Liza MinnelliIf you're looking for some old theater standards, check out the new Best of Liza Minnelli collection on Columbia/Legacy. The set includes "Cabaret," "All That Jazz," "Theme From 'New York, New York'" and a dozen more.

The label also has issued a Best of Chuck Mangione for lovers of the jazz horn.

Those who favor a bit more angst in their music might want to pick up the new "Legacy Edition" of The Clash's seminal London Calling. The reissue includes the original 19-song album (with the hits "Train in Vain" and "London Calling"), as well as a second disc, called the "Vanilla Tapes," which includes early rehearsal and demo versions of the songs from London Calling, as well as a handful of songs never or re-recorded. There's also a DVD included with documentary and performance footage of the band.

 

Ray Charles - Genius Loves CompanyJools Holland
& His Rhythm & Blues Orchestra
Friends 3
(Radar/Warner/Rhino)
    


As the title suggests, this is the third time one-time Squeeze keyboardist Jools Holland has pulled his friends into the studio to track an album that recaptures the classic energy and swing of R&B. And like his past two efforts, it is a phenomenal success.

The concept behind the Friends albums is that each song is backed by Holland's swinging rhythm & blues orchestra, and features a different guest vocalist. While most of the songs are originals written by Holland or his friends, stylistically they fit right at home next to the jazz and blues-based chestnuts he and the band cover, such as "I'll Be Seeing You (in All the Old Familiar Places)" and "Enjoy Yourself (It's Later Than You Think)."

Likewise, whether the singers are older blues and R&B veterans, such as Buddy Guy and Smokey Robinson, or younger newcomers to the style, such as David Gray or Eliza Carthy, they nail these pieces perfectly.

There are 21 songs in all on Friends 3, and I can recommend all of them to anyone who loves soulful, powerful music.

The standouts begin with the CD's opening blues romp with Guy, "She Suits Me to a Tee" followed by the upbeat horn-punctuated sass of Terri Walker singing about not wanting to be a "Misfit" anymore.

Gray performs a subdued but moving piano-backed rendering of Randy Newman's affecting "I Think It's Going to Rain Today" and Sam Brown (who performed one of the best songs on the last Friends outing) teams up with Nick Cave (who sounds like he's channeling Bryan Ferry) to offer a Cole Porter-esque beauty in the exotic duet "The Kiss of Love." Bad Company's hard rockin' Paul Rodgers sounds like he's been singing bluesy R&B all his life on "I Told the Truth," and newcomers Sugababes team up with Holland for a rousing call to a lover to just talk it out on "Please Can I Talk."

Ringo Starr reprises his Beatles recording of "Boys" with a furious swing orchestra arrangement, and Ruby Turner belts out some heartfelt yearning in "When I Get Home."

The band seamlessly pulls together a variety of styles, from the delicate Celtic whimsy of Eliza Carthy's "Sweet if You Like" to Michael McDonald and Candy Dulfer's rousing "Saturday Night Live" band-style work on "Cry Myself to Sleep" and Peter Gabriel's reverent original hymn "Washing of the Water." My favorite track, though, probably is Holland's pounding piano collaboration with former Madness singer Suggs on the manic, bass-walking "Jack o' the Green."

Regardless of your usual musical preferences, you won't be able to deny the organic, celebratory power of Holland's Friends 3. This is one of the best albums of the year, in any genre.