Albums

$12.99

Pop - Released September 29, 2009 | Parlophone Spain

Distinctions The Unusual Suspects
A couple years after battling breast cancer and releasing an album inspired by the experience, Vida Tóxica (2007), Luz Casal unveiled La Pasión, an album of boleros that pays tribute to Latin American songwriters of the mid-20th century. From the 1940s up until the 1970s, a lot of Spanish artists fled the right-wing authoritarian regime of Francisco Franco and crossed the Atlantic Ocean to Latin America. While not all of the songs featured on La Pasión are the work of Spanish refugees, they were all written during a period when Spaniards were coming in droves to countries like Argentina and Mexico, and these immigrants, many of them artists, brought their culture with them to the New World. Casal pays tribute to this era with La Pasión, an album of boleros written by René Touzet ("Con Mil Desengaños"), Maria Grever ("Alma Mia"), Eduardo Magallanes ("Historia de un Amor"), and others, many of whom are obscure. La Pasión was produced by Renaud Letang, a French hitmaker known for his work with Manu Chao, Alain Souchon, and Feist, among others, and the orchestral arrangements were conducted by Eumir Deodato, an industry stalwart who gives the album an air of majesty. Complementing the orchestral arrangements of Deodato are veteran percussionists Alex Acuña and Luis Conte, who supply the Latin rhythms that underscore these songs of romantic passion. The 11 songs of La Pasión are performed in a uniform style, and as all of the inclusions are classics to some degree, there isn't a dull moment on this album, which runs for less than 40 minutes. While it's difficult to single out particular highlights, given the consistent excellence of the album, there are a few songs that stand out, namely "Alma Mia," "Historia de un Amor," and "A Dónde Va Nuestro Amor." As for Casal herself, she sounds as divine as ever and fully at ease with these boleros. All things considered, La Pasión is such an impressive album release that one wishes Casal would release another in this style, a sequel perhaps. ~ Jason Birchmeier
$16.49

Pop - Released September 22, 2008 | Rhino - Warner Bros.

Distinctions The Unusual Suspects
$20.49

Pop - Released January 1, 2007 | Geffen

Distinctions The Unusual Suspects
When the prevailing guitar jingle of "Mr. Jones" cascaded over radio in the early '90s, it was a sure sign that the Counting Crows were a musical force to be reckoned with. Their debut album, August and Everything After, burst at the seams with both dominant pop harmonies and rich, hearty ballads, all thanks to lead singer Adam Duritz. The lone guitar work of "Mr. Jones" coupled with the sweet, in-front pull of Duritz's voice kicked off the album in full force. The starkly beautiful and lonely sounding "Round Here" captured the band's honest yet subtle talent for singing ballads, while "Omaha" is lyrically reminiscent of a Springsteen tune. The fusion of hauntingly smooth vocals with such instruments as the Hammond B-3 organ and the accordion pumped new life into the music scene, and their brisk sound catapulted them into stardom. On "Rain King," the piano takes over as its aloof flair dances behind Duritz with elegant crispness. The slower-paced "Raining in Baltimore" paints a perfectly gray picture and illustrates the band's ease at conveying mood by eliminating the tempo. Most of the songs here engage in overly contagious hooks that won't go away, making for a solid bunch of tunes. Containing the perfect portions of instrumental and vocal conglomeration, the Counting Crows showed off their appealing sound to its full extent with their very first album. ~ Mike DeGagne
$12.99

Pop - Released September 11, 2000 | Parlophone France

Distinctions The Unusual Suspects
Sung (except for one track) in English, this 1972 album (originally titled just Françoise Hardy) was reissued on CD by Virgin France in 2000 under the title If You Listen, and issued in some foreign territories under yet different titles in the 1970s. However it was titled, it was a good, tasteful, and subdued set of folk-rock- and singer/songwriter-influenced covers (though the one French song, "Brulure," was the sole original Hardy composition). It's no surprise that the mood here is dignified rainy-day sorrow. But that was Hardy's forte, and the arrangements, emphasizing acoustic guitar and light strings, seem to indicate she was doing some listening to British folk-rock and American singer/songwriters. So does the choice of covers, including songs by Buffy Sainte-Marie, Neil Young ("Till the Morning Comes"), Beverley Martyn, and Randy Newman ("I Think It's Gonna Rain Today"). There's also the quite obscure "The Garden of Jane Delawnay," a misspelled interpretation of "The Garden of Jane Delawney" by the British folk-rock band the Trees; "Let My Name Be Sorrow," originally done by Mary Hopkin; and a couple of tunes co-written by Mick Jones, later of Foreigner. None of songs rate among her best work, but it's still a good album, often overlooked even by Hardy fans and notable in that just one of the English songs ("Bown Bown Bown") was also recorded by Hardy in a French version. It's also much superior to her album of English cover versions of just three years before, Françoise Hardy en Anglais, which was over-produced and far heavier on the syrup. ~ Richie Unterberger
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Pop - Released January 1, 1970 | Universal-Island Records Ltd.

