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The Collection Alanis Morissette (Maverick)
If you listen to Top 40 radio you’ve heard some lady singing Seal’s “Crazy” in the last month or two. That lady is Alanis Morissette and her version of “Crazy” is the first single from “The Collection,” a greatest-hits/odds and ends CD that packs Morissette’s ten-year career into 18 songs. It’s a fitting cover for the woman whose first hit, “You Oughta Know,” contained the pioneering lyric, “Is she perverted like me? Would she go down on you in a theatre?” Not to mention the smash hit “Ironic” which, truly, might be the most ironic song of all time. “The Collection” features all of her radio hits, including “Thank You,” “8 Easy Steps” and “Hand In My Pocket.” But she also includes tracks from soundtracks like “Uninvited” from “City of Angels,” “Still” from “Dogma” and the unfortunate “Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall In Love)” from “De-lovely.” Her MTV Unplugged album gets a nod with “Princes Familiar.” “The Collection” also features the song “Mercy,” written for “The Prayer Cycle” album. Putting all of these tracks in one place for the first time is a good thing. “The Collection” has also been released in a special CD/DVD edition that features an hour-long career retrospective. Morissette may have her shortcomings (like defining the word “ironic”), but it’s no accident this smart Canadian has been cranking out hit records for ten years.
Back to Bedlam James Blunt (Custard/Atlantic)
A year after setting the U.K. charts on fire with his debut “Back To Bedlam,” 28-year-old James Blunt is breaking out in the U.S. thanks, in part, to Linda Perry who signed him to her Custard label after seeing him perform. Blunt’s quivering, high-pitched voice and emotionally plain-faced lyrics evoke a 70s Elton John mixed with modern troubadours like Damien Rice. But where Rice is all gritty and raw in his sad bastardness, Blunt is more polished, though he does say “f–k.” And he’s got an amazing back-story. While his hands are now most commonly found on a guitar or a piano, he used to carry a rifle as a member of the British army. In fact, “No Bravery,” the closing track on “Bedlam,” was written from the trenches of Kosovo in response to the genocide Blunt witnessed there. Blunt’s shiny-jewel of a single, “You’re Beautiful,” is the kind of song that makes straight women swoon and straight guys gag. But hey, that never hurt artists like Barry Manilow. Besides, Blunt hasn’t suffered any for it in the U.K. where “Bedlam” spent nine weeks at #1. If sensitive is the new sexy, Blunt is destined to be a heartthrob on both sides of the Atlantic.
The Emancipation of Mimi: Ultra Platinum Edition Mariah Carey (Island)
Making the comeback of the year, Mariah Carey proved she’s free at last with “The Emancipation of Mimi.” In fact, the CD has done so well Carey has gone and released it a second time. In case you’re not one of the six million people worldwide who already bought the CD, “Mimi” is back in an expanded “Ultra Platinum Edition.” Basically it’s the same album with four new songs (in addition to a DVD with videos if you snag the limited edition deluxe version), including her latest single “Don’t Forget About Us.” The other new songs are “Makin’ It Last All Night (What It Do)” featuring Jermaine Dupri, “So Lonely (One & Only Part II)” featuring Twista, and a remix of “We Belong Together” featuring Jadakiss and Styles P. Carey does a lot of collaborating on “Mimi.” The record’s original tracks feature Snoop Dogg, Nelly and some more Twista and Dupri. These guest stars give “Mimi” meat and muscle Carey’s last releases lacked. But if anyone thought we’d seen the last of Carey after “Glitter-gate,” she easily proves haters wrong with no manly help. Carey’s voice is golden and “Mimi” sports plenty of vocal bling. Will people actually buy an album twice for some extra songs? Perhaps. But Carey’s got four American Music Award nominations for this album already, so I don’t think she’s really worried about it.
The Sound of Music Original Soundtrack (RCA/Legacy)
I think I’m the only gay person alive who doesn’t really care for “The Sound of Music.” I just don’t like to listen to little kids sing. There, I said it. For readers whose souls aren’t hell bound like mine, you’ll be happy to know that 2006 marks 40 years of Julie Andrews in all her “the hills are alive” glory. Not only is the movie being released in a special anniversary edition DVD, but you can get the 40th anniversary edition of the soundtrack as well. The CD features unreleased tracks from the original movie version, including reprise versions of “Sixteen Going On Seventeen” (am I the only person who finds the lyrics to that song – “your life, little girl, is an empty page that men will want to write on” – a tad perverted?), “So Long, Farewell” and “Do-Re-Mi.” The CD also features audio interviews with director Robert Wise, Richard Rodgers and Charmian Carr. The CD booklet is a treasure trove of unseen photos, interviews and new liner notes by The Rodgers & Hammerstein Foundation. You know, if you’re into that sort of thing. “The Sound of Music” has sold over ten million copies of its soundtrack and is easily the most successful movie musical ever. Folks have been eating this stuff up for decades. And heck, even I’ll admit that “Do-Re-Mi” is a fun song to sing when drunk. All right, I’ve never actually had that experience. I just like the song, okay? Is that so wrong?
