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Sound Bites: New LPs from Shatner, Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga, Santana

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There’s a nip in the air but the fall music marketplace is starting to heat up with new titles on the way from Lana Del Ray, Duran Duran, Elton John, ABBA, Eric Clapton and Taylor Swift.

This week we take a closer listen to four new LPs that have appeared in recent weeks.

William Shatner – “Bill” (Let’s Get It! Records/Republic)

Whenever you release a new album and immediately follow it with a voyage to the edge of space, you know you’re William Shatner. He only adds to his legend with this fascinating spoken word and music collaboration that’s a galaxy removed from his kitschy late ‘60s Dylan and Beatles covers. For “Bill,” Shatner called on some high-profile musicians covering multiple genres to provide backing for his real-life narratives. The autobiographical pieces cover Shatner’s perspective on anti-semitism (“Toughie,” with Robert Randolph), Covid (“Monday Night in London”), his love of cars (“I Ride”), success (“Made in the Shade,” with Joe Walsh), the space program (“So Far From The Moon,” with Brad Paisley) and nine other subjects delivered in that still remarkably versatile voice. Perhaps the most moving is “Black Horse,” which deals with a lesson Shatner learned from one of his beloved stallions.

Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga – “Love For Sale” (Columbia/Interscope)

This collaboration follows the duo’s warmly received 2014 “Cheek to Cheek” LP and is billed as a representation of Bennett’s final studio recordings. The 95-year-old vocal giant retreated from public life earlier this year with an announcement that he’s been living with Alzheimer’s disease since 2017. If this becomes his swansong, it’s a truly classy cap to an astonishing musical life. Bennett’s voice is understandably worn but his delivery and phrasing are impeccable as always on 12 jazz standards by Cole Porter. Lady Gaga provides the ideal vocal counterpoint for Bennett with her expressive tone and sweeping range. If there was any sadness in the studio, it wasn’t picked up by the microphones. It’s a solid, solemn farewell befitting a true legend.

Santana – “Blessings and Miracles” (BMG Rights Management)

There is a bit of formula at work on Santana’s 26th album, but it’s an effective one as the spiritual guitar icon joins forces with more than a dozen collaborators to realize a new batch of otherwise disconnected songs. Chris Stapleton joins in with the inspiring reggae-gospel hybrid co-write “Joy.” Steve Winwood takes on Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale,” an inspired choice that serves as a reminder of his stunning vocal capacity. Rapper G-Easy arrived with the Latin hip-hop of “She’s Fire,” co-written with Diane Warren and Corey Glover of Living Colour rocks it up with “Peace Power,” a vehicle for Santana’s most fiery guitar work on the album. Rob Thomas gave Santana the guitarist’s biggest hit in 1999 with “Smooth,” and returns here for the similarly catchy “Move,” featuring the band American Authors. It doesn’t all work – “America For Sale” with Metallica’s Kirk Hammett is a little over the top, for instance – but the record’s five instrumental pieces make up for it by allowing Carlos to do what he does best.

Billy Strings – “Renewal” (Rounder Records)

This 29-year-old bluegrass prodigy has provided the genre with a blast of rocket fuel while remaining mostly faithful to its traditions. He follows his recent Grammy win for best bluegrass album (for 2019’s “Home,”) with this arguably stronger effort. The virtuosity on display toys with your perception at times but it is fun hearing the musician honor some of his classic rock and jam-band influences on original material in a strictly acoustic context. Strings wrote the bulk of the record’s 16 tracks, some of which subtly reference moments from his troubled upbringing. He found a way out with music and this album provides firm evidence to back up the boy wonder hype.

Last modified on Wednesday, 27 October 2021 07:53

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