Björk – Volta (Elektra): During her career, Björk has always opted for the road less traveled. Of late, though, she's really gotten off the beaten path, pioneering a visionary form of contemporary music that is singularly unique. Whereas the fashion upstart's previous album, "Medúlla," relied solely on the human voice to mimic unconventional instruments and beats, "Volta" finds Björk creating filigreed textures with the Chinese pipa, a West-African Kora, and a 10-piece brass band from the singer's native Iceland. But the musical landscaping doesn't come together as a unified whole, as it did on 2001's "Vespertine" – one of the decade's finest records. Here, uptempo tracks rely on blustery electronica and military-stomp rhythms – some courtesy of name-brand producer Timbaland – but the results are more chaotic than melodic. "Vertebrae by Vertebrae," whose stabs of brass recall a suspense scene in a Bond film, is thrilling, however, and the quieter, contemplative half of the album is unfailingly beautiful as Björk's yearning soprano soars on "I See Who You Are" and "My Juvenile." Grade: B–
– Stephen Humphries
Feist – The Reminder (Cherry Tree): "The only thing I know," Leslie Feist whispers in the first song of her new album, "is the answer, it isn't for us." As off-the-cuff avowals go, this one's got some heft: Feist has based her career on musical wanderlust. The Canadian chanteuse sang angry punk for a few years, then she did some time as a shoe-gazing indie rock star with Toronto collective Broken Social Scene; in 2004, she released an album, "Let It Die," that blended jazz and disco. "The Reminder" is mostly a pop record, though its tone is lyrically equivocal. It soars – "My Moon My Man" – and then sinks into rumination in "The Water." On the gorgeous "How My Heart Behaves," Feist sifts, confusedly, through the remains of a broken relationship. The best track, "I Feel It All," shivers with energy – she's lost, and sometimes that's the best place to be. Grade: B+
– Matthew Shaer
Barbara Streisand – Live in Concert 2006 (Columbia): To answer your first question, yes – she's still got it. And how! There must be a portrait aging in an attic somewhere in Malibu, because this live, double album reveals a youthful diva at the very top of her art. Conceived as a sort of one-woman Broadway show, each disc begins with a musical overture encompassing Streisand's 42-year career. The voice still thrills and chills. The Brooklynese stage patter is as adorable as evah. Even the smooth blond hair is vintage perfection. Okay, so maybe there are a few split ends. Of the 23 tracks presented here, perhaps only 10 measure up to the high bar she's set. There are too many clunky duets with the bombastic Il Divo and some odd song choices. But "People" still brings down the house. The "Funny Girl" medley still slays. And "The Way We Were"? Somehow, she still is the way she was. A mixed bag, but worth sifting through for the gold.
– John Kehe