- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 10, 2001

IONABirken Tree(Barnaby Productions)

Northern Virginia's own Celtic band, Iona, has come out with a CD named after the river birch and adorned with a photo of the group taken in Burke. This CD has some lovely bagpipes, especially on the second cut, "Came Ye O'er frae France," a Jacobite song that satirizes the Hanoverian King George I, who reigned during a Highland rebellion against British rule. This definitely is the kind of playing you would hear at a good pipe competition.

Other cuts, "Fare You Well," a song from North Carolina, is haunting and pretty. "Quand J'etais Jeune a Dix-huit Ans," a French song about being "young and 18 years old," is from Brittany, the Celtic region of France. It ends with some great pipes and drums. An unexpectedly nice addition is "The Mermaid's Song," a lovely, somewhat mournful tune played on bagpipes. It also sounds great on the harp.

Iona tries to mix American Celtic tunes from Appalachia with music from the seven ancient Celtic nations: Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Cornwall, the Isle of Man, Brittany and Galicia in Spain. One gets the feeling Iona has worked hard at creating just the right mix with some unusual instruments.— Julia DuinKAREN ASHBROOK AND PAUL OORTSCeltic Cafe (Maggie's Music)

When Karen Ashbrook, an Irish-American musician, fell in love with a Belgian soul mate, the two discovered they could make some pretty music together. Much of the music has a French cabaret sound with lots of accordion, wooden flute and hammered dulcimer. The fourth cut, "Style Musette," has some nice mandolin work.

A Belgian jig set later on in the work has some pretty dulcimer, and "Valse Petit Dejeuner," the ninth cut, has beautiful guitar work. It also is very French, light and haunting.

Not so impressive is the "Napolean Suite," which takes up eight of the cuts and which commemorates the 1815 Battle of Waterloo. But "Lamentation for the Fallen Heroes of Waterloo," the next-to-last cut, is the exception. Its flutes and accordion sound elegant together.

A lot of historical research obviously went into the production of these pieces, which draw from Flemish, French and Belgian sources — a sort of southern wing of the ancient Celtic world. In all, a nice collection.— J.D.LUCIANO PAVAROTTI, JOSE CARRERAS, PLACIDO DOMINGO AND ANDREA BOCCELLIPure Tenors: 18 RomanticClassics (UTV Records)

Just because Valentine's Day is past, don't pass by "Pure Tenors."

This romantic compilation CD features the four well-known tenors Luciano Pavarotti, Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo and Andrea Boccelli, as well as Russell Watson and Guiseppe di Stefano. While the musical quality of the record is phenomenal, both in the vocals and the orchestrations, the selections chosen for the compilation could have been better.

All these tenors sing opera, but only two of the numbers are from operas. The rest come from Broadway shows or traditional Italian love songs.

Mr. Carreras' are all from Broadway shows, including "Memory" from "Cats" and "Love Is a Many Splendored Thing" from "Grease." Although he belts them out with his usual gusto, his English is difficult to understand unless you already know the lyrics from these songs.

Mr. Pavarotti's come from a collection of Italian wedding songs. His sound is richer and more steady than Mr. Carreras'.

Mr. Domingo stands out on "Vida Mia," a tango-type number that conjures up images of flamenco dancers. Unfortunately, he is also quite hard to understand on "Be My Love" because his big sounds make the words unintelligible.

Unfortunately, only one selection is from Mr. Boccelli, "La Donna e Mobile," from the classic opera "Rigoletto." His voice is far more stirring than the others because of his lighter, more airy quality.

Overall, the vocals are broad and sweeping. But it would have been nice if the CD had more operatic numbers than show tunes. Several of the pieces feature the London Orchestra, which almost outshines the tenors.— Bethany Warner ALABAMAWhen It All Goes South (RCA)

Alabama has had 42 No. 1 country singles to date. "When It All Goes South" contains so many potential hits that it's not a stretch to say that that number could easily grow to 45 or more on the strength of the quartet's new album.

That's the case even though the first single, the title track — a swaggering country-rock anthem of Southern triumphalism ("Now it really doesn't matter what state you're in/One day the South is gonna rise again") — appears to have fallen short of the Top 10.

The 14 others cuts are a mix of traditional country, country pop and love ballads, and there is not a bad track among them. As important, almost all are radio friendly, with more hooks than a bait-and-tackle shop. That goes a long way toward explaining the durability of the foursome, who have been charting since the late 1970s.

