Rolling Stones: Blue & Lonesome (Interscope CD, 42:42). An oft repeated quote is that the Rolling Stones could have recorded this album of Chicago Blues when they started out in 1963. Many of the great British musicians began their careers by covering American music, specifically the blues. Among them were guitarist Eric Clapton, who guests here on "Everybody Knows About My Good Thing" (slide guitar) and "I Can't Quit You Baby," and a young singer named Mick Jagger, who went on to co-found the Rolling Stones. In fact, Jagger used to sing this album's "Ride 'Em on Down" in 1962, when performing with Alexis Korner. The original was a 1955 single by Jimmy Reed's guitarist, Eddie Taylor.
This blues album is unique in that does not feature any compositions by Jagger and Keith Richards. Four of the 12 songs are by Walter Jacobs, aka Little Walter, the blues singer/songwriter known for his revolutionary approach to the harmonica. The Little Walter covers include "Just Your Fool," the slower title track (a 1965 single B-side; here recorded in only two takes) with its pleading vocal by Jagger, "I Gotta Go" with its urgent harmonica playing and "Hate To See You Go," which alternates vocal pleas and harmonica blasts. Songwriter Willie Dixon is represented by a jivin' "Just Like I Treat You" and the smoother-sung "I Can't Quit You Babe." Dixon was the main songwriter for Chess Records in the Fifties and early Sixties, with his songs recorded by Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter and Bo Diddley. Other album highlights are the piano ballad, "All of Your Love," and "Little Rain," co-written by Ewart G. Abner Jr. and Reed. Contributing to the album are Matt Clifford on electronic keyboards, Wurlitzer piano and Hammond B3 organ, touring keyboardist Chuck Leavell on acoustic piano and Hammond B3, and Darryl Jones on bass. Jim Keltner plays percussion on "Hood Doo Blues." Grade: A
Grace Vanderwaal: Perfectly Imperfect (Syco/Columbia CD, 17:04). The amazing 12-year-old singer/songwriter who plays the ukulele was the winner of season 11 of "America's Got Talent" and her debut EP includes four of the songs she performed on the show and one new song. The four from the show are the anthemic "I Don't Know My Name" (my favorite and the song which earned her a "golden buzzer" during the auditions; in which she sings about not "playing by the rules of the games"), "Clay," "Light the Sky" and "Beautiful Thing." The new song is "Gossip Girl," which features backing singers. Wal-Mart carries an edition of the EP that has a "coffeehouse version" bonus track, "Missing You." Grade: B+
John Legend: Darkness and Light (Columbia CD, 45:46). Legend is a multi-platinum-selling recording artist and winner of an Oscar (for "Glory," with Common, from "Selma"), a Golden Globe and 10 Grammy Awards. His new album is produced by Blake Mills of Alabama Shakes and includes the anthemic hit, "Love Me Now," which is about loving now because it probably won't last. The song, which features strings near the end, was written and produced by Legand with Mills and John Ryan (One Direction). The album features several other collaborators, including Chance the Rapper on "Penthouse Floor" (I found the rap a bit dumb, but the song has a heavier beat and lyrics that are a bit political), guitarist Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes on the title track (an R&B cut featuring a breathy falsetto) and funk crooner Miguel on "Overload."
The album opens with the self-confessional "I Know Better," which acknowledges past mistakes and compromises. It is piano led, with some organ flourishes. "How Can I Blame You" is solid, while "Right By You (for Luna)" -- that is as in, "how can I do right by you" -- is a sophisticated message to his new daughter, Luna, born this year to he and his wife, supermodel Chrissy Teigen. The song asks of Luna if she "will work like me to lift the conversation higher?" The Target edition contains three bonus tracks: a piano demo of "What You Do To Me" and the exclusive songs, "Drawing Lines" and "Love You Anyway."
Producer Mills, in a press release, says, "'Darkness and Light' is John Legend's manifesto. Following the tradition of Soul/R&B music that celebrates love and challenges indecency. 'Darkness and Light' digs into John's long-standing devotion to social justice, the challenges and rewards of a marriage constantly in the public eye and the recent birth of his first child, Luna. This record goes against the grain, boldly reminding us that though darkness is abound, it is the light that will ultimately push us forward." Grade: B+
Heart: Live at the Royal Albert Hall with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (Eagle Vision, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 84 min.). The Seattle group, led by sisters Ann (vocals) and Nancy Wilson (guitar), has come a long way and lasted a long time. This release captures not only Heart's first Royal Albert Hall concert, but also is the first concert film of Heart performing with a full orchestra. The orchestra adds depth to several songs, most notably "What About Love." The band opens the concert in rock mode with "Magic Man," then brings out conductor Nick Davies and the orchestra, who perform through the next eight numbers, before six band-only numbers, including four encore songs, complete the concert.
