By Gregg Shapiro
Programmed to sound as if you are listening to one of Dr. Demento’s long-running radio shows, complete with the host’s commentary, the double-disc set Dr. Demento Covered in Punk (Demented Punk) contains 64 tracks featuring performances by acts across the musical spectrum, including “Weird Al” Yankovic, The Kipper Kids (featuring Bette Midler’s husband Martin von Haselberg), Rasputina, The Misfits, Quintron & Miss Pussycat, The Dead Milkmen, Shonen Knife, Los Straitjackets, Colleen Green and William Shatner. The distinguishing part of the compilations is that the artists perform renditions of the “demented” songs made famous on Dr. Demento’s program. Not surprisingly, two of the best are by queer musicians; Joan Jett and the Blackhearts doing “Science Fiction/Double Feature” from Rocky Horror Picture Show and the B52’s Fred Schneider doing a cover of Gloria Balsam’s “Fluffy.”
The single disc CD companion to Barbra Streisand’s Netflix concert special, The Music…The Mem’ries…The Magic! (Columbia) includes 19 songs from her show recorded in Miami in December of 2016. In addition to a pair of duets, including one performed live with Jamie Foxx (“Climb Ev’ry Mountain”), the live recording features Streisand’s live renditions of classics and fan favorites ranging from “People”, “Happy Days Are Here Again” and “Don’t Rain On My Parade” to “The Way We Were”, “Evergreen” and “Papa, Can You Hear Me?”
Petula Clark had been making records for a few years before she hit it big stateside in 1964. After that, she was one of Streisand’s biggest competitors throughout the 1960s, even starring in a movie musical (Finian’s Rainbow) in 1968. Also like Streisand, Clark has continued to perform and record. Her new album Living For Today (BMG) is a blend of covers and originals. Clark’s renditions of Steve Winwood’s “While You See A Chance,” The Beatles’ “Blackbird” and “Fever” (made famous by Peggy Lee) show that, at 85, Clark’s still got it.
The fittingly titled 30-track, triple-disc album Triplicate (Columbia) is the latest chapter in Bob Dylan’s ongoing infatuation with tunes from the Great American Songbook. Divided into three distinct sections – “’Til The Sun Goes Down”, “Devil Dolls” and “Comin’ Home Again” – Dylan sounds like he’s been listening to Marianne Faithfull’s collaborations with Hal Wilner or Willie Nelson’s Stardust. Chances are, after you hear Dylan’s reading of these songs, you will never listen to these classics in the same way again. While hearing Dylan tackle standards has a novel appeal, do we have to worry that one of the most important songwriters in American history has run out of his own things to say?
Since the beginning of Joni Mitchell’s career, her songs have lent themselves to interpretation by others, often with wonderful results. Originally released in 2007, and a recipient of Album of the Year and Best Contemporary Jazz Album honors at the 50th Annual Grammy Awards, River: The Joni Letters (Verve) by Herbie Hancock has been reissued in an expanded that now includes a second disc of additional material. Mitchell’s own jazz explorations make it less surprising that a legend of the genre such as Hancock would want to return the favor, so to speak. Although it is far from perfect, River features a stellar list of guest vocalists including Joni herself, as well as Tina Turner turning in a breathtaking reading of “Edith and the Kingpin”. Bonus tracks include Hancock’s takes on “A Case of You” and “Harlem in Havana”, as well as Sonya Kitchell performing “All I Want”.
On An American Troubadour: The Songs of Steve Forbert (Blue Rose Music) more than 20 artists pay tribute to the singer/songwriter whose “Romeo’s Tune” was an unlikely hit single in 1980. There are plenty of familiar names among the performers, including John Oates and Bekka Bramlett (“I Blinked Once”), Jim Lauderdale (“What Kinda Guy?”), Robert Earl Keen (“It Isn’t Gonna Be That Way”), John Popper (“You Cannot Win”) and Todd Snider (“It Sure Was Better Back Then”). Nicki Bluhm & The Grambler’s version of “Romeo’s Tune” puts a nice opposite-gender spin on the song.
Recorded live at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport, New York, on Long Island, Don’t Monkey With Broadway (Broadway Records) by legendary Broadway performer Patti LuPone is proof that you can go home again. A Northport native, and “a product of the Northport Public School System”, LuPone is joined onstage for some of the concert by Northport High School Tour Choir. As you might expect, LuPone works her way through Broadway show tunes including “Easy To Be Hard”, “Meadowlark”, “Millworker”, “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina”, “The Ladies Who Lunch” and “Somewhere” to mention a few.
LuPone cites Rodgers and Hart as one of her first major musical influences. Kyle Riabko, who performed on Broadway in Spring Awakening and the revival of Hair, has also made a name for himself by paying tribute to songwriters, including Burt Bacharach. On Richard Rodgers Reimagined(Ghostlight), he appears to share LuPone’s affinity for Rodgers and Hart, singing songs such as “Where Or When”, “The Lady Is A Tramp”, “Bewitched”, “My Funny Valentine” and “Blue Moon”, as well as a few Rodgers and Hammerstein selections.
Syleena Johnson, daughter of singer/songwriter Syl Johnson, has been perfecting her original approach to classic R&B over the course of several album since the beginning of the 21st century. On the suitably named Rebirth of Soul (Shanachie), Johnson puts down her pen and turns her attention to essential soul numbers such as “Chain of Fools”, “Lonely Teardrops”, “These Arms of Mine” and “I’d Rather Go Blind”. Her version of her father’s “Is It Because I’m Black?” is a showstopper.