The concept of singer/songwriters revisiting their work in new and different settings is not an original one. Some of the most interesting include Joni Mitchell’s Travelogue, Cyndi Lauper’s The Body Acoustic, and, more recently, the Indigo Girls’ Live with the University of Colorado Symphony Orchestra. On In the Blue Light (Legacy), a new studio album that marks Paul Simon’s return to the Sony Music family of labels, the legendary artist offers “fresh perspectives” on ten of his favorite songs. That’s an important distinction, because if you were expecting to hear some of your favorites, you’ll have to look elsetwhere. Simon reaches as far back as 1973 for “One Man’s Ceiling is Another Man’s Floor” (from There Goes Rhymin’ Simon), a song that is likely a fan-favorite as well. The only other song from a 1970s album, “Some Folks’ Lives Roll Easy” (from 1975’s Still Crazy After All These Years) is given a stripped-down jazz-oriented reading (featuring Jack DeJohnette on drums and Joe Lovano on sax). Of Simon’s 1980s songs represented here (from One-Trick Pony and Hearts and Bones), it’s “Rene and Georgette Magritte with
Their Dog After the War” (from the latter) that is the most memorable. Perhaps the strangest aspect of In The Blue Light is the number of songs (four) from 2000’s mostly forgettable You’re the One album, none of which has the impact of new rendition of “Questions for the Angels” (from 2011’s So Beautiful or So What). On the gorgeous (and bare-bones) EP Great Thunder (Merge), Waxahatchee (aka Katie Crutchfield) reinvents six songs she recorded as the duo
Great Thunder (along with Keith Spencer of Swearin’). Joined by musicians Brad Cook and Zach Hanson, Waxahatchee turns songs such as “Takes So Much,” “Slow You Down,” “You’re Welcome,” and “Singer’s No Star” into utterly breathtaking experiences. Contrary to the aforementioned song title, this singer is a star. As is often the case with EPs, this one will leave you longing for more. Regardless, Great Thunder is very highly recommended! Since the beginning of the 21st century, singer/songwriter Judith Owen has usually found a way to incorporate cover tunes on her albums of original material. As you might have gleaned from the title, her latest, rediscovered (Twanky), is Owen’s interpretation of a dozen songs written by others. Joni Mitchell, to whom Owen has been compared, is represented by two late-career songs (thankfully, Owen avoided “River” or anything else from Blue), “Cherokee Louise” and “Ladies Man,” both of which are presented in reverential versions. Owen’s choices, in both material and arrangements, are alternately rewarding and bizarre. Her takes on Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” Chris Cornell / Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” and the Beatles’ “Blackbird” are all pleasing. But a ballad reading of “Summer Nights” (from Grease) comes to a grinding halt, a damp version of “Smoke on the Water” and a tepid version of Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff” are questionable at best. If Bob Dylan could record a Frank Sinatra album, wasn’t it only a matter of time until Willie Nelson would do one? Nelson, a highly respected songwriter in his own right, with a history of making albums of pop standards (see 1978’s Stardust), sings Sinatra on My Way (Legacy). Perhaps it’s Nelson’s age, 85, that makes these songs sound both sweet and melancholy. After all, Sinatra was a much younger man when he first recorded “One for My Baby (And One More for the Road),” “I’ll Be Around,” “Summer Wind,” “Fly Me to the Moon,” “My Way,” and even “It Was a Very Good Year,” and “Young at Heart.” Still, it’s a pleasure hear Nelson having his way with these classics. Brazilian vocalist Luciana Souza applies a poetic twist to her new album The Book of Longing (Sunnyside). Souza, who wrote all the music, has set poems by Leonard Cohen, Emily Dickinson, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Christina Rosetti to music. That counts as covers, right? Standouts include Souza’s musical reinventions of Cohen’s “Night Song” and “Paris,” Dickinson’s “We Grow Accustomed to the Dark,” Rosetti’s “Remember,” and Millay’s “Alms.” Currently starring on Broadway (at the time of this writing) as Elphaba in Wicked, Jessica Vosk has a voice as big as Times Square. For her debut album Wild and Free (Broadway Records), Vosk draws on a variety of sources for a varied and enjoyable album. She knows her way around a pop song, as you can hear on her interpretations of Sia (“Chandelier”), Prince (“Nothing Compares 2 U”), Melanie (“Brand New Key”), Jon Bellion (“Woke the Fuck Up”), and Jessie J (“Masterpiece”). As expected, Vosk also dips into the show tunes pool, performing songs from Chess (“Nobody’s Side”), Waitress (“What Baking Can Do”), The Secret Garden (“Hold On”), and Funny Girl (“The Music that Makes Me Dance”). Like Jessica Vosk, Mandy Barnett has a strong connection to the stage, having portrayed country music legend Patsy Cline in the musical
Always … Patsy Cline. On Strange Conversation (Thirty Tigers), her first album in five years, Barnett covers Sonny & Cher (“A Cowboy’s Work is Never Done”), Tom Waits (“Puttin’ On the Dog”), and Neil Sedaka (“My World Keeps Slipping Away,” as well as country and blues standbys Lee Hazelwood (“The Fool”), Ted Hawkins (the title tune), and Andre Williams (“More Lovin’” and “Put a Chain on It”). Who Runs the World (Rockabye Baby) is the latest installment in the series of bedtime albums in which rock and pop songs are transformed into soothing, instrumental lullaby versions. In case you didn’t guess from the title, this album includes songs by female music legends, including Beyoncé (“Run the World”), Janet Jackson (“What Have You Done For Me Lately”), Sia (“Chandelier”), Missy Elliott (“Work It”), Madonna (“Express Yourself”), Miley Cyrus (“Wrecking Ball”), Taylor Swift (“Look What You Made Me Do”), and Rihanna (“Work”).
Gregg Shapiro is the author of Fifty Degrees (Seven Kitchens, 2016), selected by Ching-In Chen as co-winner of the Robin Becker Chapbook Prize. Other books by Shapiro include the short story collections How to Whistle (Lethe Press, 2016) and Lincoln Avenue (Squares and Rebels Press, 2014), the chapbook GREGG SHAPIRO: 77 (Souvenir Spoon Press, 2012), and the poetry collection Protection (Gival Press, 2008).
He has work forthcoming in the anthology Reading Queer: Poetry in a Time of Chaos (Anhinga Press, 2018). An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBT and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.