A historic live project from the queen of my heart is only one of this crowded week’s significant releases. Gentlemen, start your engines:


His debut disc — 2003’s flop A Beautiful World — sure didn’t make any waves, but a new reality emerged post-“SexyBack,” one in which criminally photogenic young men with preternaturally high voices and an immutable passion for synthesized soul could become megastars at the drop of an acutely tailored fedora.  And so it was decreed that Robin Thicke‘s sophomore record, The Evolution of Robin Thicke, would make him an overnight sensation. (Oh yeah, and a killer single — the irresistibly cheesy “Lost Without U” — plus the Oprah stamp of approval, didn’t hurt nothin’.) Thicke took his time crafting album number three, but we finally get a taste of Something Else this week.

Her virtuoso, rocket-propelled voice netted her an Academy Award and a mind-boggling host of other awards last year, and you just knew it would only be a matter of time before Daddy Clive would step in and try to mold himself a new Whitney out of the lion-lunged Dreamgirl Jennifer Hudson. Having conquered both movies and music, the one-time “American Idol” reject now finds herself at the top of the heap: her burgeoning film career is going great guns (on the horizon: The Secret Life of Bees, co-starring a pair of women who also have a foot in each world, Queen Latifah and Alicia Keys), and her self-titled debut album arrives this week. Its leadoff single “Spotlight” has yet to catch fire at radio, but Arista has launched a momentous advertising campaign on behalf of this release, and you can expect Hudson’s duet with that peerless wackydoo Fantasia — who won “Idol” the season in which Hudson finished a disappointing seventh — to stoke all manner of curiosities. Expectations are sky-high; we’ll find out soon enough if they can be met.

For the life of me, I can’t fathom why 2005’s superlative double-disc collection All the Best wasn’t sufficient enough a career retrospective for the legendary Tina Turner, but here we go again with yet another best-of. Titled simply Tina!, we get just one disc to navigate this time around, although urrything you’d expect to find on a Turner compilation — from “Proud Mary” to “Private Dancer” — is front and center (and, incidentally, bonus points to whomever decided to include the full single version of her unforgettable 1985 smash “Better Be Good to Me” and not its abysmally butchered radio edit), as are a handful of rare live recordings and a pair of exclusive new tracks. And while I tend to be offended by the general notion of yet another Turner hits set — what is this, her fifth?! — taking up coveted record store real estate, this is Tina we’re talking about.

Even though it seemed to get lost in his fellow comrade James Blunt’s wake, burgeoning British artist James Morrison‘s debut effort, 2006’s unassuming Undiscovered, won him a passel of well-earned kudos on both sides of the pond, thanks to terrific tracks like “You Give Me Something” (which was used to great effect late last year in the “There is No Box” advertising campaign for FX Network).  Morrison’s up this week with a sophomore album, Songs for You, Truths for Me; the lead single “Nothing Ever Hurt Like You” is an intriguing percussion-filled change of pace.  Count me in.

As I waxed eloquent a couple of weeks back, Joshua Radin‘s incredible 2006 debut disc We Were Here was a textbook model of shattering grace, and after a wrenching two-year wait, Radin finally returns this week with his second effort, Simple Times, which arrives in physical form after three weeks of digital availability.  (You have no idea how tough it was to stop myself from buying the damn thing at iTunes, and I hate buying digital albums!)  As you should know by now, Times includes a gorgeous duet with that unstoppable dynamo Patty Griffin (the lilting and lovely “You Got Growin’ Up to Do,” which I did end up purchasing online, if only to temporarily quench my fierce desire to own this record) and another sterling collection of typically soothing, heart-melting harmonies.  This one’s a must, folks.

Am I the only one who seriously thinks it’s time to call for a moratorium on covers of Joni Mitchell’s touchstone “Both Sides Now”?  Between my beloved Natalie Cole’s stunningly serene 1996 version and Mitchell’s own shattering reinvention of the song at the turn of the decade — her husky timbre torn by years of cigarette smoke and shaded by the kinds of wisdom and grace only sixty years can bring you — it’s pretty much been done, agreed?  The latest performer tossing her hat into that ring:  one of the most powerfully gifted singers on the planet, my darling Linda Eder, who uses the track to anchor her latest studio album, The Other Side of Me.  (Also thrown in for good measure:  a cover of Kathy Mattea’s brilliant “They Are the Roses” and — I guess it wasn’t enough that rival Celine Dion turned in her own version a few years back? — Regina Belle’s “If I Could.”)

