By Gregg Shapiro
Clunky technical difficulties aside (someone please fire that cameraman!), The Wiz Live! was a vast improvement over previous live-TV versions of The Sound of Music and Peter Pan. While the costumes were the real stars of the show, it was wonderful to hear some of these classic songs again. The Wiz Live! Original Soundtrack of the NBC Television Event (Masterworks/Broadway) allows us to enjoy the strong performances (and pass over the others) again and again. One of the most inspired moments occurs early in the production with the casting of Stephanie Mills (the original Dorothy in the 1975 Broadway production of The Wiz) as Auntie Em, giving the petite powerhouse the chance to belt out “The Feeling We Once Had.” Shanice Williams, who plays Dorothy, is no Mills (but then, who is?), but she holds her own on solos “Soon as I Get Home” and “Home,” as well as on the lead in “Be a Lion.” Wizardly highlights include Ne-Yo’s Tin Man singing “Slide Some Oil to Me,” Mary J. Blige’s Evillene singing “Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News,” and especially Uzo Aduba’s Glinda singing “Believe in Yourself.” Unfortunately, there are some heartless and brainless moments, including the weak new song “We Got It,” and Queen Latifah’s lackluster performance throughout.
Spike Lee has a history of stellar soundtracks to accompany his films, including She’s Gotta Have It, School Daze, Do the Right Thing, Mo’ Better Blues, and Jungle Fever. Chi-Raq: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (RCA) joins those ranks. A musical update of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata set in the killing fields of Chicago’s south side, Chi-Raq earned Lee some of his best reviews in years, in spite of the controversial nature of the film. Lee wisely calls on Chicago talent such as R. Kelly (“Put the Guns Down”) and Jennifer Hudson (“I Run”) for the soundtrack. Also worth a listen are “Simple” by Treasure Davis and Kid Ink, “Born in Chicago” by The Bruce Hornsby Band with Eryn Allen Kane and Sasha Go Hard, “I Want to Live” by Kymm Lewis, and Sophia Byrd’s “I See the Light.”
As scattered and frenetic as the movie with which it is associated, Music from the Motion Picture Joy (Abkco) features a cross-section of classic rock tunes and standards, as well as selections from the score by West Dylan Thordson, David Campbell, and Blake Mills. But what sets this soundtrack apart from other “jukebox” sets are the songs actually performed in the film, including Edgar Ramirez’s rendition of “Aguas de Marzo” and the Ramirez and Jennifer Lawrence duet on “Something Stupid.”
Jaco Pastorius, the late bass-playing musical genius, is given his due in Paul Marchand and Stephen Kijak’s 2015 doc Jaco, described as “a compelling story of prodigious talent, personal adventures, and human vulnerability.” All three of those elements are also combined in Pastorius’ playing, which comes through on Jaco: Original Soundtrack (Columbia/Legacy). The 16 tracks consist of Pastorius’ solo work, as well as his collaborations with Joni Mitchell (“The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines”), Weather Report (“Teen Town”), and Ian Hunter (“All American Alien Boy”), as well as others performing his tunes, including Rodrigo Y Gabriela (“Continuum”) and Crosses (“Nineteen Eighty Seven”).
The pioneering psych/prog-rock group Pink Floyd is known for its controversial band members. The well-publicized decline of Syd Barrett’s mental faculties and Roger Waters’ questionable support of radical factions, as well as a history of infighting among members, is part and parcel of the band’s mythology. Roger Waters The Wall (Columbia/Legacy), the double soundtrack to the concert film of the same name, features the indomitable Waters performing Pink Floyd’s classic 1979 album The Wall in its entirety before adoring audiences in Manchester, Athens, and Buenos Aires.
You would think that the classic Vince Guaraldi tunes featured in the Peanuts cartoons we’ve all loved over the years would be enough for when the beloved characters hit the big screen, but apparently that isn’t so. Sure, you’ll find Guaraldi favorites such as “Christmas Time Is Here,” “Skating,” and “Linus and Lucy” on The Peanuts Movie: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Epic/Fox Music), as well as selections from Christophe Beck’s score. But for some reason, the people behind the soundtrack also felt it necessary to include throwaway numbers by Meghan Trainor (“Better When I’m Dancing”) and Flo Rida (“That’s What I Like”).
On the second Empire cast album of 2015, Empire Original Soundtrack Season 2 Volume 1 (Columbia), openly gay cast member Jussie Smollett gets things rolling with the strong opener “Born to Love U.” Unfortunately, things come to a crashing halt with the nasty and laughable Terrence Howard track “Snitch Bitch.” Thankfully, there’s more good than bad to be found on this soundtrack to the popular Fox series, including Serayah’s “Get No Better (2.0),” the clubby Smollett and Pitbull duet “No Doubt About It,” and Smollett’s closing cut “Heavy.”
Gregg Shapiro is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.