I just used some birthday money to buy a few CDs. It's been a while since we've had some new music around the house. And it's been a while since I've been so excited about three very different albums.
Kate Rusby, Underneath the Stars - Rusby is an English folk singer who specializes in taking very old lyrics and putting them to new music and somehow making it work. She sings about her loves going off to sea, about a blind man stealing the king's horse, about knights and cheating wives, all in a clever and modest manner. It's a very laid-back album with excellent but understated musicianship, mostly reminding me of Celtic instrumentation and melody. But I think the thing that will keep most coming back is the near-angelic quality of her voice; it is simply beautiful and joyful to listen to.
John Scofield, That's What I Say (Scofield Plays the Music of Ray Charles) - I mentioned this album a few days ago and now I'm happy to report that it is outstanding. So much fun that it's hard to know where to start. Excellent guests - Dr. John, John Mayer & Aaron Neville are the standouts for me. Great arrangements - Scofield arranged all the songs and horns himself; he does a great job letting the groove of each song capture Charles' original tune, then adding new, much more jazz-like solos into it. After a couple listenings, another thing that really stands out, in addition to the great guitar work, is the great organ/B-3 laying down the groove on each song. Anyway, somewhere between jazz and R&B, this album is just a lot of fun.
Ben Harper & The Blind Boys of Alabama, There Will Be A Light - What can I say? I was so pre-disposed to Ben Harper's music and excited about the Blind Boys that this album was a shoe-in before I heard it. Mostly composed of Ben Harper originals, the album maintains a great balance between old gospel and Ben-Harper-groove. I suspect that some won't like Harper's singing nearly as much as the Blind Boys'; he often uses some falsetto and something that reminds me of yodeling (but isn't really at all). But the two styles of singing blend quite well. The band is great, and Harper's weissenborn playing is highlighted on the solo "11th commandment." The Blind Boys sure sound like they're having fun, too.