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  Listen Up! 8/1/03 Listen Up!

Friday, Aug. 1

Cassandra Wilson, “Glamoured,” Blue Note Records. This album won’t be in stores for three months, but here it is, a promo sitting in the office. Wilson is writing more of her own material, which worked pretty well on the last album but which isn’t hitting me on first listen today. There’s the usual playing around with percussion sounds, and guitar accompaniment, with the focus on Wilson’s close-miked vocals. I’m very impressed with her cover of Sting’s “Fragile” which leads off the album, and her version of Muddy Waters’ “Honey Bee,” which manages to be hard as Waters without the machismo. I’m still debating about her remakes of “If Loving You Is Wrong” and “Lay Lady Lay,” though they are definitely interesting. I wish her own melodies were strong enough to stand up to her peculiar method of running them through the emotional ringer she applies to covers.

Various Artists, “Just Because I’m a Woman: Songs of Dolly Parton,” Sugar Hill Records. Here’s another October release already hanging around the office. I’m always a sucker for a good tribute album, and this one is plenty interesting. Parton, of course, is one of the great singer/songwriters of the past thirty-five years, and if you aren’t already aware of that, I suggest you run out and pick up a couple basic hits packages from her 70s years, and the last couple of albums on Sugar Hill. That will give you some grounding in why she deserves the respect given her by this wide variety of artists. Most of the women on here are country singers, but there are appearances by Melissa Etheridge, Joan Osborne, Norah Jones, Sinead O’Connor, and Me’Shell N’Degeocello. Only Etheridge lays down and dies artistically. Faced with the daunting task of singing “I Will Always Love You” and trying to do something different from what Parton did with it without heading towards the bombast of Whitney Houston’s version, she simply acts as if the song doesn’t matter at all. Everywhere else, though, these singers have little to no fear, which is the most appropriate approach to Parton’s music. Mindy Smith – and who the heck is she? the only unknown on this collection – tears into “Jolene” with a bit of a rock feel. Joan Osborne owns “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind,” as does Emmylou Harris for “To Daddy.” Shania Twain does a great duet with Alison Krauss – and I can just see stubborn traditionalists shaking their heads in disbelief – on “Coat of Many Colors. Sisters Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer each turn up on separate songs, doing beautiful versions of “The Seeker” and “Light of a Clear Blue Morning,” respectively. You’ve got three months. Don’t forget you’ll want to own this record when it comes out.

Albert Lee, “Heartbreak Hill,” Sugar Hill Records. Another one to file in your brain until October. Lee must miss his days playing in Emmylou Harris’s Hot Band, because this first release I’ve seen from him since the late 80s (possibly the mid-80s) is full of songs he used to play with her. In case you don’t know, Lee is one of the hottest Telecaster pickers the world has ever seen, so this record is great whenever he just lets loose and plays guitar. It’s good when he sings slower songs, better when he sings faster ones, and stunning when he solos.

--Steve Pick

For more columns by Steve Pick click here



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