December 10, 2015



The Year’s Premier CDs and CD Boxed Sets

By Richard Antone

best of 2015

Freedom Jimi HendrixFreedom: Jimi Hendrix Experience Atlanta Pop Festival
(Experience Hendrix/Legacy)
Anyone who’s seen the concert documentary Jimi Hendrix: Electric Church knows what to expect from this CD, recorded on July 4, 1970, at the second Atlanta International Pop Festival. Hendrix headlined, backed up by stellar bassist Billy Cox and brilliant drummer Mitch Mitchell. He’d played pop festivals from Monterey Pop to Miami Pop and Woodstock.  Between his live album Band of Gypsies and his closing set in the documentary Woodstock he couldn’t get any hotter.

In spite of problems with heat and security and food and water running low, this one came together.

Hendrix sizzles on “Spanish Castle Magic,” “Red House,” “Hear My Train ‘A Comin’ “and “The Star Spangled Banner” (with audible fireworks in the background). There are spellbinding tacks not available in the film. Adept at rock, blues, R&B and jazz, Hendrix remains an innovative and influential musician.

Concert by the SeaThe Complete Concert by the Sea –
Erroll Garner
This is the 60th anniversary of this classic jazz concert album by pianist Erroll Garner. This 3-CD set includes the original album, featuring peppy versions of “I’ll Remember April” and “Where or When.” An additional two discs make room for the complete concert’s previously unreleased songs such as “The Nearness of You.” Garner’s genius was using his own dazzling style of playing to breathe new life into oft-covered songs. He expertly handles brisk tempos and ballads with bassist Eddie Calhoun and drummer Denzil Best, making these tunes sparkle like champagne.

HamiltonHamilton –
Original Broadway Cast Recording
Revolutionary War figure and first Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton might have seemed an unlikely choice to build a Broadway musical around. But this show is written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who brought NYC’s bustling Washington Heights to Broadway with “In the Heights.” While many lyrics are rapped, the exciting score does retain classic elements of musical theater. Hamilton and the people in his orbit are swiftly introduced, portrayed by a passionate, energetic cast.

The score’s soaring melodies and bracing lyrics smoothly advance the narrative and build to a fever pitch. Hamilton, as portrayed by Miranda, is a fiery, prolific writer angry about British colonial rule and slavery. And like any musical theater character, he is capable of bursting into song at any moment. And burst he does on songs like “Alexander Hamilton,” the edgy “My Shot” and “Non-Stop,” which captures the frenetic pace that Hamilton lives and works. “It’s Quiet Uptown” slows the pace to capture Hamilton’s grief over a loss, in one of the saddest songs ever heard since Jacque Brel’s “The Desperate Ones.” It’s a CD not to be missed.

Jill HennesseyI Do – Jill Hennessey
(Master Rock)
Like her Law and Order cast mate Jerry Orbach, there might still be fans of actress Jill Hennessey that don’t know she is also an accomplished singer, as well as a songwriter-guitarist. On her second album, recorded in Austin, she strikes a melancholy chord with yearning vocals and heartfelt songs including the namesake of her hometown, “Edmonton” and the title track.

Billy HolidayThe Centennial Collection –
Billie Holiday
This CD marks the legendary jazz singer’s 100th anniversary. Holiday continues to inspire as singer and bandleader, from her original compositions “God Bless the Child” and “Billie’s Blues” to the anti-lynching protest of “Strange Fruit” and covers of “Summertime” and “All of Me.” She was blessed with the ability to phrase and swing like a horn player. A master of what Tony Bennett has called the art of intimate singing; she has influenced everyone from Frank Sinatra to Cassandra Wilson. While not the only collection of her work, this is a fine introduction.

CodaCoda – Led Zeppelin
(Swan Song/Atlantic)
This reissue of Coda has fif-teen additional tracks on two discs waxed between 1968 and 1974. This collection of new tracks, alternate mixes and radio broadcasts make up quite a menu. Would you like to hear “When the Levee Breaks” without the echo? Here it is as “If It Keeps On Raining.” “Traveling Riverside Blues”, a BBC radio recording, resurfaces here. “Friends” and “Four Sticks,” (known here as “Four Hands”) features traditional Indian arrangements played by the Bombay Orchestra to chilling effect. Other highlights are “Sugar Mama” from the band’s first album sessions and the instrumental “St.Tristan’s Sword” from sessions for their third.

Darlene LoveIntroducing Darlene Love  –  Darlene Love
Don’t let the title fool you. This is neither Darlene Love’s first solo album nor her first trip to a recording studio. If you’ve seen the acclaimed documentary Twenty Feet from Stardom, you know she’s the lead vocalist behind many Phil Spector productions and background vocalist with The Blossoms, the ubiquitous vocal group who sang with countless artists. Love confidently, soulfully leans into these songs. Standouts include Bruce Springsteen’s “Night Closing In” (featuring a scorching solo by E Street Band saxophonist Jake Clemons) and “Just Another Lonely Mile” and Jimmy Webb’s “Who Under Heaven.” Composer-arranger-producer Steven Van Zandt has lined up a rock-solid group of musicians and killer songs.

Frank SinatraA Voice On Air: 1935-1955 – Frank Sinatra
To note Frank Sinatra’s 100th anniversary, this exhaustive boxed set has been released, with over ninety tracks from the vocal legend’s radio appearances, many on NBC and CBS. Many of them are previously unreleased. Included are many duets and his earliest radio appearances, including with The Hoboken Four (on Major Bowes Amateur Hour) and with The Four Sharps. Sinatra predated the rock and roll era, TV, home video and the iPod as radio’s first teen idol. Along with Nat “King” Cole, Peggy Lee and the orchestras of Tommy Dorsey and Axel Stordahl, he popularized many tunes that make up the Great American Songbook. Songs like “I’ll Never Smile Again,” “As Time Goes By” and “I’ve Got The World On A String.”

Cumbia UniversalCumbia Universal –
Gregorio Uribe Big Band
Shaking up New York City’s Nueva Columbiana scene with his latest Kickstarter-funded CD, vocalist and accordion player Gregory Uribe has been a mainstay at NYC’s Encuentro festival. His infectious, propulsive album mixes cumbia and other rhythms of Colombia with jazz composers like Duke Ellington and Panamanian legend Ruben Blades, who is heard on the soaring title track. The Beatles’ “Come Together” gets a sassy workout with a dazzling horn arrangement.

Richard Antone is a freelance writer based in New York City. His articles, interviews and reviews have been published in The Advocate, Elmore, The Journal News, The New York Daily News, Metrosource and other fine publications.


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