"EVERYBODY WANTS TO BE A CAT," various acts (Walt Disney)
Considering all the efforts to sanitize music, from the "Kidz Bop" mutations of hits to the whitewashing of lyrics on "Glee," it's nice to hear kid-friendly songs revamped with adults in mind -- by Walt Disney, of all companies.
"Everybody Wants to Be a Cat" doesn't dirty up Disney classics; it simply turns them over to jazz artists who respond with what is one of the company's most urbane collections of music.
The ever-reliable Dave Brubeck, now 90 years old, reinvents "Some Day My Prince Will Come" as something both spirited and grand, and the pianist also joins with his trio and vocalist Roberta Gambarini for a stately and gorgeous take on "Alice in Wonderland." On the other end of the age spectrum, Canadian Nikki Yanofsky was only 15 when she recorded a flurried rendition of "It's a Small World."
Sophisticated, albeit loose, remakes include trumpeters Roy Hargrove and Mark Rapp having their way with "Ev'rybody Wants to Be a Cat" (from "The Aristocats") and "Circle of Life" ("The Lion King"), respectively, and saxophonist Joshua Redman shows whimsical class on "You've Got a Friend in Me" ("Toy Story").
A few artists took even more liberties on their covers, and some listeners might find them off-putting: "Best New Artist" Grammy winner Esperanza Spalding elegantly sways through wordless vocalizing on a smoky "Chim Chim Cher-ee" ("Mary Poppins"), the Bad Plus goes into overdrive in a manic, tempo-shifting "Gaston" ("Beauty and the Beast") and pianist Alfredo Rodriguez pounds through a deconstructed, dissonant version of "The Bare Necessities" ("The Jungle Book").
Yet more traditional covers -- including singer Dianne Reeves' delicious version of "He's a Tramp" ("Lady and the Tramp") and guitarist Gilad Hekselman's gracious "Belle" ("Beauty and the Beast") -- will serve as crowd pleasers on a release that frequently elevates G-rated music into something rewardingly mature.
Rating (five possible): 4
"VIRGINS OF MENACE," The Disciplines (Spark & Shine)
The Disciplines might leave some wondering what could have been if the Norwegian band had gone full-tilt with its most bracing garage-rock sound from the beginning to the end of its new release, "Virgins of Menace."
The group is most effective with punk fury, careening through the vivacious blasts of "Strange One" and the title track. Salvaging something as mundane as relationship songs, the group's American singer, Ken Stringfellow, infuses his trembling voice with ample anger and dismay when he wails, "I know you're not going to love me forever" on "Take Off That Halo," and "Facts are blurred with one eye open/Is the glass even half drinkable?" on "Emily."
Perhaps such visceral release is simply unsustainable for the duration of a 12-track album -- at the least, the effects of 12 consecutive eruptions would suffer from diminishing returns. So the group takes several diversions, with fitful results.
There's a fanciful 1980s feel in the melodic air on the not-raging "Some Kind of Sickness," and the off-kilter mod-rock of "Kill the Killjoy" is a feel-good romp with lines like "Kill the killjoy! There's too much fun to be had!"
Other half-throttle endeavors yield mixed success, as when the solid foundation of "The War's Not Over!!!" features an undercooked outer layer.
"ORIGINAL SIN," INXS (Atco)
INXS hasn't had the best of luck with singers.
Michael Hutchence famously led the Australian rock band through a series of hits in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but he was found dead in a Sydney hotel room in 1997. From there, INXS juggled a variety of fill-ins and then participated in a 2005 reality-show contest that ultimately rewarded J.D. Fortune the lead vocalist job ... and that, too, didn't quite work out.
So the concept of the band's new "Original Sin" makes sense: There's a different vocalist on every cut, including one featuring Fortune, as the group reinvents many of its old songs. And the guests are noteworthy: Rob Thomas, Ben Harper, Train's Pat Monahan, Tricky, Nikka Costa ...
"Original Sin" doesn't succeed at celebrating a cohesive Hutchence-less INXS sound -- it's far too random with its revolving-door vocalists and stylistic jumble, plus there's a conspicuous absence of hits such as "What You Need," "Need You Tonight," "Devil Inside" and "Suicide Blonde."
However, this is a rewarding collision of nostalgia and modernism. Thomas teams up with Cuba's DJ Yalediys for a contemporary, Euro-dance-esque take on the track "Original Sin," Deborah De Corral puts a subtle country/gospel vibrancy in the uplifting groove of "New Sensation," Harper is at the microphone for a wildly grandiose "Never Tear Us Apart" and Monahan likewise plays it big on "Beautiful Girl."
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