One of the Ones Levi Kreis (Tango Blues)
Thank God for Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice.” Not only is it entertaining television, but it also gave independent singer/songwriter Levi Kreis some well-deserved national exposure when one of the show’s teams picked him to write and record an original song for XM Radio (the team that picked Kreis won, by the way). “One of the Ones” has been described as “a coming out album” for Kreis. Featuring nothing but Kreis and a piano, each song is based on Kreis’s personal relationships with men (and one woman). Kreis has tenderness in spades and is earnest without being precious. His voice and song style evokes Bruce Hornsby with more grit and Harry Connick Jr. with more emotional intensity. Album highlights include “I Should Go,” a song that captures the essence of beating a hasty retreat before you do something you know you shouldn’t. “I should go,” he sings, “before my will gets any weaker and my eyes begin to linger longer than they should.” “One of the Ones” ends with two live songs, the bluesy “Man Outta Me,” about the empowerment that comes from leaving an abusive relationship, and the sexy “Kiss You Yet,” about the intoxication of anticipation. “Baby before we kiss, I wanna remember you just like this,” he sings. Judging from “One of the Ones,” Kreis has had his share of heartbreak and puts on a hell of a live show. The CD is self-released, but it’s worth seeking out. Listen for yourself and order a copy at www.levikreis.com.
My Better Self Dar Williams (Razor and Tie)
Dar Williams is not an artist that reinvents herself with every album. However, she does get better and better at singing and writing songs that ring true-to-life with a pop-folk feel. “My Better Self” opens with “Teen For God,” set at a Bible camp and narrated by a teenage girl pondering her role as “a lightening rod, a teen for God.” Williams spins yarns of loss, love and regret with songs like “I’ll Miss You Till I Meet You.” “My Better Self” also includes a cover of Neil Young’s “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.” An album highlight is “Comfortably Numb.” Evocative and ghostly, Williams’ version of the classic Pink Floyd tune features a strong guest spot by Ani DiFranco. Patty Larkin provides harmony vocals on “The Hudson,” another standout track that allows Williams’ gift for storytelling to shine. “The river’s ancient path is sacred and slow,” she sings. “And as it swings through Harlem, it’s every shade of blue into the city of the brand new. And the Hudson holds the life. We thought we did it on our own.” “My Better Self” is a flattering portrait of an artist whose prime doesn’t have an end in sight.
One Kiss Can Lead to Another: Girl Group Sounds, Lost & Found (Rhino)
Fans of the girl group sounds of the 1960s will be in heaven with “One Kiss Can Lead to Another: Girl Group Sounds, Lost & Found.” The first all-girl group box set ever, “One Kiss” packs 120 songs by 107 different artists onto four discs and puts it all in a fun retro hat box. Well-known names like The Supremes and Lesley Gore are represented here as well as lesser-known artists like The Whyte Boots and Evie Sands. Gems include Dee Dee Warwick’s “You’re No Good” and Wanda Jackson’s “Funnel of Love.”
Camp Holiday Martin Sexton (Kitchen Table Records)
In a world where so much holiday music is over-produced schlock played ad nauseam in every retail outlet, Martin Sexton’s “Camp Holiday” is a welcome, and toasty, reprieve. Squirreled away in an Adirondack cabin, Sexton recorded 12 holiday songs using little more than his acoustic guitar and the occasional improvised percussion item. The result is a simple and bluesy holiday joy. Best of all, a portion of the proceeds from “Camp Holiday” go to Camp Sunshine, a retreat for kids with life-threatening illnesses.
Stone Hits Angie Stone (J Records)
There’s a reason Angie Stone is called “The First Lady of neo-classic soul.” In fact, many of these tracks on Stone’s first greatest hits collection sound like classic soul numbers. Yet “Stone Hits” chronicles Stone’s first three solo releases, beginning with 1999’s “Black Diamond” and ending with 2004’s “Stone Love.” In addition to hits like “No More Rain” and “I Wanna Thank Ya,” “Stone Hits” features the new tracks “I Wasn’t Kidding” and “Little Boy.”
Singles New Order (Rhino/Wea)
For over 20 years, New Order has churned out hit after up-tempo hit, including mainstay dance floor numbers like “Blue Monday” and “Regret.” Fans of 80s retro and 90s Brit-pop will find much to like on “Singles,” a comprehensive collection of New Order A-sides. “Singles” is the perfect introduction for the budding listeners and a must-have for fans who will appreciate the remastering on these modern pop classics.
The Other Side Lou (Cornerworld)
Lou’s back. Though if you don’t know him, you didn’t know he was gone. “The Other Side,” Lou’s second album, consists of mostly instrumental songs. Divided into three parts, the “Club Side” is four high-energy dance tracks that are fun, yet generic. The “Piano Side” tracks sound like they were ripped from a Windham Hill CD. Kind of new-agey, but pretty. The “Bonus Side” has a couple remixes and “I Want to Be Loved,” a mildly unfortunate song with vocals by Lita Ford. “The Other Side” is an eclectic mix that is easy to listen to, but also easy to forget.