Melissa Etheridge

We'd better be careful, pop music fans. We don't want people in the year 2017 to scoff at us for not having appreciated Etheridge, much as we now disdain those who didn't appreciate Bonnie Raitt for years.

As Etheridge showed with her two previous albums, she is no run-of-the-video pop rock cookie. She sings (and usually writes) tough-minded, distantly romantic songs. Typical is "Keep It Precious": "I believe we can fly on the wings we create/A voice from behind calls up anger and fear/ We can silence that scream—it's simple and clear."

As a writer, Etheridge is also capable of producing vivid images, as she does in "Ain't It Heavy": "There's a hole in my jeans I only wanted to fade/ I've been ripping out seams/ Somebody else made."

In rock mode her singing style is a kind of de-countrified rockabilly, with rhythmic surges and plaintive tones reminiscent of her nearest male counterparts: Springsteen and Mellencamp.

Etheridge can also tone down for such introspective tunes as "Place Your Hand," which she performs accompanied only by a cello, in this case played by the splendid young actor Dermot (Career Opportunities) Mulroney.

Whether this album is, as Etheridge has said she hoped, more expansive than 1988's Melissa Etheridge or 1989's Brave and Crazy, is questionable. It is, however, another triumph, something you could dance or think profound thoughts to, maybe both at the same time if you're reasonably well coordinated. (Island)

Joe Henderson

Best remembered as Duke Ellington's co-composer and arranger, pianist Billy Strayhorn on his own wrote such 1940s tunes as "Take the 'A' Train," "Johnny Come Lately" and "Lush Life," all and more included on this sterling tribute by tenor saxophonist Henderson.

The match is fitting, given that both Henderson and Strayhorn have long been out of the limelight. Henderson, 55, a composer and fierce improviser, has not made an album of his own in 11 years. Strayhorn, who died in 1967 at age 51, is a jazz immortal but hardly a household name.

Joining Henderson are trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and some highly talented newcomers: Stephen Scott on piano, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Gregory Hutchinson. Taking their cue from Strayhorn's alternately lyrical and harder-edged compositions, they Create evocative duets, trios, quartets and quintets anchored by Henderson's masterful playing.

Marsalis flexes his considerable chops on the swing number "Johnny Come Lately," and adds a delicate piquancy to the rare ballad, "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing," both of which are performed by quintets.

Most moving, and not just because the piece is so beautiful, is Henderson's "Lush Life" solo. His three decades of experience and his musical grasp of the elements of swing, bebop, improvisation and harmony produce a testament not only to Strayhorn's enduring power as a composer but to Henderson's own technical and emotional strength. (Verve)

  • Contributors:
  • Ralph Novak,
  • Lisa Shea.