Castor, The Twin by Dessa

castor the twinMusic Dessa is a 33-year-old rapper and writer from Minneapolis, a part of the cerebral indie hip-hop collective Doomtree. Her style is much more musical than most rappers, but her skill with words is outstanding. (And fair enough – she graduated from the University of Minnesota with a philosophy degree at age 20.) She and the rest of Doomtree appear regularly on “most-underrated” lists of modern artists, but despite all this critical acclaim, she hasn’t yet made it big. It’ll happen one of these days, because Dessa is just too fantastic to ignore.

Castor, the Twin is a remix album of many of her more highly-produced tracks from earlier albums, False Hopes and A Badly Broken Code. What that means is that this is a hip-hop album with a singer-songwriter feel. If Joni Mitchell did hip-hop beats, she might sound like Dessa. There’s not a bad track on the album, but my favorites are “Dixon’s Girl,” a sympathetic shout-out to under-appreciated and abused women in the music industry, and “The Crow,” which borrows the symbol of Edgar Allan Poe’s avian nemesis for a soul-baring song about loss and survival.

Love in Venice by Andre Rieu

love in veniceMusic – This is the new album from Andre Rieu and his Johann Strauss Orchestra, released in November 2014. Andre offers you his hand and invites you on a journey through the Venice night via gondola. It is a declaration of love to perhaps the most beautiful city in the world, and provides a popular selection of the most well-known Italian melodies.  It is the theme Andre chose for his 10th anniversary of the Vrijthof concerts, from the romantic Dutch square in Maastricht, The Netherlands.  Andre Rieu is the world’s best-selling classical musician.  He has received more than 400 Platinum and 171 Gold Awards, and Love in Venice went straight to No. 1 on the Classical Charts.  Andre and the Johann Strauss Orchestra – between 80 and 150 musicians – travel around the world performing about 100 concerts per year. They are as successful as some of the biggest global pop and rock music acts. Rieu is known as the modern day “Waltz King,” a title originally bestowed upon Johann Strauss II.  He plays a 1667 Stradivarius violin, and he and his wife, Marjorie, do all the arrangements of the famous songs.  I loved all of the music, but especially “Love in Venice,” “Volare,” and “That’s Amore.” There are 18 songs on Love in Venice, but the DVD has many more and is incredibly beautiful, festive and colorful.  So sit back and allow your imagination to drift into gorgeous, romantic Venice with wonderful Italian music.

Cheek to Cheek by Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga

cheek to cheekMusic – This is the new 2014 collaboration album by Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. It consists of jazz standards by famous jazz composers like George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern and Irving Berlin. Cheek to Cheek was inspired by the desire of Bennett and Gaga to introduce the songs to a younger generation. It debuted at number one on Billboard and earned Gaga her third consecutive number-one album, and it extended Bennett’s record as the oldest person, at 88, to achieve number-one status on the charts. Of course, Lady Gaga (Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta) is one of the bestselling vocalists of all time, and has five Grammy Awards and 13 MTV Video Music Awards. Although her Pop albums – The Fame, The Fame Monster, and Born This Way – brought her great success, she now plans to do one jazz album per year. The legendary Tony Bennett (Anthony Dominick Benedetto) has 17 Grammy Awards and has sold over 50 million records worldwide. Cheek to Cheek is one of the best jazz vocal albums to come out in years, and it features scintillating big band arrangements and famous jazz musicians with the band. Every song is a delight, but I especially liked “Lush Life,” (by Billy Strayhorn), “Nature Boy,” and “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye.” This is a stunningly excellent CD, and it will keep your heart pounding. It also has a generous fold out photo montage, with candid photos of the performers.

The Essential Julio Iglesias

julioMusic – This is the new 2014 double album from Julio Iglesias, with 37 songs including duets with other famous singers.  It has been said that “it’s Julio Iglesias’ world, and the rest of us just make love in it.”  Julio is a Spanish singer and songwriter from Madrid. He has sold more than 300 million records worldwide in 14 languages and released more than 80 albums, with more than 2,600 gold and platinum records.  He is the best-selling Latin music artist in history and one of the world’s best-selling artists of all time. Julio was an excellent soccer player, but after a serious car accident (he couldn’t walk for two years), a nurse gave him a guitar and he discovered his musical talent. After earning a law degree, in 1979 he moved to Miami, Florida and started moving up to great musical achievements, singing in different languages such as English, French, Portuguese, German and others. Julio is married to the Dutch model, Miranda Rijnsburger, and they live in the Dominican Republic, with their five children. Dream through a romantic day and night with all of these wonderful songs – sure to melt your heart. I loved all of the songs on The Essential Julio Iglesias especially “Fragile” (a duet with Sting), “The Summer Wind” (a duet with Frank Sinatra, thanks to the magic of technology), and “Amor.” Take this album along on your next date night.

