Blue Light Til’ Dawn: Cassandra Wilson developed a highly personal style on this landmark which synthesizes jazz standards, Delta blues, and R&B via her sultry voice and languid phrasing, a style that has established an indelible imprint on her peers.
From Bessie to Brazil: Cabaret-jazz singer Susannah McCorkle surveys some of pop music’s most enduring songs from Bessie Smith, Paul Simon, and Johnny Mercer; includes the definitive English language version of“Waters of March.”
Riffs, Beats & Coda Reader Selection: Ana Aguilera Silva:
Gloria Estefan’s Mi Tierra (1993): “As a ‘90s Latin American kid there was no road trip where my mom's angelical voice would not grace us with her ‘Con los años que me quedan’ duo. However, it was not until age 17, when I migrated, that the song ‘Mi Tierra’ would become a personal anthem which colorfully describes my relationship with my motherland.”
Toni Braxton: Sultry torch songs like “Another Sad Love Song” and “Breathe Again” made Braxton one of the most memorable and enduring R&B balladeers in the 1990s.
Amplified Heart: Brit pop group Everything But the Girl brought together a host of influences from pop, rock, and bossa nova on this sublime collection of songs, notable for the throbbing yet tender “Missing.”
Café Blue: Jazz pianist, singer and composer Patricia Barber expanded the boundaries of vocal jazz using its language and classical elements to interpret poetry, ‘60s pop, and premiere original lyricized and wordless songs.
Cockamamie: Alanis Morisette and Courtney Love overshadowed her, but Jen Trynin was the original ‘90s angry rock chic with the creativity and the chops to pull off this post-punk masterpiece laced with wit, style, and kick ass guitar playing.
Mystery Lady: Four decades into her career the legendary R&B singer Etta James expressed her love for Lady Day and her natural affinity for jazz on this exquisite collection of torchy ballads.
Wild Seed-Wild Flower: Former Arrested Development vocalist Dionne Farris preceded neo-soul with this her stirring debut, highlighted by her blazing single “I Know,” a beautiful version of “Blackbird” and soulful originals like “Find your Way” and “Passion.”
Daydream: At age 25, Mariah Carey started acting her age and having a little fun on hip-pop-soul mini masterpieces, “Fantasy,” “Always Be My Baby,” and the album cut “Daydream (Interlude),” and sensuous soul ballads (“Underneath the Stars”).
Wrecking Ball: Emmylou Harris covers Neil Young, The McGarrigle Sisters, Lucinda Williams, Bob Dylan, and Jimi Hendrix, etc. bathed in a gothic, deeply atmospheric production style that presents her voice in a grittily crystalline, weathered style.
Love and Peace: A Tribute to Horace Silver: Dee Dee Bridgewater’s vocal album of Horace Silver’s signature bop tunes is a funky, bluesy, swinging affair with tender ballads and sizzling swingers by vocal jazz’s top vocal improviser.
Live at Blues Alley: The late D.C. area favorite Eva Cassidy emerged as one of the most versatile interpreters of American popular music on this sizzling live set; she brings her unique soulfulness to the songs of Irving Berlin, Al Green, Pete Seeger, Paul Simon, and T-Bone Walker with flawless aplomb.
Baduizm: Erykah Badu shifted the R&B paradigm from hard-edged slickness to warm, organic, earthy music that made it cool for artists to revealed their inner souls in their own musical and visual language.
Car Wheels on a Gravel Road: Lucinda Williams transitioned from being a respected songwriter to one of the most prominent performers of Americana on this masterpiece of soulful folk-rock reflections.
Hungry Again: Dolly Parton was already a legend after 31 years in the business, but she reminded folks of her vitality on this return to her roots in deep country, folk, and gospel.
Miseducation of Lauryn Hill: Hill gained fame fronting The Fugees as a singer and rapper but she created a bold personal vision of female dignity and racial pride on her progressive hip-hop soul debut [1998 Grammy Award Winner for Album of the Year]
Ray of Light: Madonna reinvented herself as the queen of Eurodance pop on her finest album; the throb of “Ray of Light” and “Nothing Really Matters,” and the pathos of “Frozen” and “The Power of Goodbye” reflected a newfound complexity.
