1994 Records To Die For Page 11

Thomas J. Norton

THE CHIEFTAINS: The Celtic Harp: A Tribute to Edward Bunting
With Janet Harbison, Belfast Harp Orchestra
RCA 61490-2 (CD only). Paddy Moloney, prod.; Brian Masterson, eng.; Spencer Chrislu, Dave Dondorf, asst. engs. ADD. TT: 54:42

Much of this compilation is adapted from Irish harp music compiled and published by harp aficionado Edward Bunting in the late 18th century. It's a delight from beginning to end, combining the infectious music-making of the Chieftains---veteran purveyors of traditional Irish music---with the unconventional yet euphonious sound of a harp orchestra. The performances are consistently fine, the recording spacious and richly detailed, and the music---largely plaintive and melodic, but with a generous dose of upbeat rhythms---irresistible. Don't be put off by the Dolby Surround logo; it sounds just fine on a first-rate, conventional stereo setup. On a Dolby Pro-Logic system, the surround capability is used with restraint, largely to create a convincingly natural ambience around the performers.

LEONTYNE PRICE: Christmas Songs
Leontyne Price, soprano; Singverein der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, Reinhold Schmid, chorus master; Wiener Grossstadtkinderchor, VPO, Herbert von Karajan
London 421 103-2 (CD only). John Culshaw, prod.; Gordon Parry, eng. ADD. TT: 39:28

This 1961 recording, originally released on LP with the title A Christmas Offering, is one of the most glorious Christmas albums ever produced. It beautifully captures the natural ambience of the Vienna Sofiensaal, together with the lush ensemble work of the Vienna Philharmonic and a chorus which includes a Viennese children's choir. But the main attraction here is what is arguably the most beautiful soprano voice of the last half century---Leontyne Price in her prime. Everything about this album is so right that you may find yourself listening to it year-'round. A John Culshaw production.

Dick Olsher

ERIC CLAPTON: Unplugged
Reprise 45024-2 (CD only). Russ Titleman, prod.; Jim Barton, eng. DDD. TT: 61:43

So ingrained is the belief that multi-track studio production and extensive post-production mixing are essential for commercial success that Eric Clapton hesitated to approve the release of this performance, taped during MTV's "Unplugged." It's a good thing he finally did, because the magic of a live concert permeates this album. This is vintage Clapton, pure and simple. He feeds off a sympathetic audience to deliver from the heart. The guitar tone is liquid and warm, while the band boogies along with exceptional support from Chuck Leavell on keyboards. My favorite tracks? "Layla" and "Running on Faith." [A German LP pressing is sporadically available in the US.---Ed.] (XV-12)

LOREENA McKENNITT: The Visit
Warner Bros. 26880-2 (CD only). Loreena McKennitt, Brian Hughes, prods.; Jeff Wolpert, John Whynot, engs. AAD. TT: 49:08

To quote from the liner notes, McKennitt has "long considered the creative impulse to be a visit---a thing of grace, perhaps, not commanded or owned so much as awaited, prepared for. A thing, also, of mystery." This recording explores some of this mystery, and the world of multi-track is ideally suited for conjuring a surreal musical universe.

The music is hard to classify: possibly New Age, with a twist of early Celtic influence. What is certain, however, is the emotional potency with which this lady writes and sings. "All Souls Night" has me hooked for life. If you like Enya, you're sure to groove with Loreena.


Michael Ross

LUTHER VANDROSS: The Best of Luther Vandross...The Best of Love
Epic E2/E2K 45320 (2 LPs/CDs). Jacques Fred Petrus, Marcus Miller, Luther Vandross, prods.; Maurizio Biancani, Bill Scheniman, Michael H. Brauer, Ray Bardani, engs. AAA//AAD/ADD. TT: 112:54

I don't know about dying for this one, but I do know that when my time comes, Luther's is the voice I'll want to hear as I go out. Nobody, but nobody, sounds better singing about romantic Love---the joy, the pain, you know the spiel. A virtuoso sans excess ("A House is Not a Home" is alone worth the price of the collection), Vandross is just as at home with swinging uptempo raves as he is with ballads. His choice of material is near flawless, the sound slick but soulful---simply one of the greatest singers the species has produced.

JIMMY WITHERSPOON/ROBBEN FORD: Live
LA Records ?GG58003 (incomplete because my cat scratched the spine) (LP), Avenue Jazz R2 71262 (CD). Mike Vernon, prod.; Chris Houston, eng. AAA/AAD. TT: 43:19

Unavailable for 20 years, this record has been a holy grail to a generation of guitarists. Originally released on the fly-by-night LA Records, copies have been hoarded, taped, borrowed, and stolen by lovers of blues, jazz, rock, country, fusion, and jes' plain ol' great guitar playing. Beautifully recorded live (both LP and CD sound warm and wonderful) at the Ash Grove in LA, Spoon's weathered vocals lend just the right touch of authenticity to Ford's fluid mixture of rock energy, jazz sophistication, and blues dynamics.

Ford was one of the first, and arguably the best, guitarists to seamlessly blend the distorted tone of an Eric Clapton with the musical lines of a Charlie Parker. This record launched a score of lesser imitators, but remains seminal and unsurpassed. Thanks to Rhino, distributors of Avenue Jazz, it's available to a new generation of guitar fans.

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