2009 Gift Guide
Monitor picks for TV, movies, music, and games.
(Page 3 of 7)
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
They say that one of life's most difficult challenges is hitting a major league curveball. How about jazz singing? In the whole history of the genre, have there been more than a handful who have possessed the instrument, the timing, the subtleties of tone, and the emotional range to truly inhabit familiar standards and make each seem like a revelation? Chicago's Ann Hampton Callaway is a singer with those attributes in spades, and never have they been more evident than on her latest release, "At Last." Over the years her expressive singing has grown more subtle and convincing. Callaway's talented trio backs her supple vocals with tasteful economy and a light, swinging touch on a mix of familiar chestnuts and contemporary songs. Standouts include a joyful take on "What Is This Thing Called Love?" and a hushed and heartfelt trip through Michel Legrand's lovely "On My Way to You."
Tinariwen don't employ roadies to cart around their guitars. They use camels. The rockers from the southern Sahara recorded their fourth and best album, "Imidiwan," in the desert. On the churning "Tamodjerazt Assis" (Regret Is a Storm), you can practically hear the swirl of sand in the amplifiers. Tinariwen's signature sound is a ramshackle jangle of four or five bluesy guitars that interlock, overlap, and jostle for a solo. But there's a greater diversity than before. "Kel Tamashek" is a pleasing acoustic stomp. The trance blues of "Assuf Ag Assuf" has slide guitar that could hypnotize a cobra. Vocal chants are more prominent than before, and several female voices add joyful zest to the galloping "Lulla" and reflective "Chabiba." This stuff is hotter than a Saharan noon.
Butterfly Boucher isn't a household name yet (and, yes, that is her real name) due to the whims of her former record label. The Australian songwriter sold 20,000 copies of her 2003 debut, "Flutterby," at the merch stand during a tour with Sarah McLachlan. But the record company deemed Boucher too pop for the indie market and too indie for the pop market, and refused to release the follow-up, "Scary Fragile." Their loss. Boucher eventually won back the rights to this showcase for her talent. The multi-instrumentalist pairs bells and guitars in "Just One Tear" and makes a piano weep for "A Bitter Song." No matter how many times you uncork the choruses of "Gun for a Tongue" and "To Be Loved," they never lose their fizz. File under: Pop Art.
Agatha Christie: Poirot and Marple ($134.95) Buy on Amazon.com