BEST OF 2015: Albert Brooks’ Top 5 Vocal Albums


By Albert Brooks

MaryStallingsWith the passing of Shirley Horn, Etta Jones and other eminent flag bearers of the jazz vocal tradition, Mary Stallings – long an accomplished singer- has allowed her star to rise more brightly above the contemporary music firmament. And, with Feelin’ Good (High Note), Ms. Stallings shows that she is more than capable of carrying the lead torch first illuminated by Louis Armstrong’s brilliance so long ago. Check out among many beautiful standards, the rarely sung (but never better than here) “I Want to Talk About You.”

CarmenLundyI love Carmen Lundy and, for the life of me, can not understand why she is not more heralded for the tremendous artist that she is. A gifted (indeed soulful) singer, composer and instrumentalist, she does it all with a depth of feeling and clarity that is beyond transcendence. With rare exception, her compositions are not catchy or hook-laden, but rather substantive expositions that offer meaningful insights even as her rich delivery offers its own considerable delights. In one of the two non-original compositions on the CD, Lundy sings Mary Lou Williams’ “What’s Your Story Morning Glory” backed only by piano with an intimacy and immediacy that only she could convey. Carmen Lundy must be listened to, and Soul to Soul (Afrasia Productions) will reward those who do so with a profound experience.

CecileMcLorinSalvantWhat more can be said about Cecile McLorin Salvant! This young singer has boundless talent and effortless natural grace. She literally lifted the roof off of the Massry Center this year with a tour de force performance that Albany has not often seen the likes of. For One to Love (Mack Avenue) is a must have CD, and a McLorin Savant concert is not one to be missed. Among many highlights on the CD is the wry “Step-Sisters’ Lament” from the movie, “Cinderella.”

CharaneeWadeCharenee Wade is another award-winning, gifted young singer exemplifying an artistry deserving of wider recognition. Offering: The Music of Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson (Motéma Music) is no mere re-issuance of the classic, socially conscious music of its creators but rather clear-eyed re-creation that uncovers additional depth within these songs. “Song of the Wind” was never sung more beautifully. If you are a Scott-Heron fan, this is a must have CD. But even if not, Offering is laden with great music and presents the opportunity to experience his genius through Ms. Wade’s own.

MarkWinklerMark Winkler is a West Coast hipster who comes from the tradition of Dave Frishberg, Mark Murphy, Mose Allison, Ben Sidran, i.e., singer/lyricists with both vocal talent and a penchant for the hip turn of phrase. With Jazz and Other Four Letter Words (Cafe Pacific), Winkler rises above the crowded field of talented vocalists this year. Joined by Cheryl Bentyne on several tracks, Winkler and cohorts make this a funny and eminently enjoyable listen.

Jose James: Yesterday I Had the Blues: The Music of Billie Holiday (Blue Note)
Tiffany Austin: Nothing But Soul (Con Alma Music)
Karrin Allyson: Many a New Day: Karrin Allyson Sings Rodgers & Hammerstein (Motéma Music)
Chris McNulty: Eternal (Palmetto)

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