Kenny Neal is such a terrific singer that he can make any kind of blues sound good. On Hoodoo Moon, Neal does the Delta blues justice on a version of Elmore James's "It Hurts Me Too," and does a fine job on the Chicago blues with "I'm a Blues Man." He even pulls off some James Brown funk on "Just One Step." Nonetheless, Neal makes his most valuable contributions when he allows his Louisiana roots to show. On "Don't Fix Our Love," for example, Neal lays his blues-harmonica solo and gravelly vocal over a New Orleans second-line parade rhythm. Lucky Peterson plays the Professor Longhair-like piano part expertly and does the same with the Fats Domino-like piano triplets on "Why Should I Stay." "The Real Thing" and the album's title track boast the slippery shuffle beat of upstate Louisiana's swamp blues.
Smokey-voiced chanteuse Madeleine Peyroux's third CD is a lovely collection of after-hours ruminations and should confirm her rise to fame. Credit producer Larry Klein for doing a bang-up job with the album's sound: the elegant, pared-down arrangements are all brushed drums, acoustic guitars, and cool organ licks. But of course it's Peyroux's voice that brings it all home–preferably one where the shades are drawn, embers are smoldering in the fireplace, and the white wine is kept dry. Two-thirds of the songs are well-chosen covers, including a duet with k.d. lang on Joni Mitchell's "River"; a relaxed version of Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talkin'," from Midnight Cowboy; a delicately lilting samba take on Leonard Cohen and Anjani Thomas's title track; Serge Gainsbourg's "La Javanaise," performed in the original French; and Charlie Chaplin's "Smile," from Modern Times. The four originals, all coauthored by Peyroux, easily keep up with such august company, especially "I'm All Right"–written with Klein and Walter Becker, it captures the easy sophistication of Becker's regular band, Steely Dan. Fans of Norah Jones (whose collaborator Jesse Harris cowrote three of the songs) should gobble up this album, but Peyroux is no mere imitator: She's her own, very real thing.
Itaipu (1989) is something of a cantata-cum-symphony-cum-oratorio with no clear text. Its topic is the world's largest hydroelectric dam, built on the Rarana River between Paraguay and Brazil, and the piece–in Glass's trademark punctuating minimalism–is filled with distinct South American instrumentation, particularly in the percussion. The music itself is noble, conjuring the human endeavor to build the five-mile-wide dam near the town of Itaipu. The Canyon (1988) is about no canyon in particular but tonally suggests the mystery of canyons in general. Both these compositions are among Glass's better works.
Since Dick Haymes, like most of the popular artists of his era (the 1940s), has been the victim of endless low-budget, low-quality European compilations taking advantage of the continent's 50-year copyright limitation, it is refreshing to report that this collection by British label Half Moon consists of recordings licensed from Universal/MCA, copyright holder of Haymes' original Decca recordings. What that means, first, is that the sound quality is noticeably better than what you have to put up with on the fly-by-night competitors. Haymes' 45 singles chart entries on Decca between 1943-1951 are too numerous to be contained on one CD, and this 23-track disc with a 69-minute running time is inevitably missing some hits (notably the Top Fives "The Old Master Painter" and "Maybe It's Because"). But most of Haymes' big solo hits for Decca are included, along with a few of his hit duets with Helen Forrest, and the album can be recommended as providing the highlights of the singer's most popular period.