All the world, it seems, loves a good Irish ballad. Having collaborated with male rock icons from Sting to The Rolling Stones on 1995’s acclaimed Long Black Veil album, The Chieftains now offer female stars a turn on Tears of Stone, which features both joyous and melancholy songs about women and love. The expected Celtic guest artists include a strong Canadian contingent—singers Loreena McKennitt, Natalie MacMaster and The Rankins —as well as Ireland’s Sinéad O’Connor and The Corrs. But surprises are equally abundant. Joni Mitchell does a stark, pennywhistle-tinged version of Magdalene Laundries, her 1994 song about a brutal Irish nunnery, that is even more disturbing than the original. American country singer Mary Chapin Carpenter tackles Deserted Soldier entirely in Gaelic, while Japan’s Akiko Yano serves up an Oriental answer to Whiskey in the Jar playfully retitled Sake in the Jar. But the album’s real highlights come from New York City singer Joan Osborne, who delivers a stirring version of Raglan Road, and Canadian jazz star Diana Krall, who turns even that old Irish chestnut Danny Boy into something fresh and poignant. By mixing the unexpected with the familiar, The Chieftains have managed to make Tears of Stone yet another prized Celtic collection.
The latest Canadian to join the dance diva sweepstakes is Patria, a talented Toronto singer who mixes pop and rhythm and blues with just a hint of hip-hop. On her potent debut album, the 22-year-old Patria proves she is both tougher and sexier than most of the competition, capable of belting out a bold declaration of independence or purring a steamy ode to love. On the slamming My Rules, she is all Alanis-style attitude, stating her terms for a no-nonsense romance, while on Passion she is a modern Donna Summer, full of breathless moans and falsetto squeals. In fact, much of the album, produced by Canadian guitar legend Domenic Troiano,
sounds like a cross between Summer and Prince, complete with synthesizer effects right out of the 1980s. But in the end, it is Patria’s unbridled energy, especially on Good Love and the anthemic Baby Feel My..., that keeps it edgy and up-to-date. With her uptown sophistication and downtown attitude, Patria is one of the hottest new prospects in the growing urban music field.
The Neville Brothers ( Columbia/Sony)
As the First Family of Funk, The Neville Brothers have been keepers of pop’s polyrhythmic flame for more than 40 years. The veteran New Orleans group’s long, exceptional groove reached a zenith on Yellow Moon, the band’s brilliant 1989 recording produced by Canada’s Daniel Lanois. Since then, however, the Nevilles’ output has been sadly inconsistent. But on their Columbia debut, Valence Street, the brothers sound positively recharged, turning Peter, Paul & Mary’s civil rights anthem If I Had a Hammer into a modern, feel-good number and providing a joyful, sax-fuelled title track. Even tender tunes like A Little Piece of Heaven, featuring Aaron Neville’s exquisite, Grammy Award-winning tenor, have a vibrant edge. When they sing “we’re the funky four” on the kinetic Real Funk, there’s really no room for argument.
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