Speaking of Covers, look who’s back with a whole damned album of ’em:  quintessential ramblin’ man James Taylor.  (Before you get all high and mighty about the notion of a universally revered songwriter turning to others for his material, fail to forget that some of Taylor’s most memorable tunes — from “How Sweet It Is (to Be Loved By You)” (done originally by Marvin Gaye) to “You’ve Got a Friend” (Carole King’s masterpiece) to “Everyday” (Buddy Holly’s sweet shuffle, Taylor’s version of which ranks — for my money, at least — among the finest remakes of the last half-century) — did not arrive via his own pen.)  Taylor returns to Holly’s oeuvre on this outing, putting his own spin on “Not Fade Away”; he also takes those ridiculous Dixie Chicks to school on “Some Days You Gotta Dance,” revives “Seminole Wind,” a forgotten early-’90s chestnut from the underrated country star John Anderson, and takes on classics from the tony likes of Elvis Presley, Eddie Cochran, Leonard Cohen, Jimmy Webb, and George Jones.


A fascinating glimpse at the graceful evolution of true musical artistry, the week’s marquee release comes from none other than the divine Tori Amos, who has finally spearheaded a formal release — in both CD and DVD form, lucky us — for Live at Montreux 1991-1992, one of her storied canon’s long-treasured bootlegs. A crisp, crystalline aural document of Amos’ consecutive appearances — one occurring in the summer of 1991, during the recording of her historic debut Little Earthquakes, and the other in the summer of 1992, mere weeks after the record’s release — at the Montreux Jazz Festival, Europe’s most prestigious such gathering. Naturally, the combined setlists represented here are heavily Earthquakes-centric — no problem there, as most of those songs (particularly “Silent All These Years” — now and forever Amos’ touchstone — and “Crucify”) have aged unspeakably well — but the true gems contained herein are the gorgeously rendered rarities: the classic b-sides “Upside Down” (which always sounds twice as strong live as it ever did on record) and “Song for Eric” (a heartbreaking a capella triumph, it’s easily one of Amos’ ten finest compositions) and the iconic covers of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” and “Thank You” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (the stunning latter of which earned her the kind of publicity and free press you can’t buy anymore). And as we wait with curious wonder to see how Amos is going to redeem herself following the startling misfire that was last year’s awful American Doll Posse, it will be great fun to return to very beginning of her extraordinary career and witness a genius just coming into full bloom.

Also noteworthy this week:


  • The annual onslaught of Christmas music begins in earnest with a trio of new releases from Melissa Etheridge, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Faith Hill (whose album, nonsensically, doesn’t even include “Where Are You Christmas,” Hill’s spectacular contribution — and one of the few songs of hers you can tolerate without losing your lunch — to 2000’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas soundtrack).

  • Every single time I see her, I think of her hilariously horrid performance of “Bohemian Rhapsody” during the fifth season of “American Idol” — look at it on YouTube; the heifer’s decked out in head-to-toe leather! — but against all odds, the bizarre Kellie Pickler has managed to become a star on the country scene. Led by the awful single “Don’t You Know You’re Beautiful,” Pickler’s self-titled second album drops this week.

  • A lifetime removed from 1998’s devastating “Brick” — his lone brush with top 40 fame — Ben Folds is back with Way to Normal, another album of piano-based punk pop.

  • The Glass Passenger, the second record — a concept album built around lead singer Andrew McMahon’s successful battle with leukemia — from acclaimed rising band Jack’s Mannequin.

  • Ireland’s answer to Avril Lavigne, Lesley Roy is up with Unbeautiful, her much-buzzed-about debut album.

  • Hot on the heels of his brilliant EP series last spring, the ever-prolific Joseph Arthur reunites with his band The Lonely Astronauts on Temporary People, the formal follow-up to last year’s Let’s Just Be.


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