Robin Gibb, 50 St. Catherine’s Drive (Reprise/Rhino)
Two years after his death at age 62 in May 2012, Bee Gee Robin Gibb’s widow Dwina Gibb compiled a heartbreaker of a solo album from songs Gibb was quietly recording between 2006 and 2011. The 17-track album closes with Sydney, a rough demo Gibb cut using the GarageBand app on his iPad in July 2011, a yearning, autobiographical song she said her husband intended to finish with his brother Barry. The wistful, acoustic tune stands as Gibb’s final recording and could have been the basis for a beautiful Bee Gees ballad if circumstances were different.
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50 St. Catherine’s Drive, named for the house address that Gibb was born in on the Isle of Man, is filled with the kind of lush, infectious hook-filled pop songs the Gibb brothers specialized in on ’70s classics like How Can You Mend a Broken Heart. One track here, Cherish, originates from a song Gibb hoped to pitch for a sequel to Barbra Streisand’s Guilty, the 1980 classic that featured the Gibbs’ material.
The album, Gibb’s sixth pop solo effort, tops the previous five in warmth and focus. Writing alone, or with son RJ or Peter-John Vettese, Gibb leaves fans with an album that can stand with the Bee Gees’ best.
Download: Days of Wine & Roses, I Am the World, Sydney.
Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga, Cheek to Cheek (Columbia/Interscope) ☆☆☆
With Lady Gaga acting as a sort of vocal Viagra on 88-year-old crooner Tony Bennett, the unlikely, but perfectly logical, vocal duo craft a charmer of a standards album.
Bennett hasn’t sounded this inspired and strong in years, and the backing big band jazz musicians swing exuberantly. Gaga is the surprise here as both of these simpatico Italian-Americans, each weaned on the Great American Songbook — even if you would never have known that for all of Gaga’s distractions and electronic music — swap lines like seasoned duet partners on a mostly up-tempo collection.
Gaga can occasionally try too hard, shouting at the music, as on Anything Goes, rather than caressing the melody, but she also reveals considerable range on tunes like Lush Life, a difficult jazz piece that has previously troubled pop singers like Linda Ronstadt and Donna Summer.
Cheek to Cheek is that rare major label contrivance that merits a sequel based on artistic reasons.
Download: I Won’t Dance, Let’s Face the Music and Dance, Lush Life.
Kenny Chesney, The Big Revival (Blue Chair/Columbia Nashville) ☆☆
Kenny Chesney reportedly took a year off the road, where he’s country’s hottest touring attraction, to concentrate on this planned artistic revival after one-too-many Jimmy Buffett-mining Chesney albums carried all the weight of sea foam.
Alas, The Big Revival’s only significant change is in volume. The tunes trade beach bum tempos for stadium rock guitars and sizable radio hooks. American Kids, the jangly first single, a Mellencamp-worthy look at ’80s youth, is Chesney’s most infectious confection in some time. But most of The Big Revival leaves little lasting impression, though the career-tracing closer, If This Bus Could Talk, is the kind of rumination the Chesney faithful champion.
Download: American Kids.
Stevie Nicks, 24 Karat Gold: Songs from the Vault (Reprise) ☆☆☆
While Stevie Nicks twirls on the road once again with a reunited Fleetwood Mac, she keeps her solo career active by recording new studio versions of 16 (on the deluxe version) previously unreleased demos she had written between 1969 and the mid 1990s.
Not surprisingly, given the material’s vintage, ex-lover Lindsey Buckingham is the subject of many of these rumors-stirring tunes, most assuredly the tender highlight, She Loves Him Still, and the Dreams-referencing title track.
Featuring longtime associates Waddy Wachtel and Heartbreakers’ Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench, 24 Karat Gold (out Oct. 7) finds Nicks in huskier voice but sits on the same shelf stylistically with her 1981 Bella Donna solo debut. Fans will bask in the glow.
Download: She Loves Him Still, Hard Advice, 24 Karat Gold.
Robert Plant, lullaby and…The Ceaseless Roar (Nonesuch) ☆☆☆
Everyone seems angry that Robert Plant refuses to regroup with surviving Led Zeppelin mates for another run up the stairway but his 10th solo album should satisfy their cravings.
The heavy metal thunder and Plant’s banshee wail of Led Zeppelin II and III is absent, replaced by a smoother, more pleasing vocal delivery, but it’s not for nothing that his exceptional backing band is named the Sensational Space Shifters. The mysticism, Middle Eastern and Moroccan exotica, folk accents and musical wanderlust that always played a major role on Zeppelin masterpieces like Kashmir is still, happily, Plant’s passion.
Download: Rainbow, Somebody There, Poor Howard.
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