Thursday, September 22, 2016

Album reviews: Women in the spotlight on new releases, reissues

Dolly Parton's #1 album "Pure & Simple" is one of a number of strong artistic returns featuring the voices of female artists whose voices and unique artistry are featured across must-hear titles available now.

Artist: Dolly Parton
Title: Pure & Simple (Sony Music Entertainment)
You might like if you enjoy: Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris
Tell me more: At 70, Dolly Parton has long been an icon as well known for her theme park, movie roles, Dollywood Foundation-related philanthropy and distinctive brand as for her music. But the Tennessee native's new album Pure & Simple rightly puts the focus back on Parton, who wrote every song on the disc. On the lead-off title track, Parton display's her sweet soprano is fully intact and able to deliver romantic lines with tenderness and artful dexterity. "Outside Your Door" finds the singer exploring the more visceral thrill of love, her voice again up to the challenge. Pure & Simple is likely Parton's strongest album in years, with the singer setting her romance-minded tales amidst smart arrangements varying from sparse acoustic settings to piano and fiddle-anchored soundscapes. The Cracker Barrel deluxe version includes two bonus tracks (versions of Parton's hits "Jolene" and "9 To 5" recorded live at the 2014 Glastonbury Festival); the unique collection also includes a 48-page ZinePak magazine filled with photos and interviews with the artist. Information:

Artist: Michelle Mangione
Title: Ponies (Michelle Mangione)
You might like if you enjoy: Grace Slick, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Grace Potter
Tell me more: Michelle Mangione's new album Ponies is a wonderful achievement, and not just because it's an independent release. The Southern California-based singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist has a knack for blending a number of musical styles in the service of insightful songs that are crafted via dynamic and melodic songcraft  "Jolie" blends folk rock and power-pop via a bouncy 12-string guitar-driven song that is in tune with summertime. Her original "Ride" is a beautiful and sonically-fitting Americana-styled tribute to the late Levon Helm; "The Edge of Madness" (a song Mangione co-penned with legendary Jefferson Airplane singer-songwriter Grace Slick) captures the sounds of New Orleans with a tapestry of drums, fiddle, horns and a chorus of voices that includes Slick, Martha Davis of the Motels and Teri Nunn of Berlin. Other standouts on the 15-track disc include the rocking "Queen of Hysteria" and countrified "The Criminal In You." Information:

Artist: Mary Chapin Carpenter
Title: The Things That We Are Made Of (Lambent Light Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Shawn Colvin, Rosanne Cash, Emmylou Harris
Tell me more: Middle age is explored with depth, warmth and honesty across Mary Chapin Carpenter's stunning The Things That We Are Made Of. Once known as a country music hit maker, Carpenter has increasingly joined the ranks of Emmylou Harris and Rosanne Cash as an artist who uses her voice in the service of songs that resonate deeply via explorations of the deepest reaches of the human experience. Carpenter has written all 11 songs on The Things That We Are Made Of, and each conveys a wealth of emotional riches. Beautiful and telling titles abound here; "The Middle Ages," "What Does It Mean to Travel," "Map of My Heart" and "Deep Deep Down Heart" are among the many treasures on this astounding collection. Information:

Artists: Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt
Title: The Complete Trio Collection (Rhino)
You might like if you enjoy: Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt
Tell me more: When it comes to super groups, few have attained the majestic heights that were reached when country music singers Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt joined forces to record Trio (1987) and an equally-compelling follow-up disc Trio II (1999). The three-disc "The Complete Trio Collection" set includes Trio I, Trio II and a bonus disc of 20 rare and previously-unreleased tracks. The bonus material is especially exciting, ranging from an alternate take of the tender "Wildflowers" recorded in 1986, the bewitching country ballad "Waltz Across Texas Tonight" (tracked in 1994) and an unreleased 1994 recording of the spiritual "Softly and Tenderly." Everywhere the beautiful and distinctive voices of Parton, Harris and Ronstadt shine, whether taking solo turns or joining in the most lovely of harmonies. Information:

Artists: Judy Henske & Jerry Yester
Title: Farewell Aldebaran (Omnivore Recordings)
You might like if you enjoy: Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Frank Zappa
Tell me more: Farewell Aldebaran is among the most eclectic and genre-defying albums recorded in the anything-goes 1960s. The fact that Judy Henske & Jerry Yester's Farewell Aldebaran mixed folk, rock, psychedelia, baroque and jazz pop, theatrical-styled songs and more didn't likely help the 1969 release, which seemed destined to languish in obscurity. But a new reissue of Farewell Aldebaran remastered from the original master tracks  is a must-have for discerning music fans. Like the Zombies' now-classic Odessey and Oracle, Farewell Aldebaran is an exciting and intoxicating listen. The art damage rocker "Snowblind," sweeping "Three Ravens" and country-bending "Raider" are just a few of the joyful discoveries here. In addition to the original 10-song album, the new Omnivore Recordings reissue includes five previously unissued bonus tracks. The physical CD version includes a full-color 20-page booklet packed with liner notes, lyrics and photos. A new LP pressing on starburst vinyl with gatefold jacket and eight-page booklet is also available. Information:

Robert Kinsler

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