In the June concert, the band plays four songs from their most recent album, "Beautiful Broken," two new songs and two re-imagined songs. The new songs are "I Jump," which has Led Zeppelinish backing vocals and very dramatic playing by the orchestra, and "Two," a song written by Neo , which Nancy introduces and sings. It only has piano at the start. The focus stays on Nancy as she next sings the mega-hit, "These Dreams." The re-imagined songs are "Sweet Darlin'" and "Beautiful Broken," a neo-punk rocker. In the bonus interview (13:49), the sisters explain "I Jump" and their early fan favorite, "Dreamboat Annie," were added to the set list specifically due to the orchestra. (The interview also includes going over the set list with Davies and bits of the final rehearsal.)
There really is not a bad song during the whole evening. Other classics included are "Alone," "Silver Wheels/Crazy on You," the rockers "Barracuda" and "Kick It Out," and a cover of Led Zeppelin's "No Quarter." This version of Heart includes Ben Smith on drums, Dan Rothchild on bass, Craig Bartock on guitar and Chris Joyner on keyboards. Grade: A
Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow: Memories in Rock -- Live in Germany (Eagle Vision, Blu-ray + 2 CDs, DVD + 2 CDs or 3 LPs, NR, 110 min.).It was only three shows -- June 17 and 18 at Monsters of Rock in Loreley and Viadukt, Germany, and June 25 at Genting Arena in Birmingham, UK -- but legendary guitarist Blackmore returned to rock music, playing masterpieces from his days with Deep Purple (1968-74) and Rainbow (1975-95). Since 1997, Blackmore has been part of the medieval folk rock band Blackmore's Night with his wife, Candice Night. Night and Lady Lynn are the two backup singers for these shows. The band includes Blackmore on guitar, Ronnie Romero on vocals, David Keith on drums, Bob Nouveau on bass and Jens Johanssen on keyboards.
Romero, originally from Chile, is a member of Spanish melodic progressive metal band Lords of Black. In a summer interview with Metal Shock Finland, Romero said, "I feel really good with my job, because I tried to make justice, not just to the songs, but all these singers — Ronnie James Dio, Joe Lynn Turner, Graham Bonnet, Ian Gillan and David Coverdale. I just tried to sing the songs in my own way and my own style, and I think the people appreciate that. I'm not just a copy of the other singers." That said, Romero does more than a decent job on such Deep Purple songs as "Highway Star" (it opens the show), "Spotlight Kid," "Perfect Strangers," "Child in Time/Woman from Tokyo" and "Smoke on the Water" (the closer, with lots of fireworks), and on such Rainbow classics as "16th Century Greensleeves," "Since You Been Gone," "Man on the Silver Mountain" (on this, Romero works in a reference to the late Dio), "Catch the Rainbow," "Stargazer" and "Long Live Rock 'n' Roll." Additionally, Blackmore performs his marvelous reworking of Ludwig van Beethoven's "Ninth," aka "Difficult to Cure" in the Rainbow canon. The latter includes band solos, including drums and bass. My only disappointment was I thought "Woman from Tokyo" was underwhelming.
All versions except for the vinyl LPs also include four bonus tracks (about 29 min.), recorded on an alternate night. They are "Spotlight Kid," "Man on the Silver Mountain," "Long Live Rock 'n' Roll" and "Stargazer." If possible, I recommend the deluxe version, which includes the Blu-ray, DVD and 2 CDs in a 48-page hardbound book with superb photos from the three shows. Grade: B+
Michael Giacchino: Doctor Strange (Hollywood/Marvel CD, 66:29). Giacchino, who also scored "Zootopia," "Star Trek Beyond" and "Star Wars: Rogue One" this year, has another winner in this score for the 14th and newest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which zeroes in on the title character and adds magic to that universe. In the film, surgeon Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) learns the mystic arts from the Ancient One after a career-ending automobile accident.
