John Hammond's latest album marks a major departure in one respect – for the first time in anyone's memory, he sings, but plays nothing on one of his records, while Little Charlie & the Nightcats, led by guitarist Charlie Baty, handle the guitars and everything else. The difference is very subtle, the playing maybe a little less flashy than Hammond's already restrained work – think of how good Muddy Waters sounded on the early-'60s records where he sang and didn't play. And that comparison is an apt one – even more than 35 years after he started, Hammond inevitably ends up sounding like its 1961 and he's working at Chess studios in Chicago, cutting songs between Muddy Waters sessions. Harpist Rick Estrin also contributes a smooth and eminently enjoyable original amid a brace of covers of blues standards. There is not a weak number here, and this band is a kick to listen to, sounding more naturally authentic than anybody in the 1990's has a right to (Baty's quiet pyrotechnics on "Lookin' for Trouble" would make this record worth owning, even if Hammond's singing and the rest of the songs weren't as good as they are).
Perhaps Szymanowski’s music is too cool and sophisticated ever to become popular. Even the third of his Op. 4 Studies, which Paderewski made famous, is less full-bodied than Scriabin’s early C sharp minor Étude, and while Scriabin believed in the madness of his later music, Szymanowski’s apparent abandon in his voluptuous period around the First World War is crafted with detachment. Dennis Lee clarifies the cascades of notes – or rather sonorities – in the two major sets, Métopes and Masques, so that these complex pieces are understood more easily than usual. The recorded sound is a bit thin and small, but clean.
Bette Midler's first songbook album focused on songs popularized by Rosemary Clooney, and it became a surprising hit after being latched onto by vocal fans as well as adult contemporary audiences. Befitting her image, the record wasn't a reverent tribute; Midler and musical partner Barry Manilow modernized the arrangements of Clooney's bigger hits, recasting "Come On-A My House" as a swing-hip-hop number and reimagining "This Ole House" as a bluegrass song.