The best tracks include "Will You Marry Me?" lead singer Randy Owen's touching duet with pop's Jann Arden, which is almost certain to become a slow-dance staple of wedding-reception disc jockeys (and which would be my choice for second single). Other standouts are guitarist-fiddler Jeff Cook's calypso-flavored "Wonderful Waste of Time," reminiscent of the Beach Boys' "Kokomo," "I Can't Love You Any Less," which laments a one-sided falling out of love, and the you-can't-go-home-again "Down This Road."

But listing some of what I consider the best tracks in the limited amount of space available here shortchanges the others and doesn't do justice to the album, which was a year in the making and uses the talents of literally dozens of backing musicians.

The band has said it decided when it went into the studio that the album had to be "Grammy-worthy." It's not a stretch to say that Alabama may well have succeeded.— Peter ParisiDUSTY SPRINGFIELDBeautiful Soul — The ABC/Dunhill Collection (Hip-O Records)

Listening to Dusty Springfield on "Beautiful Soul" is a bit like watching Cal Ripken Jr. play baseball nowadays.

That she was one of the great vocal interpreters isn't in doubt — she died in 1999. Although she once commanded the music around her — belting out pop tunes in front of a Phil Spector-like wall of sound or crooning bluesy ballads — on this CD she seems occasionally overwhelmed by the backup singers or the swells of horns and strings.

"Beautiful Soul" represents the work Miss Springfield did for ABC/Dunhill and includes songs from the 1973 album "Cameo" and the unfinished "Longing."

She isn't served well by the material, particularly some of the funky but forgettable songs written by Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter, such as "Who Gets Your Love" and "Breakin' Up a Happy Home."

Among the more impressive tracks are those on opposite ends of the spectrum: the slower, more simply arranged songs that allow Miss Springfield's voice to come through unencumbered ("The Other Side of Life" and "I Am Your Child") and the more up-tempo, playful songs ("A Love Like Yours").

When the material is very good, as it is with Van Morrison's "Tupelo Honey," Miss Springfield shines, reminiscent of her earlier work. Unfortunately, it stands nearly alone as a real soul-infused number in this collection.

Still, Dusty Springfield covering middling material is better than most artists singing stronger songs. For fans, the nine previously unissued tracks from "Longing" will be a real find. But "Beautiful Soul" isn't going to make anyone forget the masterpiece "Dusty in Memphis."— Carol JohnsonPRIMITIVE RADIO GODSWhite Hot Peach(What Are Records?)

There aren't many instances of a band earning the label of one-hit wonder, then turning around and erasing it.

Primitive Radio Gods might have done just that with its latest effort, "White Hot Peach," but no one's ever going to know it.

The group scored on alternative radio stations with the synth-pop "Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth With Money in My Hand" in 1996 because of a wonderful sample of B.B. King's "How Blue Can You Get?" The album that followed — "Rocket" — flopped when it failed to produce another hit. In fact, the remainder of the tracks didn't sound anything like "Standing." Instead, PRG produced an album of guitar rock that would have sounded bad even in the late 1970s.

That cost PRG its deal with Columbia records, so the group changed to an independent label (meaning "White Hot Peach" probably can be found only on the Internet) and toned down its vibe so much that it sounds like a Duncan Sheik clone with a little bit of kick.

There's no song as catchy as "Standing" on "White Hot Peach," but the album's a much more pleasant listen. The standout tracks here are "Ghost of a Chance," a song of lament featuring the album's bounciest bass and soft piano, and "Gotta Know Now," which uses a flute to give it an Arabic feel.— Scott SilversteinNEWSBOYSShine … The Hits(Sparrow Records)

Widely regarded as one of Christian music's best live bands, these Aussie boys out and out jam in their latest album, which displays them as bigger, better and bolder than ever. The 17-song CD includes three new songs: "Joy," "Praises" and "Who," plus a remake of "God Is Not a Secret," which is recast as a rap tune.

The Newsboys are remaining faithful to their U2-INXS international pop-rock style, though they throw in a bit of rap, techno and retro here and there. You can catch a bit of the weaving in of techno in their last cut, "Megamix." The most insightful song is "Praises," which invokes emotion and spiritual thought.

The Newsboys have sold 3 million records, earned three Grammy nominations, three gold records and four Dove awards — and this CD shows it.— Natalie Alund




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