Idina Menzel is one of those larger-than-life performers whose brilliance can’t really be captured in a recording studio. But you can hear her shine on the live “Chess in Concert” CD and especially on her new disc “Live: Barefoot at the Symphony.” Intended as a companion to her live DVD, the disc covers virtually all the bases, including songs from “Rent” and “Wicked.” A born storyteller, Menzel regales the audience with personal anecdotes about Barbra Streisand, appearing on “Glee” and falling in love with a gay drama teacher.
Like Idina Menzel, with whom she shares much in common, Liza Minnelli recently released a live disc. Part of the “Legends of Broadway” series, Minnelli’s “Live at the Winter Garden” isn’t on par with the celebrated “Liza with a Z” album. It does, however, possess a pleasing pleasantness. Patter songs, such as “And I in my Chair” and the politically incorrect “Exactly Like Me,” and such covers as “Quiet Thing” and Stevie Wonder’s “You and I” make the disc recommended for hardcore and casual fans alike.
In the show “End of the Rainbow,” British actress Tracie Bennett portrayed Liza’s mother Judy Garland on London’s West End – and now on Broadway – to great acclaim. The 12-track cast recording “Tracie Bennett Sings Judy: Songs from the Broadway production ‘End of the rainbow’ and other Garland Classics” features such Garland standards as “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” “The Man That Got Away,” “Zing Went the Strings of my Heart” and “Get Happy.”
Still shameless and somewhat out of touch after all these years, Madonna follows up the worst album of her career (“Hard Candy”) with one that isn’t much better. The drug that Madonna’s “MDNA” most closely resembles is Milk of Magnesia. Clearly, Madonna is in desperate need of new songwriting partners – just listen to the embarrassing “I’m Addicted” and then book the Material Mom into Hazelden. She could also use a decent therapist (check out the vitriol and violence on “Gang Bang” and “I Don’t Give A”). Mostly derivative (“Give me All Your Luvin’ ”) and dull (“Superstar”), “MDNA” tries to redeem itself with “I’m a Sinner” and “Falling Free.”
We have Madonna to blame for train wrecks such as Katy Perry. Madonna gave a whole generation of teenile performers of questionable talents (hello, Britney!) permission to strut their limited stuff. On the expanded reissue of her mega-bestselling sophomore spin “Teenage Dream,” Perry trades in the faux-pink pre-fab rock snarl of her ridiculously popular debut disc and aims her sites on Lady Gaga’s dance diva crown. A little long in the tooth to be anyone’s “teenage dream,” Perry does her best Ke$ha (remember her?) on “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.).” “California Gurls,” featuring Snoop Dogg (why?), is a gooey concoction, and “Peacock” never takes wing. “The One That Got Away,” yet another cookie-cutter Max Martin composition, and the squirm-worthy “Hummingbird Heartbeat” don’t help. But the album’s centerpiece “Circle the Drain” is a knockout, and “Not Like the Movies” does reel in listeners. Only the acoustic version “Part of Me” qualifies as a bonus among the bonus tracks.
Rihanna sharpened her focus on the dance floor with her “Talk That Talk” (def Jam) disc. High energy tracks such as “We Found Love” (featuring Calvin Harris) and “Where Have You Been” raised her stock among the dance club queens. But are we any closer to figuring out who this publicity monger really is? Is she a sleazy sex kitten (“Cockiness,” “Birthday Cake”) or a tear-jerking rock diva (“Farewell,” “We All Want Love”)? And does anyone really care?