Beausoleil: L'Amour Ou La Folie (Rhino): Beausoleil, led by fiddler and vocalist Michael Doucet, has been the leading Cajun band in the world for more than two decades; their rock-and-roll approach has expanded the music's fan base without overly alienating traditionalists. Their latest release, one of their best, is a swinging mixture of 14 original and traditional numbers, featuring such guests stars as Richard Thompson on guitar and Tex-Mex star Augie Myers on piano. English translations of the French lyrics are provided, assuming you can stop moving long enough to read them.
- Frank Scheck
Van Morrison - The Healing Game (Polydor): The Celtic bard is back again with his best album in years. This sounds like vintage Van - moody, melodic hymns that hark back to his roots in rhythm and blues. "Here I am again.... Back where I belong," he croons in the radio single, "The Healing Game." Yet sprinkled throughout these 10 songs are delightful surprises: The ethereal Uilleann pipes; a melancholy sax solo; lots of harmonica and piano; burning background vocals; and (no kidding) a touch of mellow, finger-snapping 1950s doo-wop. There's a lot of repetition within and at the end of songs (Morrison's trademark), epitomized in the lovely "This Weight." As always, his poetry comes from the heart. And best of all, of course, is his voice - thick, rich, and honest.
- Liz Brown
Luscious Jackson - Fever In Fever Out (Capitol): The title of Luscious Jackson's first album, "Natural Ingredients," more aptly describes their latest release, "Fever In Fever Out," a nuanced, intimate collection of confessions and questions. The ingredients - hip-hop wed to folk, funk, and jazz topped with a defining dose of disco; candid, often-caustic lyrics; and no small measure of resolve - are recognizable enough. The songs, nonetheless, do not remain the same. The four women who once stared defiantly into the many faces of New York City have now turned their gaze inward, crafting in the process a textured, often plangent music that captures and conveys myriad blues. Time spent in New Orleans with producer Daniel Lanois (U2, Peter Gabriel) begins to explain the alternating witching-hour murkiness and pre-dawn clarity on such tracks as "Mood Swing" and "Faith." "Fever In Fever Out" sounds a distinct, soulful voice that will move hips as well as hearts.
- Ron Fletcher
Joe Lovano: Celebrating Sinatra (Blue Note): One of the most acclaimed tenor sax players in jazz salutes the Chairman of the Board in this collection of 13 numbers, including such standards as "Chicago," "All the Way," "I've Got You Under My Skin," and "One For My Baby." Manny Albam's swinging orchestrations are sometimes traditional, sometimes deconstructionist, but always inventive, and Lovano's sax darts around the melodies in thrilling fashion. Lovano plays here with a large ensemble, which includes such luminaries as Al Foster (drums) and George Mraz (bass); his wife Judi provides soprano vocals on several numbers.
- Frank Scheck
Murray Perahia plays Handel & Scatlatti (Sony Classical): Look through the Sony discography of this fine pianist and you'll see lots of classical and romantic repertoire but nothing from the baroque era. He remedies that gap in this warm and sensitive recording of works by two towering 18th-century masters, distinguished by an exorbitantly rich tone and above all a sense of melody that never quits. Fans of old war horses can enjoy Handel's famous "Harmonious Blacksmith" variations at the end of Suite No. 5, but all the selections - including three more by Handel and seven Scarlatti sonatas - are well worth hearing.
- David Sterritt