Blackmore’s Night: Nature’s Light (ear Music CD). On March 12, Ritchie Blackmore and Candice Night will release their 11th studio album as Blackmore’s Night. More importantly, it is the duo’s first studio album since “All Our Yesterdays” in 2015. Their sound is Renaissance-based, using a variety of instruments from the period to create what Blackmore calls “an organic type of music,” with just a touch of the rocking guitar he brought to his earlier bands Deep Purple and Rainbow. Night’s melodic voice is perfect for the type of music.

Leading off this strong effort is a nice taste of winter in “Once Upon December,” a jaunty piece that includes a very nice, brief guitar solo and gives one the urge to sing along. It is Night’s lyrics set to traditional Italian music, arranged by Blackmore. Wind takes over the next two songs, with “Four Winds” featuring more percussion and “Feather in the Wind” being brisk and upbeat. Generally, Blackmore comes up with the melodies – usually on guitar – and Night then writes the lyrics.

There are two instrumentals among the 10 tracks, with the first, the wonderful “Darker Shade of Black” being a definite “other side” nod to Procol Harum’s 1967 hit, “A Whiter Shade of Pale.” The other instrumental, “Der letzte Musketier,” has a heavier sound. It shares its name with the German title of the 1950 film “Cyrano de Bergerac,” starring Jose Ferrer, who won both an Oscar and a Golden Globe as best actor for his performance.

Other outstanding tracks are “Nature’s Light,” with its regal-sounding chorus; “Going to the Faire,” which is very much a song for dancing; and the strong closer, “Second Element,” with its nice melody, fine guitar and multi-voice chorus. “Going to the Faire” again features Night’s lyrics set to traditional music, while “Second Element” was written by Frank Peterson, Thomas Schwartz, Mattias Meissner and Andrea Weiss, and was first recorded by Sarah Brightman in 1993. The album’s other cover is a new version of “Wish You Were Here,” a song first recorded by Rednex in 1995 and covered by Blackmore’s Night in 1997.

Blackmore plays acoustic and electric guitars, hurdy-gurdy, nickelharpe and mandola. In addition to singing lead and harmony vocals, Night plays all Renaissance and Medieval woodwinds and tambourines. Also appearing on the album are Bard David of Larchmont on keyboards and backing vocals, Earl Grey of Chimay on bass and rhythm guitar, Troubadour of Aberdeen on percussion, Scarlett Fiddler on violin, Lady Lynn on backing vocals and Jim Pappalardo on backing vocals on “Second Element.” Autumn,10, and Rory Blackmore, 9, lend their voices to “Going to the Faire.” This release is strongly recommended.

Roxette: Bag of Trix: Music from the Roxette Vaults (Parlophone Music Sweden/Roxette Recordings, 3 CDs). While more aimed at the true fan of the Swedish duo, there is lots here for the casual listener to enjoy as well. In all, 29 of the 47 tracks were previously unreleased and the rarities include four songs recorded at Abbey Road studios on Nov. 15, 1995, Spanish versions of four of their biggest hits and two songs sung in Swedish.

Roxette consisted of vocalist/keyboardist Marie Fredriksson and vocalist/guitarist Per Gessle. For most songs, Gessle wrote the music and then Fredriksson came up with the lyrics, although Fredriksson also wrote songs on her own. The duo formed in 1986 and lasted until Fredriksson’s death from brain cancer on Dec. 9, 2019 at age 61. In the 16-page booklet, Gessle writes a paragraph about the genesis of each song or how the recording came to be.

Roxette released 10 albums, with “Look Sharp!” (1988), their second album, being their big breakthrough, followed by the equally successful “Joyride” (1991). The duo went on to have 19 songs make the U.K. Top 40 and a dozen singles in the U.S. Billboard Top 100, including chart-toppers “The Look,” “Listen to Your Heart,” “Joyride” and “It Must Have Been Love,” with the latter song featured in the film “Pretty Woman” (1990).

In this collection, both “The Look” and “Listen to Your Heart” are included in acoustic versions from the Abbey Road sessions, along with their “You Don’t Understand Me” and a cover of The Beatles’ “Help!” The Spanish versions include an unreleased “Tu No Me Comprendes” (“You Don’t Understand Me”), as well as versions of “Anyone,” “Salvation” and “Wish I Could Fly.”

Among the unreleased material, the outtake “Let Your Heart Dance with Me” (2016) is very nice. Also good are the demo of “Like Lovers Do” (1986), originally intended for a Gessle solo album; the demo of the never-before-released “Happy Together”; the original demo versions of “Hotblooded” (acoustic) and “The Centre of the Heart” (slower); a semi-unplugged live version of “Wish I Could Fly”; a remixed version of the unreleased “Piece of Cake” (the last song they recorded together; it features nice synthesizer); and a version of “I Was So Lucky (The Golden Blow)” with soprano sax. In all there are 25 demo versions. The set is well worth tracking down. Other releases are in the planning stage.

