Jenni Rivera, "La Misma Gran Señora" (Fonovisa)
The Mexican-American singer died in a plane crash Dec. 9, two days before the release of this compilation. Gathering songs from the past seven years plus the recent title song ("The Same Great Woman"), this album makes abundantly clear why Rivera was so beloved as a singer, symbol and spitfire. It concentrates on the Mexican regional styles she chose to make her own. Nine of the 13 songs are banda: Mexican songs, usually waltzes and polkas, backed by oom-pahing brass bands that laugh their way through tales of romance and breakup.
The title track -- released in October after Rivera filed for divorce from baseball player Esteban Loaiza -- taunts her ex by insisting, "I'll go on being the great woman/ You without me are worth nothing from now on." With a clear, dramatic voice that could hurtle toward fury or tears, Rivera staked out the same emotional territory that has paid off for Adele, Pink, Taylor Swift, Alanis Morissette and Gloria Gaynor: anger overpowering heartache.
JON PARELES, NEW YORK TIMES
Samuel Barber, "An American Romantic," Conspirare with conductor Craig Hella Johnson (Harmonia Mundi)
This disc brings together short choral works from the mid-1930s through the early '70s. All show Barber's keen insight in setting words to music, sometimes in ways that diverge from his usual character, such as the confrontational "A Stopwatch and an Ordnance Map," written in the wake of the Spanish Civil War. Whatever demands, the chorus Conspirare meets them handily.
However, the disc's big event is also the biggest disappointment: "The Lovers," a major 1971 work written for the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the only substantial piece he wrote after the demoralizing failure of his "Antony and Cleopatra" opera. This infrequently heard choral setting of Pablo Neruda poems appears here in a new chamber version by composer Robert Kyr, created with the belief that the piece's details were lost in large performing forces. It's a step too far in the right direction: This version is so small that it loses the well-upholstered gentility heard even in Barber's chamber works. It simply doesn't sound like him.
DAVID PATRICK STEARNS, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER
Various artists, "First Came Memphis Minnie" (Stony Plain)
Maria Muldaur, who produced this tribute and sings on eight of the 13 tracks, has long been fascinated by pioneering blueswoman Memphis Minnie. Her feel for the music comes through on such numbers as "Me and My Chauffeur Blues" and "She Put Me Outdoors" (one of two duets with bluesman Alvin Youngblood Hart). Also impressive on the bracingly stripped-down acoustic arrangements are Bonnie Raitt, Rory Block and Ruthie Foster. Two contributions come from now-deceased artists: Phoebe Snow offers a striking rendition of "In My Girlish Days" from 1976, backed by David Bromberg, and Koko Taylor closes the set with a ferocious, full-band take on "Black Rat Swing" from 2007 that is electric in more ways than one.
NICK CRISTIANO, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER