Q-music: Expanded coverage

Q-music: Expanded coverage

By Gregg Shapiro

In the liner notes for the newly remastered 40th anniversary edition reissue of Simple Dreams (Asylum/Rhino) by Linda Ronstadt, the album’s producer, musician Peter Asher, writes that Linda is his “favorite girl singer of all time”. He’s probably not the only one who feels that way. While she does have some songwriting credits to her name, Ronstadt is first and foremost a singular interpreter of other people’s songs, with unmatched vocal power. Her exquisite (and some might say superior) cover of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” predates Whitney Houston’s by 17(!) years. Her renditions of songs by Elvis Costello, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Jimmy Webb and a host of Motown and Great American Songbook songwriters, are the stuff of legend. There are many amazing factors related to 1977’sSimple Dreams, beginning with the way Ronstadt returned to her country roots on J.D. Souther’s “Simple Man, Simple Dreams”, the traditional “Old Paint”, her hit rendition of Roy Orbison’s “Blue Bayou”, and her duet with Dolly Parton on “I Never Will Marry”. Buddy Holly and Warren Zevon, two songwriters who served Ronstadt well in the past, are revisited on “It’s So Easy” and “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me”, respectively. She even kicks out the jams on her reading of the Rolling Stones’ “Tumbling Dice”. The reissue is augmented by three live bonus tracks – “It’s So Easy”, “Blue Bayou” and “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me”.

Portraits of Joni (Ghostlight) is Broadway diva/cabaret chanteuse Jessica Molaskey’s tribute to the one and only Joni Mitchell. She extends the homage all the way to the album cover which is a reference to Mitchell’s 2000 Both Sides Now album. Too often, artists covering Mitchell rely on timeworn standards such as “River” and “Both Sides Now”. Molaskey is slightly guilty of that, too, although her versions of “Big Yellow Taxi”, “A Case Of You” and “Circle Game” (which she pairs up with Jobim’s “Waters of March”) are all admirable enough. Where Molaskey excels is in her selection of unexpected Mitchell numbers such as “Help Me”, “Dreamland” (paired with “Carey”), “The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines” (complete with a reference to “Twisted”), “In France They Kiss On Main Street” and a real golden oldie such as “Marcie”.

It’s always nice to hear from Paula Cole. Her new album, Ballads (675), may not have any originals, but hearing what she does with songs written between 1930 and 1967 is a treat in itself. A majority of the 20 songs, eight to be exact, are from the 1930s, the best of which include Cole’s takes on “God Bless The Child”, “Willow Weep For Me”, “Blue Moon” and “What A Little Moonlight Can Do”. Also notable are Cole’s interpretations of songs from the 1960s, including “Ode To Billy Joe”, “I Wish (I Knew How It Feels To Be Free)”, and the album’s timely centerpiece, Bob Dylan’s “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”.

What’s That Sound? (Concord), the second full-length album by 2011 American Idol finalist Haley Reinhart, makes a musical connection between the turbulent 1960s and the present day, by covering  11 representative songs from that era. Reinhart balances social statements such as Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth”, Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit”, Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home” and The Zombies’ “Time of the Season” with the free-love spirit of the time, represented by The Turtles “You Showed Me”, The Mamas & The Papas’ “Words of Love”, Smith’s “Baby It’s You” and the Beatles’ “Oh! Darling”. She also included three originals, “Let’s Start”, “Somewhere In Between” and “Bring The Love Back Home” to remind us that she has more to offer.

To commemorate its 15 year “musical partnership”, female folk trio The Wailin’ Jennys have released the wonderful and aptly-named 15 (Red House), a nine-track album of cover versions of some of its favorite songs. Even though many of the songs, including Paul Simon’s “Loves Me Like A Rock”, will be familiar, The Wailin’ Jennys have no trouble making the songs their own. This is particularly true in the marvelous renditions of Jane Siberry’s “The Valley”, Patty Griffin’s “Not Alone”, Warren Zevon’s “Keep Me In Your Heart”, Dolly Parton’s “Light of a Clear Blue Morning” and Emmylou Harris’ “Boulder to Birmingham”.

Lauded husband and wife theater twosome Orfeh & Andy Karl join the ranks of countless others in releasing a “live at Feinstein’s/54 Below” concert recording. Theirs is titled Legally Bound (Broadway Records), a reference to Legally Blonde, the stage musical in which the couple appeared together on Broadway. Full of the usual cabaret stage patter you’d expect from this kind of show, when the duo actual gets down to singing, it turns out they have fascinating taste in music. From soulful standards such as Ashford & Simpson’s “You’re All I Need To Get By” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” to When In Rome’s new wave classic “The Promise”, Prince’s “Kiss”, One Direction’s “History” and Tim Minchin’s “Seeing You”, from the musical Groundhog Day in which Karl recently starred.

Almost all you need to know about Vitamin String Quartet Performs the Hits of 2017 (Vitamin) is in the title. That said, VSQ does a good job making songs by Ed Sheeran (“Shape of You”), Lorde (“Green Light”) and Clean Bandit (“Rockabye”), sound more substantial, although they couldn’t do much to rescue “Something Just Like This” by The Chainsmokers & Coldplay. Because it was already a decent song to begin with, the standout here is Lady Gaga’s “Million Reasons”.

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