We’re used to hearing what’s past in popular music. With sampling, and even re-singing melodies or lyrics from songs familiar to your audience as a way to sell records, has become old hat. But it’s so overdone that it doesn’t make new music interesting, but exposes the dearth of innovation, and the over-reliance on a bad formula.
But two new albums do more than just reference some classic songs. For starters, jazz piano legend Herbie Hancock re-interprets Joni Mitchell classics in his album, River: The Joni Letters. The CD shocked everyone by winning a Grammy for Album of the Year–the first time in 44 years a jazz album has won the top honor. The CD isn’t ground breaking, earth shattering or innovative. It’s simply a beautiful jazz album. Not only is it beautiful, but unlick most pop records that use collaborations like formulas for selling more albums, Hancock gets great performances out of the vocalists who appear on the record. Corinne Bailey Rae, Tina Turner, Norah Jones, Leonard Cohen, Luciana Souza and Joni Mitchell herself lay down vocals that are nothing short of exquisite. Hancock’s arrangements are direct for the vocal and instrumental renditions are just what you need–interesting and rich, but not overly produced or conceived. He’s too much of a fan Mitchell as a songwriter and arranger to make a mess of the bone she she lays down for him to set meat to.
Speaking of reverence, Shelby Lynne (often labeled a”country” musician, but the label is far too limiting for her versatile sound), offers us Just A Little Lovin’, a tribute to her favorite singer, British vocalist Dusty Springfield. I’m a big Shelby fan and you can hear the Dusty influence, but she’s no copy cat, and this record is no blow-by-blow remake. She doesn’t try to over do it either–showing you how different she can be. Shelby has nothing like that to prove. Her version of the title track, is slowed WAAAAYYYY down (and the original is a ballad), and Shelby gives you that sweet and sad Southern thang as only she can. The rest of the record is also great. I like her version of Anyone Who Had a Heart (though Luther Vandross‘ will always be my favorite). Other standouts are Willie and Laura Mae Jones and You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.
These are albums for the grown and sexy. They’re for self-reflection. They’re for falling in love. And out of love. Go get em!