While it’s not essential for a music critic to sing or play an instrument, it helps; similarly, it’s useful for a musician to have a critical sensibility—a framework of aesthetic values or standards to draw from and test one’s work against. It’s good for an artist to have a little critic inside, and few musicians I’ve known have had internal critics more acute and more demanding than the one inside Barbara Lea, the popular singer who died on December 26 at age 82. I admired Lea greatly and came to know her fairly well.
Best music of the year? I'll hedge and say only this: Here's a list of ten of my favorite albums of 2011, in no particular order. Elbow: Build a Rocket Boys!
Abbey Sings Abbey Abbey Lincoln Love Is What Stays Mark Murphy Near the end of 1956, two young jazz singers made their first albums: Abbey Lincoln's Affair … A Story of a Girl in Love, released by Liberty Records, a quality-conscious shoestring operation, and Meet Mark Murphy, issued by Decca, then a major jazz-pop label. Lincoln was twenty-six and black and a woman, Murphy twenty-four and white and a man, and both had talent and looks. For half a century, they followed separate and circuitous but roughly parallel career paths.