Grubbs shows great gifts on 'Lost in the Stars'
‘Lost in the Stars'
Tania Grubbs (Self-produced)
Tania Grubbs is one of the busiest promoters in the Pittsburgh jazz scene, and one of the best singers, too. Organizing two jazz programs Downtown and one in Oakland has not kept her voice and style from steadily improving. “Lost in the Stars” shows that development as she presents 15 tunes from stage favorites such as “Show Me” and “Matchmaker” to the Henry Mancini classic “Charade” and “Come Waltz With Me,” an original by pianist Daniel May and lyricist Lou Tracey, two of the area's better secrets. Her voice is pure, and she has a wonderful sense of melody and lyric. Nowhere on the album does she falter, from the Latin lilt of “I Got the Sun in the Morning” to the ain't-romance-grand swing of “This Heart of Mine.” The album also is boosted by the work of pianist May, drummer Thomas Wendt, guitarist Eric Susoeff, trumpeter James Moore and bassist Jeff Grubbs, her husband. The album is a clear statement on what a great gift she is in the local music scene.
— Bob Karlovits
Eli Digibri (Plus Loin Music)
Eli Digibri gives his saxophone a distinct sound with a tone that never is soft. Even on songs like the title track of “Twelve,” he takes a fairly gentle melody and gives it muscle. Digibri was in Pittsburgh in 2012 for a tribute to George Gershwin with trumpeter Sean Jones and showed the same kind of hard work then. This album is done mostly by a quartet but has a singer on one song and a small choir on another. But it is built around the song style of Digibri's playing. It is good, forward-looking, acoustic jazz that never gets dull, even when Digibri turns to mandolin. He plays that string instrument on “The Cave,” the piece with the six-piece choir. The album goes from the well-known “Autumn in New York” to “Roaming Fantasy,” which sounds like an etude from an advanced — very advanced — jazz text. Also standing out are “New Waltz,” a pleasant stroll though ¾-time, and “Old Seven,” which has the hint of a study in time-keeping.
— Bob Karlovits
‘Head or Heart'
Christina Perri (Atlantic)
Christina Perri has had a charmed career, with TV and movie exposure giving extraordinary boosts to her early singles “Jar of Hearts” and “A Thousand Years.” It's the honest, vulnerable timbre of her voice that makes Perri's songs so cinematically suited and turns her second album into a fetching tone poem. Whether on the simple, almost Celtic plaint of “Trust,” the bouncy pop duet “Be My Forever” with Ed Sheeran or the satisfyingly anthemic “I Don't Wanna Break,” Perri sings with stirring emotional sincerity.
— The Philadelphia Inquirer
Carlene Carter (Rounder)
Carlene Carter proves just how personal, and powerful, a tribute album can be with “Carter Girl.” The album focuses solely on songs with family ties as she retools classics by country-music pioneers the Carter Family (“Gold Watch and Chain,” “Little Black Train”), the Carter Sisters (“Poor Old Heartsick Me”), her mother, June Carter Cash (“Tall Lover Man”), and her stepfather, Johnny Cash (“Troublesome Waters,” performed as a duet with Willie Nelson). The one original, “Me and the Wildwood Rose,” is a song Carlene wrote about her late sister, Rosie, and first recorded in 1990. The material gains poignancy because Carter is the sole survivor of all those she looks to for material. She has recorded Carter Family material in the past, but “Carter Girl” has a rare power, drawn from memories, tears and years of finding strength in these songs of blood and legacy.
— Associated Press
Martina McBride (Kobalt)
Of all contemporary country singers, Martina McBride seems the best suited to interpret classic soul tunes. The four-time Country Music Association female vocalist of the year has shown that she can wail with sass and find the depth in emotionally complex material. Still, on “Everlasting,” McBride begs comparison with such giants as Aretha Franklin and Sam Cooke by taking on their most potent performances and material. Working with producer Don Was, who brings an understated R&B pulse to the songs, McBride leans on vulnerability and purity of tone rather than the growling, rapturous release of the originals. McBride presents several impressive performances, turning Little Walter's “My Babe” into a funky, sexy love song and Fred Neil's “Little Bit of Rain” into a tender treatise on separation. McBride offers up pleasantly listenable versions of baby boomer standards on “Everlasting,” an album that will please her fans and spice up her concerts but won't replace any of the originals.
— Associated Press