The album starts low and a bit threatening, before there is large orchestral sound and eventual sweep into the main theme. On the other hand, "The Hands Dealt" is a very simple piano melody. There are more electronic sounds on "A Long Strange Trip" -- even some backwards looping -- and use of the large choral voices that appear throughout the score (something I quite like). For example, there is heavy vocalizing and big flourishes on "Sanctimonius Sanctum Sacking" (quite the title). The excellent score concludes with a bit of rock guitar during the end credits, plus a late synthesizer, giving it a very progressive rock sound. Grade: A-
Other soundtracks of note
James Newton Howard: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, original motion picture soundtrack deluxe edition (Water Tower, 2 CDs). Continuing their "Harry Potter" work are director David Yates and screenwriter J. K. Rowling (her screenwriting debut, but she wrote all the "Harry Potter" books). The stars are Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Colin Farrell, Carmen Ejogo, Samantha Morton, Ezra Miller, Ron Perlman and Jon Voight. In the film, there are growing dangers in the wizarding world of 1926 New York. Something mysterious is leaving a path of destruction in the streets, threatening to expose the wizarding community to the Second Salemers, a fanatical faction of No-Majs (American English for Muggles) bent on eradicating them. The powerful, dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), after wreaking havoc in Europe, has slipped away and is nowhere to be found. The score uses child choirs, jazz motifs and emotional bursts. The second disc contains nine bonus tracks.
Clint Eastwood, Christian Jacob, The Tierney Sutton Band: Sully, music from and inspired by the motion picture (Varese Sarabande CD). "Sully" is set on Jan. 15, 2009, when the world witnessed the "Miracle on the Hudson" when Captain "Sully" Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) glided his disabled plane onto the frigid waters of the Hudson River, saving the lives of all 155 aboard. However, even as Sully was being heralded by the public and the media for his unprecedented feat of aviation skill, an investigation was unfolding that threatened to destroy his reputation and his career. (The home video of "Sully" will be released Tuesday.)
In a press release, Tierney Sutton said, "One day he [director Eastwood] called and very casually asked if Christian Jacob and I would come down and see how he had provisionally used some of our music in the rough cut of 'Sully.' We thought he was interested in just using a few bits of our recorded music—or perhaps asking us to recreate some of that mood in a new piece for the film. But after screening the entire film, we were asked to score the whole thing. Two days later, the whole band was in the studio creating cues to picture, with Clint giving us input. I also co-wrote the lyrics to a theme that Clint wrote that will be a song heard during the end credits of the film."
As the Tierney Sutton Band has been together for more than 20 years and has been known for its collaborative process of arranging music, the scoring process was improvisational in approach. "The scoring began over several themes written by both the director, Clint Eastwood, and myself," said Jacob in the same press release. "Every member of the band was watching scenes on the screen and improvising their own parts by following a basic lead sheet. We know each other so well, that our musical ideas fell beautifully in place."
Rupert Gregson-Williams: Hacksaw Ridge, original motion picture soundtrack (Varese Sarabande CD). The film, directed by Mel Gibson, tells the extraordinary true story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) who, in Okinawa during one of the bloodiest battle of WWII, saved 75 men without firing or carrying a gun. He was the only American soldier in WWII to fight on the front lines without a weapon, as he believed that while the war was justified, killing was nevertheless wrong. As an army medic, he single-handedly evacuated the wounded from behind enemy lines, braved fire while tending to soldiers and was wounded by a grenade and hit by snipers. Doss was the first conscientious objector awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The film, which also stars Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths and Vince Vaughn, has an adapted screenplay by Robert Schenkkan and Andrew Knight. Composer Gregson-Williams also has scored "Hotel Rwanda" and "The Legend of Tarzan."
According to the composer, in a press release, the score is really in two parts. The film begins as "a lovely romance that blossoms as Desmond discovers both the love of his life and his faith." Through the progression of the story, the second half of the movie becomes more brutal. "The score reflects some of this, and also Desmond’s spiritual strength," Gregson-Williams added. The composer worked closely with director Gibson to discuss how best to reflect Desmond’s spirituality without being pious, and his bravery without celebrating violence.
Austin Wintory: ABZÛ (Varese Sarabande CD). This is a collection of music Wintory scored for the video game. Wintory also has scored "Assassin's Creed Syndicate." The game includes gorgeous underwater landscapes that straddled the line between realism and fantasy. The score and game took three years to develop. ABZÛ is a descent into the depths of the sea, where players explore beautifully rendered ocean environments with fluid swimming controls. The story of ABZÛ is a universal myth that resonates across cultures, with the name referencing a concept from the oldest mythologies; it is the combination of the two ancient words: "AB," meaning ocean, and "ZÛ," meaning to know. ABZÛ is the ocean of wisdom. Grammy-nominated and two-time BAFTA-winning composer Wintory’s diverse career has straddled the worlds of film, games and concert music. In 2012, his soundtrack for the hit PlayStation3 game "Journey" became the first-ever Grammy-nominated videogame score, also winning two British Academy Awards and a host of others.