Sing It!: A thrilling summit featuring three modern R&B and blues masters: Marcia Ball, Tracy Nelson, and Irma Thomas. Joyful, poignant, and soulful it features a range of songs on the spectrum including Bobby Blue Bland’s “Yield Not to Temptation,” “You Don’t Know Nothin’ About Love,” and “Love Maker.”
Wide Open Spaces: The Dixie Chicks managed to both reiterate country’s acoustic roots and redefine it as a vital genre for listeners of all tastes thanks to this landmark album.
Bitter: Though best known for recording contemporary funk and soul, on this masterpiece Me’Shell N’Degeocello made one of the most devastatingly raw and arid collections of torch songs ever.
Live at Yoshi’s: Jazz virtuoso Dee Dee Bridgewater has recorded several thrilling live sets but she is at her zenith here; a masterful singer, improviser and entertainer, you must hear her seduce her audience ion “Love for Sale” and imitate Ella Fitzgerald singing James Brown (!).
Tropical Brainstorm: The late British singer-songwriter Kristy MacColl always defied genre and her final album was no exception: cheeky, observant and full of heart songs like, “In These Shoes?” and “Celestine” are refreshingly smart and original.
Who is Jill Scott? Words and Music: Jill Scott welcomed listeners into her life and art on this deeply personal kaleidoscopic survey of soul ballads, slow jams, go-go, and songs that defy categories, much like the artist.
Wicked: The blues is alive thanks to fresh new voices like Shemekia Copland whose sophomore album showcases a vocal power and interpretive skill that makes her an inheritor of the mantle of Etta James and Koko Taylor.
Ballads: Remembering John Coltrane: Karrin Allyson, and an ace band especially saxophonist James Carter, boldy reimagine Coltrane’s legendary album as a vocal session including a lovely wordless “Naima.”
I Hope You Dance: The openhearted title track crossed country Leann Womack over to pop listeners, but the standouts are Womack’s hard-hitting interpretations of Rodney Crowell’s “Ashes By Now” and Julie and Buddy Miller’s “Does My Ring Burn Your Finger.”
M!ssundaztood: Just when you thought P!nk was yet another teen act she came into her own as a lover of dance funk (“Get the Party Started”), rock (“Just Like a Pill”), and soul (“Misery” sung with Steven Tyler!) on this dazzling collection of fresh, idiosyncratic tunes.
Richland Woman Blues: Maria Muldaur kicked off a three album series on America’s classic blues and country blues traditions revisiting the repertoire of Memphis Minnie, Bess Smith, Mississippi John Hurt, and traditional with a contemporary acoustic approach.
A Little Moonlight: A lovely and buoyant 21st century jazz approach to popular standards by Dianne Reeves highlighted by “Loads of Love,” “I’m All Smiles,” and “What a little Moonlight Can Do.”
Come Away with Me: Pianist, vocalist, and songwriter Norah Jones surprised the music industry with the amazing critical and reception to her elegant debut; both original material like the wistful “Don’t Know Why” and her contemporary renditions of classics like “The Nearness of You” and “Cold Cold Heart” helped her stand apart from the pop mainstream. [2002 Grammy Winner Album of the Year]
Happy Songs: Broadway actress Audra McDonald mixes standards, contemporary Broadway, and even Brazilian songs for an intriguing mix that places her in a class with Barbra Cook, Bernadette Peters, and Barbra Streisand.
Verse: Patricia Barber writes emotionally charged, self-consciously experimental songs that border between jazz and art song; this is her best collection, highlighted by the wordplay and imagery in “Lost in this Love,” “Clues,” “I Could Eat Your Words,” and “If I Were Blue.”
Get Away from Me: Nellie McKay inverted the polite romanticism of earnest female vocalists like Norah Jones and Vanessa Carlton on this hilarious, subversive, vulgar, and brilliant collection of songs whose fervent melodicism and stylistic density is enchantingly precocious.
