Gwen Stefani has had quite the year. After a much publicized divorce from Gavin Rossdale of Bush, Stefani was on the edge of a breakdown. Much like the breakthrough album Tragic Kingdom (No Doubt – 1995), This Is What the Truth Feels Like takes a familiar tone and reflects what Stefani has been through. The lead single "Used to Love You" gives listeners Stefani’s true emotion, showing her pain of the love she lost—but the album is not full of anger and disappointment. The album sheds light on Gwen’s newfound love with fellow The Voice coach Blake Shelton with other singles "Make Me Like You" and "Misery." This album is a fresh breath of air from the insecurities she has displayed in previous albums about Rossdale. It is definitely worth the listen. This Is The Truth Feels Like is Gwen's first solo album to hit #1 on the Billboard top 200 charts. Get the CD in the library or download the album instantly on Hoopla.
The Silver Lining: The Songs of Jerome Kern by Tony Bennett and Bill Charlap (2015) Tony Bennett and pianist Charlap give the gold medal treatment to some lesser known songs by Jerome Kern such as "Yesterdays" and "I'm Old Fashioned." Bennett's voice has aged, but he still has a way with a song and he allows Charlap to occasionally take center stage. A piano and the great Bennett is all it takes to deliver. No One Ever Tells You by Seth MacFarlane (2015) MacFarlane's love for Sinatra comes across in his delivery of these standards. MacFarlane's style is perhaps too idolizing of Sinatra. His rendition of "Only the Lonely" seems modeled exactly to Sinatra's phrasing. But MacFarlane, although not revolutionary, sings with a smooth, articulate voice that lands pleasantly on the ear. For One to Love by Cecile McLorin Salvant (2015) Salvant delivers a mixture of original songs and standards with a definite jazz style. She makes the standards her own while still honoring the music and understanding the lyric. In this outing, besides her original compositions, Salvant sings some musical hits including "The Stepsister's Lament" from Cinderella and "Something's Coming" from West Side Story.
After watching Pitch Perfect, a hilarious comedy about dueling college acapella groups, I started exploring more recent music in this style. The New Old Fashioned by Straight No Chaser (2015) The group’s fifth album includes their unique take on some of today’s biggest hits: I particularly enjoyed “All About that Bass (No Tenors)” and “Shut Up and Dance.” They also feature mashups of popular songs, but the best track is “The Movie Medley,” which features the soundtracks and hilarious commentary about famous movies including Star Wars, Jurassic Park, and Forrest Gump. Also available on Hoopla. Pentatonix by Pentatonix (2015) In their most recent studio album, Pentatonix moves from covering popular hits to releasing all original material. Pentatonix is a catchy mix of upbeat songs that will tempt you to sing and dance along with the group. Particularly enjoyable is “Sing.” And did you know? You can check out Pentatonix as Team Canada in Pitch Perfect 2. Lastly, I would be remiss if I don’t mention the soundtracks to both Pitch Perfect (especially “Bellas Finals” featuring a mashup of six songs) and its sequel Pitch Perfect 2 (look for “Anyway You Want It” performed by five groups). Also available on Hoopla.
Although this isn’t a new album, it’s possible that many people haven’t heart of it. And since it’s one of my favorites, I felt an obligation to shine a light on it. Rare Bird Alert is a modern bluegrass album by Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers. What’s that you ask, “Steve Martin of SNL and Pink Panther fame?” Why yes. For fans of Martin, this is good news, since his comedic chops do shine through here, but true bluegrass enthusiasts shouldn’t overlook this album. Rare Bird Alert includes purely instrumental songs like “The Great Remember,” soothing and meandering, and “Northern Island,” featuring banjo-picking at lightning speed. On some tracks Martin takes the lead on vocals, and on others the Rangers get the honor. Paul McCartney and the Dixie Chicks make guest appearances. I love the range of this album, its humor, and the contrasts created. The hilarious break-up song “Jubilation Day” is lively, and although funny, is also a bona fide bluegrass song, a musical treat. Mellow songs like “More Bad Weather On the Way,” always makes me feel like I’m rowing along a river on a sunny day, and “Women Like To Slow Dance” is actually a fast-paced song fit for dancing a jig! While most of the songs are not comedy-album material, the nonsensical “King Tut” is the most likely to make you laugh out loud. “Born in Arizona, moved to Babylonia…”
Dave Koz is a pro at playing the saxophone. Fans of jazz will love the special holiday CD. Dave Koz & Friends: The 25th of December includes 12 great songs, all with a jazzy twist. It's really fun to listen to in the car on the way to work!
I just discovered Melody Gardot while searching for singers similar to Diana Krall. I recommend her music for vocal jazz enthusiasts who enjoy a little pop and blues. Gardot has an intriguing backstory that may well have informed her style. Lovely orchestration accents the romantic, lyrically wonderful albums. Some of my favorite songs: “Impossible Love” evokes a French café ambiance, “Goodbye” demonstrates her sensuous chanteuse quality, “Your Heart is as Black as the Night” has a sultry, bluesy vibe, and the vocal style of “So We Meet Again My Heartache” just gives me goosebumps. Don’t miss her delightful version of “Over the Rainbow.” Check out her albums today: The Absence (2012) and My One and Only Thrill (2009).
This is a CD from one of the most mainstream bands out there, yet it is an album that abandons all ties with the mainstream and truly comes from the heart. Turn Blue is a very mellow and emotional rock album that stands out proudly in the catalog of The Black Keys. You can listen to the title song in the official video below.
Created to celebrate the band’s ten-year anniversary, Direct Hits is a must-listen for fans of The Killers. It consists of ten of the band’s top hits, including “Mr. Brightside,” “Somebody Told Me,” “All These Things that I Have Done,” and “Human,” alongside five new songs. The new songs are instant favorites and reminiscent of the music the band is known for, with memorable lyrics that will resonate and stay with listeners. To further celebrate the tenth anniversary theme, the release of the second new single, “Just Another Girl,” (my new personal favorite song) coincided with its music video, which features lead singer Brandon Flowers and singer/actress Dianna Agron (Glee) recreating scenes from the band’s past music videos.
One of my favorite albums Give Up by The Postal Service has been re-released as a tenth anniversary set. There are only two unearthed songs on the album, but they are fantastic. The rest of the album serves as reminder of how great Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello are together. Touring for the first time ever this summer, I hope to finally see them live.