Various Artists

Acoustic Woman

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As the title of this rather all over the map three-CD, 45-track set indicates, it's oriented toward woman-performed recordings with an acoustic flavor or base. That's about as much of a thematic generalization as you can make about the contents, though for the most part it's comprised of post-1990 recordings by female singer/songwriters. As far as that category goes, there are cuts by plenty of significant performers, including Eva Cassidy, Beth Orton, Shelby Lynne, Rickie Lee Jones, Alison Krauss, Shawn Colvin, Aimee Mann, Nanci Griffith, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Petra Haden, Suzanne Vega, and Lucinda Williams. A few songs and artists of an earlier vintage are included as well, some of whom are stylistic ancestors of those kinds of sounds, such as Emmylou Harris and Joan Baez. Introducing some variety -- though also supplying some stylistic inconsistency -- are selections moving afield to jazz (Nina Simone, Dinah Washington), feminist folk (Peggy Seeger's "I'm Gonna Be an Engineer," a classic in that subgenre), and country (Patsy Cline's classic "Walkin' After Midnight," Dolly Parton's "Jolene"). As much of the set does have a placid, earnest singer/songwriter tone, however, the insertion of these numbers (as well as others with an especially rootsy base, such as Heather Myles' country tune "Broken Heart for Sale" and Rory Block's blues "Come on in My Kitchen") adds some welcome earth and grit. The overall concept remains ill-defined enough, however, to make one wonder what some of the tracks are doing here, whether because they don't seem particularly distinguished (like Paula Santoro's trite cover of "The Girl from Ipanema") or because (like Washington's orchestrated jazz-pop outing "Mad About the Boy") they don't tie in with a particularly "acoustic" theme.

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