New from Michael Jackson, Carlos Santana
Owls Head — Michael Jackson: Xscape deluxe edition (Epic CD, 73:31 + DVD, 23:21). Producer LA Reid and executive producer Timbaland have done a good job here. Working with the late Jackson's vocal tracks primarily, they have built often exciting songs and have avoided the dreaded guest duets. In effect, they produced an album the way Jackson would have wanted it. Additionally, with the deluxe version you get Jackson's original, unembellished tracks, plus a 23-minute DVD look at the project behind the scenes, with all the producers used. The other producers used are Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins, Jerome Harmon, Stargate and John McClane.
Listening to the new and original versions, some songs are better in each format. The two that work in both versions are the smooth "Love Never Felt So Good," with strings and a strong chorus beat on the new version and the voice and piano only of the original version, and "A Place With No Name," with synthesizer added to the new version. (I have to say, both in title and music, this strongly resembles America's "A Horse With No Name.") I like the original version of "Chicago" better than the new, which has interesting percussion. The original comes across with more of a feeling of regret about the unwitting affair with a married woman. Also smooth is "Loving You," but the original has the sound of the tape having warped at the beginning.
The new album also succeeds with "Slave to the Rhythm," which is all up-tempo after the introduction and mostly is Jackson's vocal and drums, and "Blue Gangsta," about being cheated on by a woman. There is a nice start by the backing vocalists. "Do You Know Where Your Children Are" is a very serious cautionary tale about the misadventures of a young girl who was subject to sexual abuse and is now headed to Hollywood. An additional bonus on the original portion is Justin Timberlake being featured in a version of "Love Never Felt So Good." The DVD is a welcome addition, as Reid talks with the other producers and plays snippets of both versions of several songs for comparison With "A Place With No Name," the most radical change was the electro backing added by Stargate. Grade: overall B
Santana: Corazon deluxe version (RCA/Sony Latin CD, 57:47 + DVD, 31:53). Overall, this is Carlos Santana's 22nd studio album, yet, surprisingly, his first mostly Spanish language album. It is a wonderful effort with lots of guest stars from South America. In the bonus DVD documentary, Santana talks about the album being a concept album based on the heart.
There are many standout tracks, including "Saideira," with Brazilian vocalist Samuel Rosa of the band Skank. It is a swaying rocker, with a driving beat. The deluxe versions includes both Spanish and English versions of the song. As always, Santana is in fine form with his guitar, a highlight solo comes on the slower -- but still with a good beat -- "La Flaca," sung by Juanes of Colombia. Los Fabulosos Cadillacs of Argentina are the band on the horn-spiced, rhythmic "Mal Bicho." Another song presented in both English and Spanish versions is "Amor Correspondido" ("Feel It Coming Back"), with very fluid guitar. It is a blues-based ballad. "Una Noche en Napoles," which Santana says makes him remember friend Bill Graham (of the Fillmore East and West fame), is a smooth combination of bolero and tango, featuring female singers Lila Downs of Mexico, Nina Pastori of Spain and Soledad of Argentina. Ziggy Marley sings on his father Bob's catchy "Iron Lion Zion," with Colombian hip hop group ChocQuib Town taking over in the song's middle. All these are discussed on the wonderful DVD documentary by both Santana and the appropriate guest artist for a particular song.
The album also features Pitbull on "Oye 2014," an update of Santana's "Oye Coma Va" from 1970; a soft, melodic "Margarita," sung half in English by Romeo Santos; the brief instrumental "I See Your Face"; and an excursion into jazz on "Yo Soy La Luz" with saxophonist Wayne Shorter and drummer Cindy Blackman Santana. The third bonus song is the soft pop of "Beijo de Longe," with vocal by Gloria Estefan. Grade: A-
Carlos Santana also is featured on the album, "One Love, One Rhythm: The Official 2014 FIFA World Cup Album" (Sony CD). He performs the official anthem of the games, "Dar um Jeito (We Will Find a Way)," with Wyclef, Avicii and Alexandre Pires. Also on the CD are Pitbull's "We Are One (Ole Ola)," the official song of the World Cup, performed by Jennifer Lopez and Brazilian star Claudia Leitte, and songs by Shakira, Ricky Martin, The Isley Brothers and Sergio Mendes, among others.
