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Notable CDs

Notable CDs | Five new or recent jazz and blues CDs

Issue: "Return to war?," May 5, 2012

Talk to Me

Nat "King" Cole's legacy is secure, and his 80-year-old younger brother's will be someday. For now, though, the latter's is still growing, and his latest 11 songs betray no more wear and tear than any of the other excellent albums he's recorded in the last two decades. If anything, Freddy's husky voice sounds better suited than ever to his impeccable taste in material. The 1950s title classic has never sounded warmer. And "Lovely Day"-one of three Bill Withers compositions-has never sounded lovelier.

The Music of America

Not many musicians could get away with calling an album The Music of America without seeming pretentious, but in Marsalis' case the title fits. Mining the mountain of music he released between 1988 and 2002 so latecomers to his work don't have to, he condenses into two-and-a-half hours the sonic history of the land he loves because in it Africans with the blues came together with European classicists to make jazz. Title of the jumpingest number:"In the Sweet Embrace of Life Sermon: Holy Ghost."

Some Kind of Comfort

"Oh, God," Owen sings on "Trip and Tumble," "watch me as I fall from grace again. / Oh God, every time I think I've worked it out, I fall on my face." Her dramatic Welsh alto verging on the overripe, her elegant piano and a mournful cello underscoring the sentiments-the combination is almost too much in a Tori Amos sort of way. Ultimately, though, it isn't. Rather, it's the perfect balancing act required of an introspection that toes the fine line between sympathy and empathy without a net.

Radio Music Society

After winning the 2011 "Best New Artist" Grammy in the wake of Chamber Music Society, Spalding could've played things safe and merely reprised that album's jazzy, vocalise-heavy charms. Instead, she has assembled an all-star cast, created an Afrocentric jazz-pop tour de force, and replaced the vocalise with words. Some of them you have to be an Afrocentrist to love. But "How can we call our home, the land of the free / Until we've unbound the praying hands / Of each innocent woman and man?" you don't.

Spotlight

In some ways, Deeper in the Well (Stony Plain), the latest album by the acoustic bluesman Eric Bibb, is the least impressive of the three albums Bibb has released in the last 10 months. Unlike the starkly unadorned Troubadour Live (Telarc) and Blues, Ballads and Work Songs (Opus 3), the emphasis this time is less on Bibb's nimble, guitar-picking fingers and warm baritone voice than on the way they mesh with the bayou vibe created by Dirk Powell, Cedric Watson, and other southwest-Louisiana musicians.

But the mesh takes, especially on "Dig a Little Deeper in the Well," in which an old-timey, Cajun lilt accompanies such casually tossed-off wisdom as "Son, find you a woman that'll be good to you like your mama's been to me" and "Ain't nothin' worse than takin' a drink that leaves you with a thirst." And on the morally cautionary one-two punch "No Further" and "Sinner Man," Bibb digs deeper still.

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