Serene Renegade: Eschewing pop standards and conventional arrangements, jazz vocalist René Marie created one of the most memorable collections of new songs in contemporary jazz, each telling her story with ample melodic and narrative distinction.
Back to Black: British singer Amy Winehouse crossed over to the U.S. thanks to sleek R&B songs like “Rehab” and “You Know I’m No Good” that featured unusually honest and vulnerable lyrics sung in Winehouse’s seductive, almost tongue-in-cheek vocal style.
Cat: Catherine Russell grew up the daughter of jazz musicians and sang backup before she went solo and debuted with this progressive jazz set; like her jazz predecessors she is skilled at bringing swing and a touch of the blues to material from multiple sources including Sam Cooke (“You Were Made for Me”), Dinah Washington (“My Man’s an Undertaker”), and country music (“Blue Memories”) and make it contemporary.
Taking the Long Way: Reeling from a backlash to their progressive politics, The Dixie Chicks offer an impressive and often stunning meditation on the plight of renegades and outsiders who eschew communal conventions and take risks (“Not Ready to Make Nice,” “I Hope,” “Lubbock or Leave It”). [2006 Grammy Award Winner for Album of the Year]
19: Adele debuted her powerful but controlled style on her promising debut album, best known for the yearning original “Chasing Pavements” and a lovely cover of Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love.”
Love is the Answer (Quartet Version): 47 years into her recording career, Barbra Streisand recorded her finest album ever, singing bossa novas, chansons, and classic American ballads in a relaxed, intimate style that gets to the musical meat and emotional heart of each song without fuss.
Fellowship: Before gaining fame in jazz, vocalist Lizz Wright had firm roots in gospel which she revisits with a contemporary flavor and fervency.
Blow Away: Seattle based independent jazz vocalist Janice Mann has a beautifully textured voice and well-honed jazz sensibilities; her hushed phrasing and lean sense of swing helps her discover new the nuances in familiar songs helping you to hear them for the first time.
American Road: A daring feat of interpretation by the Tierney Sutton Band that stretches the boundaries of a uniquely American repertoire drawn from the folk (“Wayfaring Stranger”), gospel (“Amazing Grace”), musical theater (“Somewhere”), and classic pop traditions.
Pour une Âme Souveraine: A Dedication to Nina Simone: The brilliantly eclectic Me’Shell N’degeocello, and friends, saluted the brilliantly eclectic Simone by modernizing, reconfiguring, and radically interpreting her repertoire; the results are inspiring and surprising much like the artist.
The Mosaic Project: Jazz drummer Terri Lynne Carrington brought together some of the finest voices from multiple generations of vocal jazz (Dee Dee Bridgewater, Gretchen Parlato, Dianne Reeves) and R&B (Nona Hendryx) to record a brilliant set of original songs and interpretations that blend wondrously.
Same Trailer, Different Park: Musically talented, funny, and inclusive, Kacey Musgraves emerged as the freshest new voice in country.
Riffs, Beats & Coda Reader Selection: Carlos Gardeazabal Bravo:
Natalia Lafourcade’s, Hasta la Raíz, “'Perhaps the best album to fall out of love - and then fall back in love.”
Pageant Material: Kacey Musgraves is brings genuine humor, perspective, and musicality to country music; her sophomore album builds from her debut delving deeper into her affectionate and knowing takes on small town life and the quirks of human nature.
Secular Hymns: Madeline Peyroux and her band recorded this impressively diverse and beautifully rendered collection of songs as varied as Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times” and Allen Toussaint’s “Everything IDo is Gonh Be Funky (From Now On)” in a historic church which is fitting, as this is a divine listening experience.
A Social Call: Jazzmeia Horn is an extremely promising new jazz singer whose aptly titled debut integrates a refreshing social conscience, heard on “People Make the World Go Round” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing/Moanin,’” with an enthralling command of jazz technique and repertoire.
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