Toto: 35th Anniversary, Live in Poland (Eagle Vision Blu-ray disc, 130 min.; also available on standard DVD). This concert was recorded at the Atlas Arena in Lodz in 2013. It opens with a photo montage from throughout their career. Many might not know that Toto started as a high school band. The band was won six of the 10 Grammys it has been nominated for. More impressively, individual band members became very much wanted as session musicians and those efforts, either on individual songs or on albums, have garnered a remarkable 225 Grammy nominations. The one constant throughout the band's career has been guitarist/vocalist Steve Lukather. For this tour, founding members David Paich (keyboards, vocals) and Steve Porcaro (Keyboards) are back after several years of not touring. Their high school friend Joseph Williams is backing fronting the band as the main vocalist. (Note that founding member , drummer Jeff Porcaro died in 1992 and Mike Porcaro has not been able to tour since being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's Disease.) Here, the drums are played by Simon Phillips (was with Toto from 1992 to 2008) and the bass by Nathan East (Eric Clapton's band).
Musically, one could not ask for a better show. Among the many highlights are Paich singing on "Hydra" (a bit more theatrical and with a nice Lukather guitar solo), the keyboard-led "St. George and the Dragon," the irrepressible, sing-along hit "Rosanna" (with a piano solo by Paich, who was celebrating his birthday), "Pamela," "99," "Better World," the Paich-sung "Africa" (one of my all-time favorite songs), "How Many Times" and the very familiar "Hold the Line." The Blu-ray, which has great sound, comes with a 20:14 behind-the scenes look. Grade: A
Dio: Live in London, Hammersmith Apollo 1993 (Eagle Vision Blu-ray disc, 91 min. or double CD). This is one of Eagle Vision's upscaled standard definition discs released on Blu-ray. Ronnie James Dio's band had recently been reformed and this was the last night (D3ec. 12) of their European tour. In addition to the late Dio on vocals (he was one of heavy rock's all-time great vocalists; I was fortunate enough to see him fronting Black Sabbath once), the band consists of Vinny Appice on drums, Jeff Pilson on bass, Tracy G on guitar and Scott Warren on keyboards. Six of the songs are from the then-current album, "Strange Highways<" which featured a darker sound, such as the morbid title track performed here. Best of the new material is "Jesus Mary & The Holy Ghost. Other highlights are the blistering "Stand Up and Shout, "Heaven and Hell" and "Mob Rules" from his work with Sabbath, "Holy Diver" and the more melodic "The Last in Line." A bonus features in 22 minutes of hanging with the band. Grade: B
Last year saw the release of a deluxe version of Dio's "Magica" (Niji, 2 CDs, 20-page booklet). This album was originally released in 2000, a science fiction/fantasy tale of a beleaguered, utopian idyll under threat from the forces of pure evil. However, it also was his meditation on life's peaks and troughs. The band lineup consists of Dio, guitarist Craig Goldy, drummer Simon Wright, bassist Jimmy Bain and keyboardist Scott Warren, which many consider the strongest Dio lineup ever. This version includes a second disc of extras, including Dio reading "The Magica Story," the Japanese-only bonus track "Annica," the hard-to-find "Electra" (intended for the never-completed follow-up album and four official live bootlegs of songs from the album.
Sherlock: Original Television Soundtrack, Music from Series Three (Silva Screen CD, 73:17). Call this season "Sherlock Lives," as it resolves the cliffhanger of Holmes jumping off the roof of a building, and it also features John Watson's wedding. The music is by David Arnold and Michael Price. The score is eclectic, with more strings overall. The opening "How It Was Done" has driving guitar and synthesizer, while "Floating Dust" is more melodic. There is nice percussion on "Vanishing Underground" and big percussion on "Lazarus," which completes the first episode. At times, the score is very contemporary, such as all the crazy synth sounds in "Stag Night." "Waltz for John and Mary" has a violin solo and. moving to episode three, "Redbeard" is orchestral, with vocalizing. Also more symphonic is "The East Wind," while the disc closes with the up-tempo "End Titles." Grade: B
Ramones: The Sire Years 1976-1981 (Sire/Warner, 6 CDs). This collects the Ramones first six albums: "Ramones," "Leave Home," "Rocket To Russia," "Road to Ruin," "End of the Century" and "Pleasant Dreams." That is more than 75 classic punk rock tracks, including "Blitzkrieg Bop," "I Wanna Be Sedated," "Rock 'n' Roll High School," "The KKK Took My Baby Away," "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker," "Rockaway Beach," "Let's Go" and "Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio?" If you don't have these yet, well, Hey! Ho! Let's Go!. Grade: Essential