Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Oh It Must Be CD Season - Upcoming Releases

It seems to be the season where albums - good ones - start dropping like the autumn leaves. (In my area, the leaves are dropping because they're dry, not because of the season, but that's beside the point.)

I logged in to Facebook's iLike the other day and found several album pre-order notices posted by artists I've favorited.

But first, the new releases.

Within Temptation recently released Black Symphony, which is little more than a series of live performances of their previous hits. And unfortunately, due to studio post-recording wizardry, live performance recordings seldom live up to the original studio mix. For some reason, lead singer Sharon den Adel's voice sounds deeper, rawer and huskier in the album. They also butchered one of their all-time best songs, "Somewhere" by including a duet singer (who, in the DVD for the concert, isn't wearing pants). Nevertheless, there is one awesome exception; the beginning track. Titled "Ouverature," the haunting symphonic tune was well worth downloading the entire album on Ruckus. The second benefit is that, in promotion for the new CD, Within Temptation re-released two of their previous albums, Mother Earth and The Silent Force.

Celtic Thunder recently released their second album, Act II, evidently further attempts make good on the current Celtic fad that seems to be sweeping the country, if not the world. (For the record, I liked Celtic before Celtic was cool.) Their sound is admittedly more neo-pop, and you can scarcely argue the point with songs such as "Desperado," "I Wanna Know What Love Is" and "Puppy Love" in their repertoire. It seems that the stylish "kilts" were added to ward off criticisms of not being authentically Celtic (they look more like formal skirts to me, hardly a kilt-like pattern) but nevertheless, the latest album sports some classy tunes. A Bird Without Wings is very stylishly delivered by the group's "boy wonder" Damian McGinty, as well as other songs like "I Wanna Know What Love Is," the interesting "That's A Woman" ballad, a very archaic rendition of "Heartland" and a not-too-shabby takeoff on Caledonia, which was a good effort, but couldn't overcome the immortalized rendition by Lisa Kelly of Celtic Woman.

Speaking of which...

Celtic Woman is releasing a best-of album soon, featuring hits from their previous collections and one brand-new song, "The Call" which is already accessible on Facebook. It seems a bit cheeky to release a best-of after only two actual albums, but "The Call" illustrates that arranger David Downes and the current members of the group still have it, and gives us a foretaste of what their next album will be like. (Hopefully.)

(Note, this album is not to be confused with former member Hayley Westenra's album, River of Dreams, releasing the same day.)

Brad Paisley shows no sign of stopping, and a track listing from Amazon indicates the usual blend of creative titles, puns, guest artists, humorous as well as serious songs, and at least one gospel tune. I still can't get over how cool "Throttleneck" was from Paisley's previous album, 5th Gear.

Secret Garden, the greatest musical group no one has ever seems to have heard of, is a lavish mixture of bittersweet instrumentals, lively Irish melodies, and soothing lyrical wonders. Continental Music's website describes Secret Garden thus:
Secret Garden creates a musical tapestry that includes textures, colours and emotions ranging from the amazing magnitude of musical experiences that Norwegian born composer / keyboard master Rolf Lovland and Irish violinist extraordinary Fionnuala Sherry, share between them. In concert, these attractive performers and their band create an extraordinary musical "garden" that sweep audiences away on lyrical, mystical adventure that ranges from the romantically serene to the wildly explosive.
As it says, the music is composed primarily by Rolf Løvland (with Fionnuala Sherry soulfully manning the violin) and was inspirational enough for famed singer Barbara Streisand to pen lyrics to, and re-release the song "I've Dreamed of You" after singing it at her wedding. Now the latest, "Inside I'm Singing", other artists take a whack at pairing the beautiful compositions with lyrics of their own. It isn't quite the same, but the album still contains some great songs, like "If Came The Hour" and "Song for a Stormy Night" as well as at least one original instrumental. Alas, the album has yet to release officially in the United States, and I'm only able to comment on existing tracks because of a website I found where you can stream (not download!) the album.

Next up, the Christmas goodies:

Enya has quietly carved her own permanent niche in the classical/vocal/new age genre, with a voice that would barely disturb a feather, often multiplied a thousand-fold to create an ethereal ambiance. It is somewhat exciting to see her album is not just Christmas, but winter. Too often, music that applies to winter gets reshelved just after Christmas, when the season still has months left to go. (Consequently, I leave songs like Winter Wonderland or Sleigh Ride on my MP3 player well after Christmas.) Hopefully with Enya's album, there will be more applicable music to leave in the hopper.

Mannheim Steamroller has become a Christmas staple in millions of homes, and it's always a treat to bring back their CDs come Christmas time, but from the snippets I've heard, this latest offering isn't exactly on par with their previous work. Of course, I won't be tuning in to any Christmas music until around Thanksgiving (earlier if the retailers and radio markets have their say...), but I fear my new favorite for enlivened contemporary songs mixed with sentimental holiday cheer may be Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

Sarah Brightman's been on an interesting curve lately, and her latest album, Symphony, seems to be a departure from her previous work. I say this in a good way of course; Brightman's former operatic days (looking back in retrospective) seem...well, operatic. The focus is not so much on an interesting and varied melody as it is on the power and strength of the voice performing off of a more linear tune. Symphony blatantly started off on a "Gothic" note with the power sounds of "Fleurs du Mal" before quickly stepping back down into more classical yet more thematic and variable songs like Symphony, Canto Della Terra, Sarai Qui, and the upbeat, made-for-exercise Running. Now Brightman's coming out with A Winter Symphony, and if it's anything like the album's mainstream namesake, it will be another great classical Christmas/winter album to add to the shuffle.

So there you have it, those are the albums I'm looking forward to, and a glimpse of my insights into current really good artists. I of course recommend pretty much all of the aforementioned albums and artists.

I've also been discovering the music of a guy named Tim Janis, but that's another post for another time.

**Update October 30**

On the prowl for more Christmas music at Amazon, I ran across a new album, A Lovely Way To Spend Christmas, from bubbly blond Kristin Chenoweth, best known for her role in the original cast of Wicked. Chenoweth is blond enough to appear stupid, and intelligent enough to carry it off with wit and humor, and while I likely wouldn't purchase the entire album on Amazon's MP3 downloader, there are definitely some choice tracks to pick from.

**Update November 6, 2008**

Just when you think things can't get better...! The serenely haunting Loreena McKennitt is releasing a full-length Christmas album too. It's going to be one heck of a Christmas this year.

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