We've got women, lots of women, spinning on our CD player this week, celebrating hot releases from Barbra Streisand, Tori Amos, "American Idol's" Paris Bennett and a whole lot more.
VIVA LA DIVA! Ticket prices were sky high for Barbra Streisand's concert tour last year, ostensibly driven by her desire to fund favorite charities but also because she was lugging around a massive, 65-piece orchestra. And because, well, she still sounds great (though slightly huskier than memory serves) and thus "deserves" $250 or $500 a ticket.
But if you didn't take out a second mortgage to attend, or want to hear the material more clearly than you did at the hockey rink, here's the double disc "Streisand Live in Concert 2006" (Columbia, A), list-priced at a mere $25. The package features Babs' best, "like butta" performances culled from five shows at three venues, making us wonder if/how they'll release a video version.
Bits of her gracious between-song patter are included, though not that controversial comedic confrontation she staged nightly with a George Bush look-alike.
Also for better and worse, we get three duets with her special guests Il Divo - the handsome, international quartet of pop-classical singers put together by "A.I.'s" Simon Cowell. Their multilingual collaboration on "Evergreen" drives home that La Streisand is a world phenom, but the gents' sonic sappiness clogs the arteries of "The Music of the Night" and "Somewhere."
While the fans still lap up her "Funny Girl" and "Yentl" material best, I was happiest to hear Streisand's first recordings of the still-telling "South Pacific" songs "Carefully Taught" and "A Cockeyed Optimist."
NEXT IN LINE: Looking for a new-generation theatrical pop chanteuse whose ear is closer to the contemporary ground? Let me recommend the lush stylings of Jane Monheit on "Surrender" (Concord, B+) and the intimate cabaret turns of Jessica Molaskey on "Sitting in Limbo" (PS Classics, B+).
Monheit's set pours her thick purr onto haunting ballads and cool Brazilian samba-flavored material, the latter with help from Sergio Mendes, Toots Thielemans and Ivan Lins. Her gorgeous take on Stevie Wonder's "Overjoyed" is alone worth the price of admission.
Molaskey's lighter, breathier voice is applied to a themed collection of restless songs about feeling "neither here nor there," including the Jimmy Cliff-penned title tune, Paul Simon's "Hearts and Bones," Billy Joel's "Summer, Highland Falls" and a yin/yang pairing of "I Want to Be Happy" and "Sometimes I'm Happy." The latter features Molaskey's hubby John Pizzarelli, who also produced the set and lends his understated jazz guitar work throughout.
DIVA TIMES FIVE: There are five characters on the cover jacket and five personalities tugging for our listening attention on "American Doll Posse" (Epic, B+) a tour de force by piano pop original Tori Amos.
Half the time, frankly, I haven't a clue what this lyrically abstract and narrative-avoiding woman is singing about in this intentionally schizophrenic set. But on songs like "Programmable Soda," "Girl Disappearing" and "You Can Bring Your Dog," at least the impressions are vivid and sometimes caustically funny. And a listener can always sink teeth into the varied, oft-rocking musical dynamic of the set's 20 tunes and arrangements - adding up to the most head-scratching and compelling work I've heard from Amos in ages.
'IDOL' WORSHIP: "It's time to take my throne" declares cutie pie Paris Bennett on "Princess P" (TVT, B). An audience fave on "American Idol" last season, surviving to the top five, the small in stature but big-voiced soul/pop singer gets one of the hippest, street-smart debut productions yet heard from an "A.I." candidate.
"Dreamin' " seems a retort to the harsh judgment calls Paris suffered from "Idol" judge you-know-who. "Daddy" is a haunting plaint about an absentee father. "B-Bye" puts a frisky, hip-hop/Latino spin on the kiss-off theme. Even her update on the classic, romantic she/he "Duet" style (with J. Isaac) and cover of the girl-group classic "My Boyfriend's Back" earn mod, turntable-twisted spins.
Grandmom Ann Nesby, of Sounds of Blackness fame, and Paris' mom Jamecia (also a Sounds soloist) lend voices to the gospel/pop finale, "Best Friends," demonstrating how this apple didn't fall far from the tree.
After radio snubbed the rapping first single "Supa Woman" from Kimberly Locke's new album, "Based on a True Story" (Curb, B-) last fall, her record label pulled back and re-thought the release. Now the set seems more attuned to the "American Idol" mixed bag style and its broad fan base, which voted Locke to No. 3 on the second season.
The album kicks off with three country/pop-rock crossovers (!) before venturing into "Supa" territory and rocking out like Britney Spears on "Doin' It Tonight." Then Locke settles into soul/pop territory with the likes of "You Don't Have to Be Strong" and "Band of Gold," the Freda Payne cover that first got her going on "A.I."
FOREIGN PORTS: Everybody can connect with Afro-pop singer Angelique Kidjo on the diverse and cameo-filled "Djin Djin" (Razor & Tie, A-). She steams up "Gimme Shelter" with Joss Stone, makes a vital Caribbean connection with Ziggy Marley on "Sedjedo," even puts her special spin on Ravel's masterpiece "Bolero," here renamed "Lonlon."