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography - The Unusual Suspects
It's little wonder why Drake felt frustrated at the lack of commercial success his music initially gathered, considering the help he had on his debut record. Besides fine production from Joe Boyd and assistance from folks like Fairport Convention's Richard Thompson and his unrelated bass counterpart from Pentangle, Danny Thompson, Drake also recruited school friend Robert Kirby to create most of the just-right string and wind arrangements. His own performance itself steered a careful balance between too-easy accessibility and maudlin self-reflection, combining the best of both worlds while avoiding the pitfalls on either side. The result was a fantastic debut appearance, and if the cult of Drake consistently reads more into his work than is perhaps deserved, Five Leaves Left is still a most successful effort. Having grown out of the amiable but derivative styles captured on the long-circulating series of bootleg home recordings, Drake imbues his tunes with just enough drama -- world-weariness in the vocals, carefully paced playing, and more -- to make it all work. His lyrics capture a subtle poetry of emotion, as on the pastoral semi-fantasia of "The Thoughts of Mary Jane," which his soft, articulate singing brings even more to the full. Sometimes he projects a little more clearly, as on the astonishing voice-and-strings combination "Way to Blue," while elsewhere he's not so clear, suggesting rather than outlining the mood. Understatement is the key to his songs and performances' general success, which makes the combination of his vocals and Rocky Dzidzornu's congas on "Three Hours" and the lovely "'Cello Song," to name two instances, so effective. Danny Thompson is the most regular side performer on the album, his bass work providing subtle heft while never standing in the way of the song -- kudos well deserved for Boyd's production as well. ~ Ned Raggett
$10.49

Pop - Released January 1, 1991 | Universal Music Division Mercury Records

Distinctions The Unusual Suspects
$10.49

Pop - Released January 1, 1990 | Universal Music Division Mercury Records

Distinctions The Unusual Suspects - The Qobuz Standard
$7.49

Pop - Released January 1, 1990 | Virgin EMI

Distinctions The Unusual Suspects
Marc Almond once noted that Scott Walker could sing "Three Blind Mice" and "make it sound like the only song in the world." While it's true that Walker transformed the most prosaic numbers into unique, dramatic experiences, that's not to say he chose material at random or simply allowed his magical voice to work inevitable wonders without having to try. Walker selected his cover material carefully and crafted masterful, knowing renditions. He achieved that rare balance that distinguishes the best interpreters of others' works -- preserving the essence of the original while making the song entirely his own. Nowhere is this clearer than on the nine Jacques Brel compositions that appeared on Walker's first three solo albums. All of those tracks are featured here. It's logical that Walker gravitated to Brel; the Belgian was a singer/songwriter after Walker's own heart who told psychologically incisive stories of unremarkable lives, raising the banal to the level of high drama -- or at least high camp. Like Brel, Walker brought a measure of romanticism to the mundane and set his poetic lyrics within arrangements that fleshed out the emotional range of his human comedies, much like miniature soundtracks. Working with Mort Shuman's accomplished translations (and one more schmaltzy version by Rod McKuen), Walker captures the spirit and the many moods of Brel's originals, from quiet pathos ("If You Go Away") to dark humor ("Funeral Tango") to exuberant cynicism ("Jackie") to unbridled euphoria ("Mathilde"), in the process infusing the songs with his own personality. Each of the nine tracks is a gem, but three stand out: the grandiose, swirling waltz of "Amsterdam"; the darkly powerful "My Death"; and the sardonic, angst-ridden "Next." Although these cover versions are perhaps best appreciated alongside Walker's own compositions on his original albums, they remain among the most compelling renderings of Brel's work in the English language. ~ Wilson Neate
$8.99

Pop - Released January 1, 1980 | Capitol Records

Distinctions The Unusual Suspects
After the critical acclaim of their self-titled debut and Return to Magenta in 1977 and 1978, respectively, Willy DeVille and his band took another look at the sassy, street-tough rock & roll they'd dished up and took the first step toward the swinging Spanish soul the band's subsequent albums would strive for and the crooning R&B heartbreaker DeVille himself would become as a solo artist. Le Chat Bleu is angel-headed hipster rock. The Doc Pomus influence on the opening track, "This Must Be the Night," with its cascading harmonies and 1950s girl group melodies, is a doo wop fantasy for the punk age. That influence was more than that as Pomus and Willy DeVille co-wrote three songs together for this stellar effort. Far more reverent than the Ramones and nowhere near Robert Gordon's stilted revivalism, Mink DeVille could sing and play rock & roll sweetly and razor sharp, kind of like a lollipop on the edge of a dagger. The first of the DeVille/Pomus soul ballads is included here. "That World Outside," with producer Steve Douglas' lilting tenor saxophone that twists itself around each line and breezes through the chorus, is pure Pomus, with DeVille carrying a vocal he'd never attempted before. This was the beginning of something for the band, and the end of something else. Piss and vinegar were not enough to fuel the band's muse any longer -- it also took polish, sensitivity, and a deep commitment to subtlety and drama, and this ballad contains them in spades. The other two, "You Just Keep Holdin' On" and "Just to Walk That Little Girl Home," burn as brightly. Of the rockers, "Savoir Faire" and "Lipstick Traces" contain the wooly garage stomp of the earlier records and keep their switchblade honesty and punky edge. Contrary to popular belief, this album is not the sound of a band losing its innocence as much as it is the sound of a rock & roll band finding its identity. ~ Thom Jurek

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