The Look of Love by Diana Krall

look of loveMusic – This is the cuddle by the fireside with someone you love album. Diana Krall is the great torch singer of our time, and this album features her signature throaty, sexy, husky style on sultry romances wafted on light Latin beats. The tone of the album falls within the spirit and the letter of bossa nova, and it deals with adult emotions specifically the ups and downs of love. It features the lush orchestrations of the legendary composer Claus Ogerman, with the London Symphony Orchestra and also the Los Angeles Session Orchestra. The album topped the Billboard charts and went to quintuple platinum in Canada, the first by a Canadian artist to do so.  A native of Nanaimo, British Columbia, Diana has sold more than 15 million albums worldwide, won five Grammy Awards with nine gold, three platinum and seven multi-platinum albums. She is one of the top female jazz vocalists and bestselling artists of our time. I loved all of these gorgeous love songs, especially “The Look of Love,” “S’Wonderful,” and “Dancing in the Dark.” She is married to the iconic British rock musician Elvis Costello, and they have twin sons. Her new album Wallflower will not be released until February 3, 2015. She has canceled all of her fall tour dates due to chronic pneumonia, as she needs to regain her strength and good health.

Inspirato by Yanni

yanniMusic – Yanni’s new 2014 album presents his instrumental hits sung by the finest operatic voices. The lyrics were written by Placido Domingo, Jr., son of the legendary Placido Domingo. The younger Domingo has put words to some of the most beautiful and famous compositions of Yanni. The album’s featured vocal artists include Renee Fleming, Nathan Pacheco, Lauren Jelencovich, Rolando Villazon and others. Yanni (Yiannis Chryssomallis) grew up in Greece, but moved to the U.S. when he was 18. His New Age music blends jazz, classical, soft rock and world music, and he uses Middle Eastern and Oriental scales, mixed meters and a variety of exotic instruments. The album is influenced by his encounters with cultures around the world and is said to reflect his “one world, one people” philosophy. You may remember his PBS production Acropolis, which is the second best-selling music video of all time, seen in 65 countries by half a billion people. The song lyrics created for Inspirato are sung in Italian, English, Spanish and other languages, and they are amazingly beautiful, enchanting and relaxing. I liked “Ode alla Grecia,” “Amare di Nuovo,” and “Incanto,” but all 13 songs are simply fascinating. At least fourteen of Yanni’s albums have peaked at No. 1 in Billboard’s New Age category, as well as Inspirato. Yanni has performed in more than 20 countries around the world and has accumulated more than 35 platinum and gold albums. It is also interesting to note that Yanni set a Greek national record in the 50-meter freestyle swimming competition at age 14.

Helen Forrest: the Voice of the Big Bands

helen forrestMusic – This is a truly remarkable album featuring the voice of Helen Forrest, who is known as the best of the big band singers from the 30’s and 40’s (the WWII generation). At the peak of her career, she was the most popular female singer in the United States. This album showcases her work with three famous bandleaders: Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, and Harry James. She was the classiest of all the big band singers, with impeccable phrasing and unparalleled range and breath control, which made it easy to be heard over a 17-piece orchestra. Helen’s understated vocal style was sensual, feminine, controlled and simple; it suggested poetic images and brokenhearted reverie. Helen was often ill as a child and had to overcome a hearing loss in one of her ears. She was raised by her mother and a stepfather (who she hated) mainly in a brothel in Brooklyn. She dropped out of high school and started her rise to fame when Artie Shaw hired her in 1938. Subsequently, she became a national favorite, and in 1942 and 1943 she was voted the best female vocalist in the U.S. in the Down Beat poll. In the course of her career, she recorded more than 500 songs! I like all of the old songs, but especially “I’ve Heard That Song Before,” “Skylark,” and “Comes Love.” Of course, the music is enhanced by the fabulous clarinet playing of both Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman, as well as Harry James’ flawless trumpet.

