Your voice says a lot about you. Based on the tone and expression of your voice alone, your listeners may make up their minds about you before they even process the meaning of your words. And if what you say is at odds with how you say it, they can miss your message altogether. As important as our voices are, few of us know how to use them to their full potential.
Three and a half decades after Diamanda Galás’ first recordings as a solo vocalist, she still talks about her singing as an act of violence. Musing to Rolling Stone about her performance of the folk standard “O Death”—versions of which are included on both of her new records, All the Way and At Saint Thomas the Apostle Harlem—she describes it as a cycle of destruction. “You keep breaking it and breaking it and breaking it and desiccating it and putting it back together until it becomes a new life form,” she says. “And then you rip it apart again.” It’s an accurate description of that solo piano piece—which traffics in the California-born composer’s longheld affinities for bebop, blues, and stately morbidity—but it’s also a handy summation of the harrowing work Galás has made for her whole career.
Tones, Eric Johnson's first solo album, is an exceptionally strong debut, and a record that is just as good as the guitarist's breakthrough 1990 release Ah Via Musicom. Grouped with long-time compatriots Roscoe Beck and Tommy Taylor, Johnson's trademark composing voice and so-sweet electric guitar are already on full display. True to the album's title, Johnson showcases many different guitar tones, from the violin-like sustain of his trademark distortion to the bell-like timbre of his clean-toned rhythm work. Johnson also sings on five of the nine songs on Tones, and his voice is as competently expressive as ever. The second half of this record is really where it moves from being simply "good" to "great." Emerging from Stephen Barber's almost new-agey Fairlight CMI vamp, "Trail of Tears" kicks into a driving groove punctuated by Johnson's chordal stabs and arpeggios and carried by one of the guitarist's best vocal melodies.
This collection of Artie Shaw big band recordings comes from his brief association with the Musicraft label. Having assembled and broken up several earlier units, this edition, heard in recordings made between 1945 and 1946, is more of an arranger's band than one that features many soloists, other than the leader. During this period of Shaw's career, he was constantly changing the instrumentation of his band and making personnel substitutions. Fellow Musicraft artist Mel Tormé and his group the Mel-Tones are added on some tracks, though this was a studio relationship exclusively and they were not a part of Shaw's organization. The innovative blend of strings, voices and brass in the swinging arrangement of "What Is This Thing Called Love" is the highlight of the vocal selections, along with an updated instrumental version of the clarinetist's earlier hit, "Begin the Beguine." The only reservation about this compilation is that several tracks are abruptly faded or even truncated.