The Horse Whisperer (MCA Nashville): This soundtrack may be one of the most significant attempts to commercially produce western music since the heydays of western swing in the 1940s and '50s. "Whisperer" combines the work of lesser-known western artists like Allison Moorer and Gillian Welch and better-known country performers like George Strait and The Mavericks. Dwight Yoakam's remake of "Cattle Call" is a genteel introduction for first-time listeners. The Hill Country Flatlander's release of "The South Wind of Summer" is packed with rich imagery ("When the south wind of summer sings through the trees/ and the high mountain thunder hangs low in the breeze/ a strong heart flows over/ an empty heart fills/ and the south wind of summer caresses the hills"). But for those already in love with the music of the cowboy, it's a great modern swing through the country music of yesteryear.
- James N. Thurman
Where Have All the Flowers Gone: The Songs of Pete Seeger (Appleseed): For more than a half century, Pete Seeger's poems and songs have demonstrated the influence of music to draw attention to and gain support for political and social causes. On this two-disc tribute to the venerable folk artist (39 recordings, 37 new), musicians and performers from a range of generations and countries perform their renditions of Seeger's poems and songs. Studs Terkel (Pulitzer Prize-winning author and the eldest performer) reads "Oh Sacred World" and "Blessed Be the Nation." Actor Tim Robbins is backed by a large children's chorus singing "All My Children of the Sun." The list of outstanding artists goes on and on. To mention just a few - Bruce Springsteen ("We Shall Overcome"), Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne ("Kisses Sweeter Than Wine"), and the Indigo Girls ("Letter to Eve"). The set ends with Seeger's debut of a new song, "And Still I am Searching," completed last year. But perhaps the most stirring performance on the album is the title song, "Where Have all the Flowers Gone," performed by Belfast-based Tommy Sands: The song still serving as a call for peace.
- Deb Purington
Eric Clapton - Pilgrim (Reprise): Pilgrim means wanderer, and Clapton has covered much territory in this musically diverse 14-track CD. He's mixed a little jazz, some pop, driving blues, one country number, and a whole lot of R&B. Being a bluesman, he's at his best in the funky R&B cuts like "One Chance," "Going Down Slow," and "She's Gone," the latter being one of only four cuts with live bass and drums. A few of the songs lack musical depth, and purists may balk at the heavy use of synth and strings, but one can't argue with Clapton's rich, woody vocals. "Circus," another haunting tribute to his son Connor (the other was "Tears in Heaven"), is laced with Segovia-esque guitar. "Pilgrim" is a funky, bluesy slice from one of rock's most poignant journeymen, and though stylistically varied, is well worth a listen.
- Whitney Dodds Woodruff
Women of Spirit (Putumayo): Featuring a variety of women artists from around the world, "Women of Spirit" offers the listener soulful and spirited music. While artists such as Ani DiFranco may grace the cover merely to attract attention, her music pales in comparison to such songs as Capercaille with Sibeba's "Inexile" (Scotland/Guinea), an upbeat, modern interpretation of Celtic music; Susana Baca's smooth, bossa nova "Negra Presentuosa" (Peru); or Groupe Oyiwan's island-esque "Assode" (France/Sudan). This is the type of CD you can relax to at the end of a long day or play in the car to energize your morning. If other releases from Putumayo's World Music collection left you a bit disappointed, don't dismiss "Women of Spirit."
- Kerry A. Flatley