An old dog learns new tricks. Plus: deep in the heart of Texas (and England)
‘Rock Swings’, Verve
Paul Anka is another pop cat seeking new life in jazz. Known for such hits as ‘(You’re) Having My Baby’, the 63-year-old creates a curious amalgam, performing rock and pop songs of the 1980s and 1990s with big-band backing.
The effect is kind of cool. Anka shows a decent high range that conjures up Bobby Darin and generates some dramatic heat on Pet Shop Boys’ ‘It’s a Sin.’ He manages to swing through Michael Jackson’s ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’ with reasonable sass and elan.
But brassy horns get tiring. Also, it’s odd to hear a tune like Lionel Richie’s ‘Hello’ done as a Vegas revue number. Eric Clapton’s ‘Tears in Heaven’ is interminable, and the dark world of Kurt Cobain’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ is better left untouched by the Anka treatment.
Reviewed by Karl Stark
‘Somewhere Down in Texas’, MCA
When you think of Texas, you think big, bold and freewheeling. Leave it to George Strait to deliver ‘Texas’, a tribute to his home state, and make it restrained and reflective. But that’s Strait: always tasteful and classy.
Mr. Consistency’s new album is typically solid, but not in the top rank of his considerable ouevre. ‘Somewhere Down in Texas’ has excellent moments, including the ‘Good News, Bad News’ duet with Lee Ann Womack and the on-the-verge-of-a-breakup lament ‘Ready for the End of the World.’ But the ballad-heavy set could use some of the energy Strait usually provides with shuffles and western swing – in other words, some of the feel he rhapsodizes about in the opening cut, ‘If the Whole World Was a Honky Tonk.’
Reviewed by Nick Cristiano
Eliza Carthy & The Ratcatchers
‘Rough Music’, Topic Records
Carthy is a revelation for the verve with which she is reinvigorating traditional English folk music. Fiddles, violas, guitars, melodeons and hurdy-gurdies swirl and rise. The lyrics sing of dashing highwaymen and gallant hussars. But there’s nothing somber or fussy about ‘Rough Music.’
Lovers of Celtic music will savor deft instrumentals such as ‘Upside Down.’ But Carthy’s voice, a combination of Judy Collins and Alison Moyet, continues to improve. Her signal accomplishment is that she manages to make a quaintly old-fashioned style sound so fresh.
Reviewed by David Hiltbrand
‘Weather and Water’, Dualtone
The Greencards are an Austin, Texas, bluegrass trio of immigrants – not from Mexico, but west and east. Singer and bassist Carol Young (who’s got a bit of Alison Krauss in her cool, clear voice) and mandolin/bouzouki player Kym Warner are Aussies; fiddler Eamon McLoughlin is a Brit.
‘Weather and Water’ shows that the trio (which just finished a trek opening for Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson) is up to speed on dexterous, quick-picking instrumental breakdowns such as ‘Marty’s Kitchen.’ But it the lovely, soul-searching ballads, including ‘Who You Are,’ and the depressive, Warner-sung ‘Long Way Down’ that mark them as real comers.
Reviewed by Dan DeLuca