Annie Lennox, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, and Jennifer Warnes all deliver singer showcases
Ex-Eurythmics vocalist delivers stirring messages, Plant and Krauss offer up autumnal moods, and Warnes perfectly inteprets Leonard Cohen.
Annie Lennox Songs of Mass Destruction (Arista): In a perfect world, Top 40 radio would set aside its staple of Fergie and Rihanna singles for a minute and pay more attention to Annie Lennox. The veteran British singer has something interesting to say, for a start, and her pop songs are so rousing that you'll forgive her for that clunky album title. "Sing," an anthem about HIV-infected African women, features a choir of 23 guest vocalists such as Madonna, Joss Stone, Gladys Knight, and Sarah McLachlan and is a contender for pop song of the year. Lesser singers would find themselves hermetically sealed inside the gleaming sheen of Glen Ballard's precision-tooled production, but Lennox's sheer soul and redoubtable passion can't be contained on "Ghost in My Machine," "Womankind," and "Coloured Bedspread." Grade: B+ – Stephen Humphries
Robert Plant and Alison Krauss Raising Sand (Rounder): On the face of it, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss have little in common other than, perhaps, the same hair conditioner for their long, fair, curly locks. But this surprise collaboration between the archetype rock vocalist and the queen of bluegrass reveals a powerful common denominator: a divine blend of voices. The first single from "Raising Sand," a roots-Americana record of 13 cover versions, is "Gone, Gone, Gone," an impossibly catchy Everly Brothers ditty that showcases the duo's harmonies. On "Polly Come Home," Plant sounds as if he's enshrouded in Appalachian shadows as he delivers one of the most plaintive performances of his career. Krauss matches him for tear-stained balladry on Tom Waits's "Trampled Rose." She also promenades with a rock 'n' roll groove on "Let Your Loss Be Your Lesson" and wails like an alluring siren over the guitar outro of "Fortune Teller." Long may this partnership last. Grade: A – S.H.
Jennifer Warnes Famous Blue Raincoat (Shout Factory): Best known for soft-rock duets such as "Up Where We Belong" and "The Time of My Life," singer Jennifer Warnes had trouble shaking her lite-pop image until she took on Leonard Cohen's relatively obscure songbook in 1987. "Famous Blue Raincoat" was the result and it sent jaded critics scrambling for superlatives. Twenty years on, it's been rereleased – with additional tracks– to be reappreciated. With a stellar backing band (bluesman Stevie Ray Vaughan plays stabbing leads on the driving "I'll Take Manhattan") and sizzling production, she transforms Cohen's nearly tuneless songs into riveting, radio-friendly fare. Her powerful delivery and commitment to the material brings clarity and emotion to the poet's often-obtuse lyrics. The album's success brought new regard for Warnes, and brand-new fans for Cohen. Grade: A – John Kehe