It has been a few weeks since I selected favorite albums from the many CDs that cross my desk each day. I've just been too busy lately and haven't had the time needed to assemble posts like this. Yesterday, a pocket of time opened up and I seized it. Here are 10 that I think you'll enjoy...
Dara Tucker—The Sun Season (Watchman Music). I can't remember the last time I heard a new vocalist who impressed me so completely as Tucker. She has a beautiful, soulful voice, and her original songs are honest and innocent personal expressions backed by languid arrangements and skilled playing. A singer who combines Joan Baez's vocal integrity and Jean Carn's spiritualism. If you're in New York, she'll be at Smoke on August 20. Hear for yourself...
Joe Magnarelli—Lookin' Up! (Posi-Tone). I've always loved Mags' round, fleshy sound on trumpet. Here, he turns up the heat on songs like Third Set, Suddenly It's Spring and John Coltrane's Miles' Mode—soaring up the lines and swooping down with sizzling intensity. On ballads like Darn That Dream and his original Blue Key (using a mute), we hear Mags's broad tones and fondness for hanging around pretty melodies. A trumpeter who keeps getting better with each album.
Bruce Robinson and Kelly Willis—Our Year (Thirty Tigers). I love this album, which pairs two neo-traditional country stars. Both are acclaimed singer-songwriters who have embraced country music of the '60s and '70s, when songs were working class, measured and moving. Our Year is the duo's second album together, and the music just sweeps you away. Songs tell stories gently and the sound is pure pre-oil crisis. No cowboy hats or Nashville slickness here, just songs about pay days, carousels and loneliness. They even take on Jeannie C. Riley's Harper Valley PTA. Perfect music for watching the sun set over the hills from a back-porch rocker.
Michael Dease—Relentless (Posi-Tone). This engaging big-band release features top-notch section players and soloists on tunes ranging from Duke Pearson's Is That So to John Lewis and Dizzy Gillespie's Two Bass Hit. But the real star here is the pen of trombonist Dease, whose arrangements have grace and punch and build smartly. Dease also is a gorgeous soloist.
Dino Saluzzi Group—El Valle de la Infancia (ECM). Saluzzi, an Argentinian bandoneon-songwriter, delivers an organic and moody album that sifts tropical motifs with cafe society elegance. Songs delightfully defy cliche, heaving between sounds and patterns, at times making you think you're hearing instruments off in the distance. South American jazz that makes you think.
Kenny Wayne Shepherd—Goin' Home (Concord). Rock-blues guitarist Shepherd shakes the hot sauce hard over the 12 songs on this album. The Shreveport, La., native is self-taught and takes on songs by B.B. King, Albert King, Freddie King, Muddy Waters and others as he explores the's electric blues. Shepherd's no piker. From 1995 on, he had seven singles in the Top 10, and holds the record for the longest-running album on the Billboard Blues Charts with Trouble Is.... His new one is yet another impressive mix of high-energy guitar wailing and gritty singing. A robust tribute to the kings of strings.
Rosario Giuliani Quartetto—Tension (Schema). I recently discovered this nifty album from 2007 and found myself listening to it over and over again. The band is from Italy and the album features jazz themes from Italian movies. It doesn't matter whether you've seen them or not. The music will knock you out.
New Orleans Swamp Donkeys—Traditional Jass Band and Donkey Business. Six young musicians have revived the humid, sassy jazz sound of the 1920s, complete with clarinet, banjo and tuba. The band recently released two albums at once—a collection of Big Easy standards like After You've Gone, Buddy Bolden Blues and Royal Garden Blues—and another featuring songs in the Rampart St. tradition. Syncopated proof that saucy 78-era jazz is still alive and kicking in the hearts of the Tumblr generation.
Faith, Hope & Charity—Faith, Hope & Charity (Real Gone Music). Before Saturday Night Fever in 1977 turned disco into the music of rope lines, VIP lounges and drugged-out celebrities, the genre had a soulful, yearning sound. Among the groups that stood out during this early period was Faith, Hope & Charity—a hustle group out of South Florida backed by strings and horns that was signed to RCA. This 1975 album was the group's big one, featuring Just One Look and To Each His Own. A reminder of just how innocent disco was in the beginning, when the music was just about dancing.
The Sweet Inspirations—Complete Atlantic Singles Plus (Real Gone Music). When it came to backup singers, few could rival the Sweet Inspirations. Founded by Cissy Houston in the early 1960s, their voices were heard on dozens of recordings ranging from Dusty Springfield's Dusty in Memphis and Wilson Pickett's Hey Jude to three Yusef Lateef jazz albums. In the 1970s, they became most associated with Elvis Presley as his concert backup singers, particularly on That's the Way It Is and Aloha From Hawaii. For a time, the group fronted their own recordings for Atlantic. All of their singles are here on this two-CD set.