Billy Childs’ Map to the Treasure (Reimagining Laura Nyro) is an interesting and mostly solid jazz tribute to singer-songwriter Laura Nyro. Though the dazzling tracks that bookend the album far outshadow the rest.
Renee Fleming’s voice is a soaring, agile instrument on the opener, “New York Tendaberry.” Fleming may be an opera diva by trade, but her supernaturally gorgeous voice takes jazz and pop to other realms. I only wish she’d contributed more songs for this tribute.
Becca Stevens’ angelic soprano is juxtaposed nicely with a moody arrangement on “The Confession.”
“Stoned Soul Picnic” is my personal favorite Nyro track (thanks to its inclusion on an old pal’s mixtape), so I much prefer Nyro’s original over the Ledisi cover here.
Esperanza Spalding, Ricki Lee Jones and Shawn Colvin guest on other tracks. I love the piano on “To a Child,” but Dianne Reeves’ vocal arrangement is a bit too light and smooth for me. Overall the tribute is a bit too much of a soft jazz jam for my taste, but will probably appeal more to more diehard Childs and/or Nyro fans.
The final cover of “And When I Die” by Alison Krauss and Jerry Douglas is as mesmeric as Renee Fleming’s opener. Those two songs need to be heard.
Children’s author Sandra Boynton penned the 12 country and children’s songs on the new compilation, Frog Trouble, then she gathered several country and rock stars to record them. Among the singers on the album are Allison Krauss, Ryan Adams, Ben Folds, Brad Paisley, Darius Rucker, Dwight Yoakam, Fountains of Wayne and Linda Eder. You can download free, legal mp3s of the tracks “Heartache Song” by Kacey Musgraves, “When Pigs Fly” by Ryan Adams and “Broken Piano” by Ben Folds at Noisetrade and buy the entire album at Amazon.
My interest in bluegrass being whetted by Doyle Lawson, I finally got around to listening to Dierks Bentley’s only Bluegrass outing. Up on the Ridge is the album from which “Senor” (featured on the Bob Dylan tribute album, Chimes of Freedom) was taken. The album’s title track was another pleasant surprise, with a guest appearance by Allison Krauss and The Sidemen. There’s an amazing cover of U2’s “(Pride) In The Name of Love” which benefits from the presence of bluegrass legend Del McCoury and The Punch Brothers, who also guest on several other tracks. Other guests on the album include The Steeldrivers‘s Chris Stapleton, Miranda Lambert, Vince Gill and Kris Kristofferson. The final song, “Down in the Mine,” is a sublime Appalachian anthem co-written by Bentley, capping off a remarkable achievement. You can hear samples from the album here.