Back to Brooklyn by Barbra Streisand

Music – This is the new live performance album from the great Barbra Streisand. She grew up in Brooklyn, and when the new Barclays Center luxury arena opened there, she agreed to present a live concert, which she rarely does because she has stage fright. The album has 26 songs, nine of which she had never performed on stage before. Barbra talks to the audience about her memories of living in her Brooklyn apartment childhood home. Of course, she went on to fabulous stardom as a singer-songwriter, author, actress, film producer and director. She is one of only twelve other entertainers who have an Oscar, Emmy, Grammy and a Tony award. She is the best-selling female artist on the Top Selling Artists list (32 top ten albums since 1963). She has released 51 Gold albums, 30 Platinum, and 13 Multi-Platinum. She starred in the movies Funny Girl, The Way We Were, and The Owl and the Pussycat, and many others. In Back to Brooklyn everything is perfect – the orchestra, the arrangements, and her voice (smoky, silken and lustrous). Every song is wonderful! I loved “The Way we Were,” Evergreen,” and “Here’s to Life.” Streisand, now 71, can still knock your socks off with what NY Times music critic, Stephen Holden, describes as her “gift for conveying a primal human longing in a beautiful sound.”

In 27 Pieces: the Hilary Hahn Encores by Hilary Hahn

27MusicIn 27 Pieces: the Hilary Hahn Encores by Hilary Hahn, violin, is Hahn’s brilliant new 2-CD recording of 27 short pieces (“encores”) by contemporary composers. She is accompanied by pianist Cory Smythe. The album topped the Billboard classical charts and will likely win Hilary her third Grammy Award (she already has two). The individual pieces of new music have never been recorded before, and it’s likely you’ve never heard of the composers.  The album ranges from romantic to post-modern, from jazzy Hollywood film noir to the rural, folksy and obscure, from the purely abstract to the objective.  I liked the post-romantic “Whispering” by Einojuhani Rautavaara, and the meditative “Blue Curve of the Earth” by Tina Davidson, as well as the frenetic “Angry Birds of Kauai” by Jeff Myers.  All of the pieces struck me as intellectual, thoughtful, technically challenging “art” pieces. Hahn started her career as a soloist at age 16, and to date she has recorded 14 albums, three DVDs, an Oscar-nominated soundtrack and an award winning album for children.  She is known as the foremost American classical musician in promoting new post-modern music.  She performs worldwide, and as of June 2014 is completing a tour of 50 cities in 14 countries throughout North America, Europe and Asia. Her violin is an 1864 copy of Paganini’s Cannone made by Vuillaume. (She never lets it out of her sight!) The violin case comments on her life on Twitter at @violincase. By the way, Hahn’s recording of Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto was used extensively in The Deep Blue Sea starring Rachel Weisz.

Beyonce by Beyonce

beyonceBeyoncé Music This is the new smash hit album from Beyoncé (Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter), and it has 14 new songs plus a DVD with 17 tracks. It is a hip-hop/R&B album with a fresh new sound (her fifth studio album). Some of the songs feature her singing with Drake, Jay Z (her husband), Justin Timberlake and The-Dream. She is a modern-day feminist, and her songs are often characterized by themes of love, relationships, monogamy, female sexuality and empowerment. Her songs propose the idea that a woman’s prime –personal, professional, and especially sexual – can occur within a stable romantic partnership. Monogamy has never sounded more seductive or less retrograde as when dictated on Beyoncé’s terms. The vibe on Beyoncé is moodily futuristic R&B and full-grown electro soul with an artsy boho edge. The ballads are about believing in your dreams and reaching your goals. I liked the song “Flawless” which features a speech from Nigerian feminist author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and I also liked the song “Blue,” which has a cameo in it from Beyonce’s daughter Blue Ivy. Beyonce, as of 2014, is the highest earning black musician in history. She has won 17 Grammy Awards and has sold over 118 million records worldwide. On stage she is known as the sexy, seductive, sassy, provocative “Sasha Fierce,” but she isn’t like that at all in her personal life. Beyoncé is an album that is definitely worth your time; it’s sexy, tender and artistic – a “visual” album from music’s glossiest mega-star.