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.”

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.

Guilty Pleasures by Renée Fleming

Guilty PleasuresMusic - Guilty Pleasures by Renėe Fleming with Sebastian Lang-Lessing conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra is the luscious new album following her Grammy Award winning album Poėmes. It is an album of very beautiful songs and arias, many of them rarely recorded, selected by Renėe and sung in eight different languages. Out of the 17 choices, I especially loved “La Delaissádo,” by Canteloube, “Once There was a Golden Bird,” by Corigliano and “Dóme ėpaís” (Flower Duet, Lakmé) by Delibes (sung with Susan Graham, mezzo-soprano). Former CSO conductor Sir Georg Solti said that in his life he had only heard two sopranos with such great quality: Fleming and Renata Tebaldi! Renėe is a four-time Grammy winner and our national treasure, traveling all over the world and performing with every major opera company and symphony. She is an advocate for literacy and has been featured in the Association of American Publishers campaign (Get Caught Reading), as well as the READ poster campaign for the American Library Association. Renėe is a product of both Eastman and Juilliard, but also sings jazz and pop songs. In fact, she recorded the jazz album Haunted Heart, and the soundtrack of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. She is known as the “people’s diva,” but speaks fluent German and French. She is from Indiana, Pennsylvania. The New York Public Library has designated her as a “Library Lion.” By the way, she has written a book titled The Inner Voice.

After Blue by Tierney Sutton

after blueMusic – Tierney Sutton’s new CD, After Blue, definitely has my vote for this year’s Grammy for “Best Jazz Vocal Album.”  Tierney has been nominated the last four years, and her band, the Tierney Sutton Band, has nine CDs – each of which has consistently topped the US jazz charts.  After Blue is a tribute album; it is an intimate, jazz-inspired re-imagining of the legacy of singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell. In After Blue, Sutton expands the scope of Joni Mitchell’s songs and recasts them in new and refreshing ways. It is Sutton’s first solo album without the Tierney Sutton Band, and it features Al Jarreau, Hubert Laws, and the Turtle Island String Quartet. All twelve tracks on the album are excellent. I like the dreamy “Both Sides Now,” and the lush, intimate “Don’t Go to Strangers.” The Turtle Island Quartet string arrangements are splendid, and the great Larry Golding’s moody piano on “Court and Spark” and “Woodstock” is the perfect touch. Tierney has won Jazzweek’s Vocalist of the Year,and she has headlined at The Hollywood Bowl, Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center and Jazz at Lincoln Center.  She is also an active educator and is currently head of the vocal department at the Los Angeles Music Academy in Pasadena, CA.

How Mercy Looks From Here by Amy Grant

how mercyMusic – How Mercy Looks From Here is the new bestselling Christian album from Amy Grant. It’s her first full length album with all new songs in 10 years. It’s a stellar collection of songs and includes duets with Vince Gill (her husband), James Taylor, Sheryl Crow and Carole King. The songs are soft and introspective, reflecting on faith and family. She also draws on her experiences of the last decade, including her parents’ aging and declining health. Amy Grant is known as “The Queen of Christian Pop,” and she is the best-selling contemporary Christian music singer ever, having sold 30 million albums worldwide. She has won six Grammy awards, and has six Platinum and four Gold albums, plus a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The song “Don’t Try So Hard” is a tender ballad about resting in God’s grace, that features James Taylor, and the song “Better Not to Know” is a prayer-song about finding courage in God’s faithful mercy. Carole King joins Amy on the song “Our Time is Now,” which features Amy’s children and her father. This is Grant’s masterpiece; she sings about real life with messages about the glories and mysteries of faith, mercy, grace and life lessons for young and old. I was moved by the album and quickly noticed how polished the arrangements were played by the Nashville Session Players, a string orchestra. Do you know that Amy’s album Lead Me On is still considered the number one all-time Christian music record?

Come On Over by Shania Twain

ShaniaMusic – Come On Over, by Shania Twain, is the best selling country album ever by the top selling female artist. The album contains 17 top ten songs, half of which reached #1. In fact, it is the best selling studio album of all time by a female act in any genreShania Twain has won 5 Grammy Awards and is known as “The Queen of Country Pop.” (she also has her own TV series Why Not? with Shania Twain). Come On Over is actually a crossover album with a seductive pop sound, rather than traditional country. I think song “From This Moment On” is one of the most beautiful love songs ever, and there is nothing subtle about “Man, I Feel Like a Woman.” Shania is actually a Canadian (real name: Eilleen Regina Edwards), and she has sold more than 75 million albums worldwide.