Previewing the "Chicago" soundtrack and new albums from Kathleen Edwards and Paul Weller.
The versatile talents of actors Richard Gere, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Renee Zellweger are on display in the hit film "Chicago," the original cast recording for which arrives this week via Epic. In addition to songs voiced by the film's stars, "Chicago" sports a collaboration between Queen Latifah, Lil' Kim, and Macy Gray on "Cell Block Tango (He Had It Comin')," plus a new song from Anastacia.
Set in the 1920s, "Chicago" focuses on wanna-be cabaret performer Roxie Hart (played by Zellweger), who idolizes headlining entertainer Velma Kelly (Zeta-Jones). Through twists of fate, both end up in jail for murder and become rivals in their quest for fame. Gere plays their publicity-hungry attorney, Billy Flynn; Queen Latifah has the role of opportunistic prison warden Matron Morton; and John C. Reilly is Amos Hart, Roxie's naive husband.
Zellweger says recording the songs for "Chicago" was "fantastically liberating. I didn't really grow up around musical theater or have any reason to sing except in the shower, having my brother down the hall screaming for me to please shut up. [For 'Chicago,'] I worked on the vocals every day. It was like school ... 'Chicago' camp. In so many ways, collaborating with this extraordinary group of people was unbelievable."
Listeners may be most surprised by Gere's performance, since few fans are aware of his extensive musical background in theater. He also writes music and is an accomplished pianist. Says Gere, "The idea of telling stories with music is an astonishingly healing element of life. As long as the form has that kind of archetypal way of telling your story, it's going to have a lot of weight."
Rudie Can't 'Fail'
Calling her debut album "Failer" may have been an ironic defensive move against it suffering an unhappy fate, but Canadian singer/songwriter Kathleen Edwards admits to being taken aback by early response in the U.S., where it will be released this week via Zoe/ Rounder Records.
"I'm definitely feeling like I've got a horseshoe up my a**," the 24-year-old roots-rock artist says. "I feel that everything I've done up to now has been so much further than what I initially anticipated doing with this record. Anything above what happens today I'm thrilled about."
Issued Sept. 7 in Canada via MapleMusic Recordings, the album illustrates Edwards' storytelling abilities, particularly on songs like "Six O'Clock News," about a lover's violent end; "Westby," which glibly profiles an affair with an older married man; and the self-explanatory, if cheeky, "One More Song the Radio Won't Like."
"When I recorded, I had nobody looking over my shoulder," she says. "That was a blessing. Plus I was in Ottawa. Who the hell is going to look over my shoulder there? All the musicians I played with were guys I had been playing with for years."
English pop statesman Paul Weller's "Illumination" arrives this week via Yep Roc records in an expanded version that will include a number of bonus tracks and a bonus DVD with videos for the album's first two singles and five live cuts. The set, released last September in the U.K. by Epic, includes guest appearances by Noel Gallagher and Gem Archer of Oasis, Kelly Jones of Stereophonics, Steve Cradock and Damon Minchella of Ocean Colour Scene, former Stone Roses guitarist Aziz Ibrahim.
The album debuted at No. 1 on the U.K. charts, 20 years after Weller's first chart-topping album, the Jam's "The Gift" (Polydor) in March 1982. Bonus tracks on the North American edition have already been released as B-sides in the U.K. The bonus DVD will include videos for "It's Written in the Stars" and "Leafy Mysteries," both singles released from "Illumination" in the U.K., alongside five songs recorded at Weller's July 2002 concert in London's 22,000-capacity Hyde Park.
"Illumination" was largely self-written and self-produced by Weller, and recorded at Weller's Black Barn Studios in Surrey and at Wheeler End in Buckinghamshire. The artist plans to follow the U.S. release of the album with a coast-to-coast tour in February.
Additional titles hitting stores this week include:
-- Rapper Benzino's "Redemption" (Elektra), featuring guest spots from Mario Winans and Cam'ron.
-- Country artist Terri Clark's "Pain to Kill" (Mercury Nashville).
-- A new collection from Janis Joplin, "The Essential" (Columbia/Legacy).
-- An expanded edition of Diana Ross' "To Love Again" (Motown).
-- Expanded versions of the Yes albums "Fragile," "Time and a Word," "Yes," and "The Yes Album" (Rhino).
-- New releases in Columbia/Legacy's "Love Songs" compilation series from George Jones, Johnny Mathis, Loverboy, Marvin Gaye, Paul Young, Ray Conniff, Tammy Wynette, the O'Jays, and Toto.