain cliché or laziness to the record – ‘Mad About You’, ‘Waiting For The Sun’, ‘Asylum’, ‘Wendy House’ etc. – and the lyrics are too imprisoned in rhyme and very predictable trajectories. For example, “I don’t know why the winter’s long / it wears me out, it goes on and on” is a pretty lame effort for an artist who was once so inventive. That’s not to say that there aren’t any moments of interest on the album; ‘Spoke In Tongues’ is very good. It’s a bit more disjointed and mercifully less coffee table than the rest of the album, but again it’s overshadowed by the endless use of stock phrases and tired images (“leaves blew away” for ageing; “when you’re at a fork in the road” for…well, I don’t even need to say do I?).

Really, all there is to say about Ghost Stories is that it’s not an awful album, it’s just not that great. It’s well below par for an artist who once promised great things. The conviction has gone from her vocal delivery and it seems that the desire has left her music. Whereas before she was easy to fall in love with, now she’s easy listening. But then, while I’m disappointed as a fan of old, maybe new ears unaware of her older work will have the same experience I did when I first saw that video.

Rod Thomas