Yo-Yo Ma

Yo-Yo Ma is one of the few classical musicians to achieve household name status in a culture predisposed toward rock music. With more than 50 albums and 15 Grammys to his credit, he is a renaissance cellist and modern icon.

Now you can listen to some of his best recordings, collected on a two-CD collection from Sony's Legacy label, appropriately titled The Essential Yo-Yo Ma. Included are 35 tracks, featuring his renditions of music from classic composers like Bach, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky and Brahms to more modern works by Dvorak, Morricone, Williams, Gershwin, and Porter.

 

Orange Peels The Orange Peels
Circling the Sun
(Parasol)
½


Shimmering guitars, buoyant harmonies, shiny-happy-beats the Orange Peels' third album (after two previous releases on the indie SpinArt and Chicago's Minty Fresh labels) is a glorious amalgam of upbeat California guitar rock, mixed with a harmonic blend of Britpop.

This dichotomy is never so clearly juxtaposed as on "So Right," which opens with a piano hook reminiscient of early '70s Neil Young, before it segues into a mix of warm vocals that sounds like the comfy vocal cushion epitomized by England's The Lilac Time circa 1995.

Based in San Francisco, the band's music is definitely colored by the ocean breeze and the allure of the sun. This entire album is perfect for driving with the top down along a sunny stretch of highway. Light, catchy, easy listening pop, that's the modus of the Orange Peels, who recruited half of the Ocean Blue to back them up, after half of their lineup quit after the last album, leaving lead singer-songwriter Allen Clapp and his wife, Jill Pries, to carry on.

While based on the West Coast, the band has had strong ties to the heartland. Pries grew up in Illinois, their first label was based in Chicago and their new label is based in Urbana.

Next week, on Aug. 25, the band will bring its shimmery, summery sounds to the intimate Chicago club Martyrs. For more information, check www.martyrslive.com, or the band's site at www.theorangepeels.com.

 

Killer Queen Various Artists
Killer Queen - A Tribute to Queen
(Hollywood)
½


Listening to this tribute to the music of the classic rock group Queen, only makes one realize how phenomenal the late Freddie Mercury was as both a writer and performer. While certainly their music reached the heights it did as a collective band effort, Mercury's vocals propelled Queen to the top of the charts, and few of the bands who cover these hits can imbue them with the kind of charisma that Mercury did.

Gavin DeGraw warbles through "We Are the Champions," like a man singing with oatmeal in his soulful mouth, and Jon Brion's thin delivery just doesn't do justice to both the pop shine and lyrical yearning of "Play the Game."

While the Flaming Lips have some fun with the call and response vocals of "Bohemian Rhapsody," they've got nothing on the original. Another version of the same song, by Constantine M,with the cast of "We Will Rock You," fares better, capturing the theatrical bent of this audacious, once in a lifetime pop-opera gem.

Shinedown bring a hard blues rock bent to "Tie Your Mother Down," while Be Your Own Pet brings a girl-punk vibe to "Bicycle Race." Joss Stone certainly has the pipes to emote, and she focuses on the bluesy elements of the Queen/David Bowie hit "Under Pressure," but the magic inherent in the original was the icy tautness of its vocal interplay Stone's soulful delivery actually waters down the song's impact, rather than raises it.

An all-girl band from New Jersey, Antigone Rising, closes the album with one of its strongest performances, a bluesy, Janis Joplin-esque take on "Fat Bottom Girls." And along the way, Jason Mraz does a marvelous Mercury imitation on "Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy," and bands like Breaking Benjamin, Eleven, Rooney, Los Lobos Ingram Hill and others perform solid, but ultimately forgettable versions of other Queen standards.