Spin Factor: What will Beyoncé do for an encore?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009 at 11:00pm
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On the heels of her 10 Grammy nominations Beyoncé delivers I Am…Yours – An Intimate Performance at Wynn Las Vegas (Music World Music/Columbia). This double CD/single DVD release showcases and gathers in one package the various elements that have made Beyoncé a pop, rock, R&B and lounge/cabaret star.

The song list includes booming, heavily rhythmic dance numbers, sultry romantic ballads, novelty cuts, plus a stage show that's half chorus girl and half powerhouse soul vocalist. Included are the No. 1’s “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)," "If I Were A Boy," "Halo," "Sweet Dreams" and a gut-wrenching performance of "That's Why You're Beautiful."

While some live performances of Beyoncé’s biggest hits are better than others, and a few of her Destiny's Child tunes haven't held up over time, this collection is the most complete and comprehensive recorded portrait of Beyoncé so far. It presents all her moods, identities and idiomatic preferences.

 

Susan Boyle
I Dreamed a Dream (Sony Music/SYCO music)

Don't let the relentless hype, network boosterism and Internet fables turn you away from a genuine vocal star in Susan Boyle.

As a non-reality show watcher, this CD was my introduction to Boyle, and her technical prowess is indeed impressive. She's superb on great songs ("Cry Me A River,") excellent on pop/rock covers ("Wild Horses," "Daydream Believer") and dazzling when doing spirituals and religious material ("How Great Thou Art," "Amazing Grace.")

The ease with which she moves into the upper, middle or lower registers, the clarity of her tone and precision of her delivery, coupled with a natural elegance and soul that can't be faked or taught, establishes Boyle as the real deal, even if she's a byproduct of the tiresome spectacles that regularly occur on shows like American Idol and America's Got Talent or in her case Britain’s Got Talent.

 

Norah Jones
The Fall (Blue Note)

There's almost no departure from the structure and sound that have made Norah Jones a big star on her current CD. She still sings with depth, conviction and flair, and such numbers as "Chasing Pirates," "I Wouldn't Need You," "Stuck" or "Man of the Hour" represent the latest efforts in her smart and sturdy merger of country-folk lyricism and light jazz phrasing.

But the combative edges that made her debut disc so compelling have been trimmed from everything she's done since, a move that's not surprising considering how successful the formula's become.

That doesn't mean there aren't many songs on The Fall that are accomplished and memorable. It's just this is merely a continuation of past glory rather than a quest to try something else or move in an alternative direction.

 

R. Kelly
Untitled, (Jive)

After enduring more than six years of litigation, R. Kelly shows on his latest release he has absolutely no intentions of modifying his approach or downplaying the raw sexuality in his lyrics. He's this century's version of bawdy, hokum blues vocalists like Tampa Red, Lucille Bogan or Bo Carter, except a song like "Bangin' The Headboard" makes what those others did in the 1920s and '30s sound mild by comparison.

Kelly proves in collaborations with songwriting wizard Keri Hilson ("Number One") OJ DA Juiceman ("Superman High") and the trio of Tyrese, Robin Thicke and The Dream ("Pregnant) that he's retained the ability to fit his voice into any situation. But given the other tracks on Untitled, even his most ardent fans will have a tough time taking seriously the message of a tune like "Religious."

 

Del McCoury
By Request (McCoury Music)

The famed bluegrass master blends favored selections from past releases with new versions of several interesting numbers on his newest venture.

McCoury taps many sources for songs, some unexpected like Ola Belle Reed ("High On The Mountain") and John Sebastian ("Nashville Cats") and others quite familiar such as Bill Monroe ("The Bluest Man in Town") and David Olney ("Queen Amme's Lace"). But most of the menu spotlights tunes either penned by McCoury (such as "Dreams" and "I Feel The Blues Moving In") or band members like Ronnie McCoury, who co-wrote "The Cold Hard Facts" with Jeff White.

Del McCoury's fiery, inspired tenor vocals are augmented by driving contributions from his band members on a fine set celebrating both older and recent performances and compositions of a premier bluegrass ensemble.