Sound Bites

Posted: Thursday, March 13, 2008

Michael McDonald'Soul Speak' ★★ ½

On two albums of classic Motown covers, McDonald proved that his voice, like Rod Stewart's, translates well to all sorts of material. But with this collection, McDonald may have gone back to the well of old soul standards once too often. You can tell because about half way through, the album loses its thematic thread and comes unstitched.

Things begin promisingly, with a spry cover of Aretha's hit "I Knew You Were Waiting (for Me)." But even though songs like "Love T.K.O." and "For Once in My Life" are beautifully produced, this white-maned wailer simply can't touch the originals.

He redeems himself with a wan, lovely version of Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic." But he's already wandering from the soul path. By the time McDonald gets to "You Don't Know Me," Eddy Arnold's country chestnut, he's way out in the briar patch.

Kathleen Edwards'Asking For Flowers' ★★★

"Choosing my words carefully/has never been my strength," Kathleen Edwards sings, but she's being disingenuous. She can sound like a confessional singer-songwriter on her country-tinged ballads, but Edwards is a storyteller; each song on "Asking For Flowers" offers a window into a character whose life story is easy to infer from the details.

A mother concerned about her about-to-be-married daughter, a daughter revealing to her mother that she was raped, a man fleeing north because he refuses to fight an "Oil Man's War," several more disillusioned women in various bad relationships. It's not a happy album, but the stories, similar to those of Lucinda Williams and Patty Griffin, are compelling. Edwards is often less convincing on the Whiskeytown-Tom Petty-style rockers than she is on the quieter numbers, but that's quibbling with songs this compelling.

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