Bob Marley: Songs of Freedom: The Island Years (Tough Gong/Island/Ume, 3 CDs). Released as part of the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the great reggae musician’s birth on Feb. 6, 1945, this is a smaller version of the “Songs of Freedom” box set released in 1992, which had four CDs. This version drops the first 31 tracks of pre-Island Records recordings. However, it also marks the set’s first release on vinyl (6 LPs in either black or color vinyl – two red, two green and two gold). In many ways, this is a companion to the “Legend” set of greatest hits, with all but one repeat song presented here in alternate versions.

There are 47 tracks in all, presented in chronological order. Many of the songs deal with the struggle for survival and strife in Jamaica. “Slave driver,” “No More Trouble” and “Concrete Jungle” all were originally released on his iconic “Catch a Fire album” (1973), his first album for Island, but his 10th overall. (The version I had was made like a Zippo lighter with a flip top that opened on a side hinge. It was designed by Rod Dyer and Bob Weiner.) Other highlights are “Get Up, Stand Up,” with Peter Tosh singing a verse; “Burnin’ and Lootin’,” a reaction to a curfew; “Natty Dread”; live versions of “I Shot the Sheriff” and “No Woman No Cry”; the 12-inch versions of “Jammin’” and “Exodus”; the bright horns mix of “Is This Love”; the call for action in “Zimbabwe”; and the nicely melodic “So Much Trouble in the World.” There are two Curtis Mayfield covers: “Keep on Moving” and “People Get Ready,” which is merged with Marley’s “One Love.”

Marley is a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and is the man who put reggae on the global map, a press release notes. He also was noted “as a statesman in his native Jamaica, where he famously brought together the country's warring factions. Today, he remains one of the 20th century's most important and influential entertainment icons. Marley's lifestyle and music continue to inspire new generations as his legacy lives on through his music. In the digital era, he has the second-highest social media following of any posthumous celebrity, with the official Bob Marley Facebook page drawing more than 70 million fans, ranking it among the Top 20 of all Facebook pages and Top 10 among celebrity pages. Marley's music catalog has sold millions of albums worldwide.” “Legend” holds the distinction of being the longest-charting album in the history of Billboard's Catalog Albums chart and remains the world's best-selling reggae album. Marley's accolades include inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1994) and ASCAP Songwriters Hall of Fame (2010), a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (2001), multiple entries in the Grammy Hall of Fame, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (2001). This is a very worthwhile collection.

Susan Anders: 13 Women (Zanna Discs CD). This album has a very cool concept, with Anders writing 13 new songs, each inspired by a different woman in history. Her lyrics tell the stories of Amelia Earhart, Josephine Baker (as a spy against the Nazis), Helen Keller and her teacher Annie Sullivan, and even a woman hung for being a witch. Overall, I like the record better for its lyrics than its music, although the second half is better than the first.

This is the fourth solo release for Anders, recorded at guitar player/producer Tom Manche’s East Nashville studio shortly before the pandemic hit. Anders and her husband Manche spent the initial shutdown mixing the album. While Anders sings and plays acoustic guitar, there are contributions by many talented Nashville musicians, including Jim Hoke adding clarinet and flute to Earhart’s story on the closing “What a Woman Can Do,” which is one of the album’s four best tracks. Hoke also plays rootsy harmonica and organ to “You Healed Me,” the story of Henrietta Lacks, whose cervical cells, removed without her consent in 1952, are still used in medical research and helped develop the polio vaccine and the HPV vaccine, and Hoke plays clarinet of the jazzy “A Little More from Josephine,” about Baker who spied for the French Resistance. Mary Rodgers plays accordion on the latter track.

There is a chamber-folk vibe to the Keller-inspired “Just Give Me Everything” with Maggie Chafee’s cello. Anders uses a lot of backing singers throughout the album, including singer-songwriters Kyshona Armstrong, Whit Hill, Phoebe Elliot, Ingrid Graudins and Barbara Santoro. Anders’ former bandmates Renee Hayes, Shelley Higgins and Cat Silver also contribute vocals. Vocal harmonies fill the bit mournful-sounding “You Healed Me.”

Sarah Wildes is the woman who was hung as a witch and inspired “Spell,” one of the better earlier songs, along with the homesteading tale of young Iowa schoolteacher Lucy Goldthorpe in “Open Prairie.” There is a nice story to “My Life in the Stars,” which is about astronomer Henrietta Swan Leavitt, but my overall favorite is “Girl You Never Knew,” about Rosie the Riveter, who served as the symbol of the thousands of women who took over jobs left behind by the men who were fighting in World War II. The jazzier Baker song is also a highlight, as is “Witness,” about war correspondent Martha Gellhorn, who also was the third wife of Ernest Hemingway. Gellhorn was the only woman in Normandy during the invasion.