Philip Glass - Glass Masters (Sony Classical): As if Philip Glass weren't churning out new music at an extraordinary rate, producers keep repackaging his earlier works in new combinations. This set of three CDs touches on every important facet of Glass's career, not following a dry chronological order but putting familiar pieces into fresh juxtapositions. Alongside major classics like the "Spaceship" music from "Einstein on the Beach" and the delicate "Floe" from the "Glassworks" suite are less frequently heard compositions like the "Mad Rush" piano solo and excerpts from "Akhnaten," his last great "portrait opera." Fans will have a feast and newcomers will get an invigorating introduction to a composer who ranks with the greatest of our time.
- David Sterritt
On a Starry Night (Windham Hill): This collection of gentle lullabies, performed on piano and a variety of wind and string instruments, includes new compositions along with arrangements of traditional lullabies. "The idea was to assemble a collection of lullabies from around the world, love songs from parents to their children, where each melody is more beautiful than the last," says Tracy and Thea Silverman in the CD booklet. Most of the songs are performed as instrumentals and few are recorded with words. Pianist George Winston performs "Japanese Music Box," an ancient Japanese lullaby. Silverman's arrangement of the traditional indonesian lullaby "Suliram," is done as a violin and flute duet. Perhaps the best-known lullaby, "Rock-a-Bye Baby," is played by pianist Jim Brickman. It's difficult to say whether this CD is for adults or children. Nonetheless, it is an irresistible collection of lullabies sure to be loved by all.
- Deb Purington
Sinead O'Connor - Gospel Oak (Chrysalis/EMI): The fiery, Irish-born singer tones down her act in this gorgeous EP, a collection of five originals and one traditional Irish number ("He Moved Through the Fair"). Ms. O'Connor, who hasn't released a recording in three years, sounds better than ever, infusing the tender and melodic songs with vocal authority and a quiet soulfulness. Noticeably lacking the fire and brimstone of her earlier work, the Celtic-tinged songs of "Gospel Oak" explore such topics as love, religion, and motherhood with a calmness and acceptance that reveal a new-found maturity in the singer.
- Frank Scheck
James Taylor - Hourglass (Columbia): Like an old friend who never changes, Taylor's reassuring mellow voice is instantly familiar. It's been six years since the singer-songwriter recorded a collection of original music. And, once again, "Hourglass" proves that his best songwriting days are behind him. For fans, however, there's a little bit of everything from J.T.'s tumultuous career represented here. "Line 'Em Up" - a reminiscence of Nixon's last days in the White House - illustrates Taylor's determination to bring politics into his music, no matter how many times it falls flat. An improbable mix of celebrity guest musicians, including Sting and Shawn Colvin (background vocals), Yo-Yo Ma (cello), Stevie Wonder (harmonica), and Branford Marsalis (saxophone), help bring the project up a notch.
- Laurel Shaper Walters
Paul McCartney - Flaming Pie (Capitol): It's been a big spring for ex-Beatle Paul McCartney. Knighted by Queen Elizabeth in March. A TV documentary on his life broadcast in 30 countries. And now a new solo album that's rushed to the top of the charts. "Flaming Pie" is a collection of McCartney compositions proving that, well into middle age, Sir Paul remains one of the most versatile writers, instrumentalists, and singers around. The menu includes blues, straight rock, and soulful ballads. Most are successful mixes of sophisticated melodies and lyrics. Some work less well. But overall, the album has to be counted a winner.
- Brad Knickerbocker