Three CDs that I've been enjoying for the last few weeks:
Golddiggas, Headnodders, & Pholk Songs, The Beautiful South -- I first heard this band on Brian Ibbott's terrific Coverville podcast when he played their version of "Don't Fear the Reaper" a while back; when he went on to play their "You're the One That I Want," I knew I had to have this album. It's an all-covers CD (and I'm always a sucker for a great cover record), tackling everything from the Ramones ("Blitzkrieg Bop") to Willie Nelson ("Valentine") to The Stylistics ("I'm Stone in Love With You"). Now I need to hear some of their original material. Any fans out there who can suggest a good starting point?
Wearing Someone Else's Clothes, Jason Robert Brown -- Brown is best known for his work in the musical theater; The Last 5 Years has been playing regional theaters for a few years now, and Parade was a critical success on Broadway. But this is an album of pop songs, and they're terrific. Brown's lyrics are marvels of economy, and his songs feel like a cross between early Billy Joel and Stephen Sondheim. He can be funny ("I Could Be in Love With Someone Like You"), deeply moving ("Over," sung in the voice of a just-killed American soldier), and ruthlessly honest ("Music of Heaven," which is one of the best songs I've heard in years). He sings better than most songwriters; he's certainly got a better voice than the croakings of Elvis Costello, for instance.
Shakespeare in Song, Phoenix Bach Choir (Charles Bruffy, dir.) -- fine program of unaccompanied choral music, all with text by Shakespeare. Ralph Vaughan Williams and Frank Martin are the best known composers represented, and there are premiere recordings of work by several younger composers, of whom I think Matthew Harris comes off best. The Tempest is the most common source for text, with three settings of "Full fathom five" alone (the classic by Vaughan Williams, which has long been a favorite of mine; a version from Martin's "Songs of Ariel," and a lovely setting by Jaakko Mäntyjärvi). But half a dozen other plays are represented, along with a sonnet or two. The enunciation could be a bit clearer -- not an insignificant flaw when you're singing Shakespeare -- but that's the only serious flaw; intonation, ensemble, and emotional sensitivity to text are all top-notch.