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Musical Maunderings in Sunni's Salon

November 2006

Browsing through the musical library, Heart caught my eye. I used to adore many of their songs, but for some reason I've overlooked them of late. Dreamboat Annie sealed it: I queued the disc up, cranked the volume up, and was immediately rewarded with my favorite Heart song, Magic Man. That isn't to suggest the rest of this release doesn't get much of my attention—far from it. Even when the lyrics don't please (White Lightning & Wine, Sing Child), the music does. Sing Child in particular showcases the band's hard-rock chops, and includes an Ian-Andersonesque flute solo by Ann Wilson. Truth be told, I much prefer the sweeter solo in the beautiful How Deep It Goes. And while some might program only one version of the thrice-performed Dreamboat Annie for play, I like each, although in the last, more produced version, the music seems too heavy for the ethereal lyrics and vocals. (The banjo in the second version is an unexpected, lovely touch.) Soul of the Sea captures wonderfully the frenetic pace of life, and what a balm the water can be. The more I listen to this album, the more I find to appreciate; with solid lyrics and music capped by Ann Wilson's clear, versatile voice, it's a gem through and through.

Once I get started on Heart, it's hard to stop, so I've also been spinning Little Queen as a tasty chaser. It opens strongly with Barracuda, but as much as I like that hit, I'm antsy to get to the next three songs: the message and the way the music of Love Alive builds, then fades, strike a deep chord in me; Sylvan Song and then Dream of the Archer lull one into a forest dream, especially with the sprightly mandolin voice. Cry to Me is another touching, powerful tune that will surprise those only familiar with Heart's harder-rocking hits. Sadly, these are the only two discs we own, so I don't get to hear other Heart favorites, including These Dreams (from Heart); Even It Up (Bebe Le Strange); Dog and Butterfly (Dog and Butterfly); or Alone, from Bad Animals. I know I could just buy what appears to be their best greatest hits release, Essential Heart, but then I'd miss out on the other Heart gems awaiting my discovery.

Déanta was an Irish band whose music is alluringly beautiful. We have just their first disc of the same name, and it's simply not enough. From the opening song, The Flight of the Termite—in which I swear I hear a didgeridoo—to the closing strains of Dark Iniseoghain, the listener alternately laughs and laments, so effectively do these superb musicians evoke emotion. Mary Dillon's light, lithe soprano weaves a captivating spell; it's delightfully featured in one of my favorite songs, Willie Taylor. King of the Blues features a similarly lilting melody, this time carried by flute. Harp Airs and Dark Iniseoghain offer more restrained tunes that are every bit as satisfying as the more upbeat ones. With only nine songs on this disc, Déanta is really just a tasty morsel of Irish music. Unfortunately, the band disbanded after releasing just two other albums—Ready for the Storm and Whisper of a Secret.

I like swing; I like jazz; I like romantic songs; so I guess it's natural that I adore Billie Holiday (see also LadyDay.net)—all the more because she was one of the first singers to suffuse the music with her own style. By all accounts, she was quite the individualist in an era when blacks and women were not supposed to stand out. We have just three releases from the extensive Holiday library: Songs for Distingué Lovers; The Quintessential Billie Holiday, Vol. 3, from a nine-volume series; and Billie Holiday: The Complete Decca Recordings. Only one of these—Quintessential, Vol. 3—is from her early, swing days, and as I don't have enough music from that period, it's what I play most often. Holiday's voice isn't as smooth as it was to become, but her signature sliding around the beat and intonation are in abundance. Tracks I especially like include I Can't Give You Anything But Love, That's Life I Guess, and One Never Knows–Does One?—the last as much for the lovely grammatical construction as Lady Day's voice. Songs for Distingué Lovers is from the other end of her career, published just two years before her death. While her voice shows a bit of wear, it's mostly the sparkling, powerful Billie so many still love today. Gershwin and Cole Porter tunes are among those that get the Holiday treatment on this warm, jazzy album.

The Complete Decca Recordings (not to be confused with The Complete Original American Decca Recordings, which is slightly different) is, as the name suggests, a sturdy compilation of studio masters and unissued alternates and breakdowns. Rather unfortunately for those who want to listen to the smooth, polished tracks, the alternates and breakdowns are interspersed with the masters—but that's good for budding musicians and music lovers who want to be able to easily spot nuances among the performances. It's tough to pick favorites from a release this large, but in addition to 'Tain't Nobody's Bizness If I Do, I especially enjoy Lover Man, Good Morning Heartache, Solitude, and Them There Eyes. This collection spans Holiday's peak, and while I like many songs here, I prefer accompaniments that are jazzier, and less driven by the string section. That said, this is an excellent release, but it is by no means complete. You'd need The Complete Commodore Recordings, which spans her early career and includes the controversial song Strange Fruit, The Complete Billie Holiday on Verve, 1945-1959, and (arguably) Lady Day: The Complete Billie Holiday on Columbia (1933-1944) to grok this magnificent, thoroughly American singer's ability.

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