Transforming pain and injustice into love and compassion is a rendering that has been universal to poets and prophets for centuries. In present times, choosing to amplify community and positivity through art can seem like a radical act. With the arrival of People Are My Drug, Phil Cook is taking the spark from the lights left on by musical heroes and offering a torch for listeners as they navigate their own dark corners. Where 2015's Southland Mission illuminated for listeners what Phil Cook hears in his head, this latest record lays bare the way that music makes him feel. Side A alone, culminating with the shiver-inducing ''Another Mother's Son,'' has the capacity to light a fire in even the coldest of hearts. Having only recently stepped into the center of the stage as a solo artist, Cook now takes a moment, citing the power of community as his thesis statement. Each track asserts that he alone is no greater than the sum of the people who have brought him to this moment. Instead of standing on the shoulders of his heroes, Cook is humbly kneeling at their feet.
Emma Kirkby, doyenne of the Early Music scene, here shows that she's just as comfortable in music of a more recent vintage. Amy Beach was a woman ahead of her time, performing as solo pianist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra by the age of 18. The same year (1885), she married Henry Beach and, no longer able to perform publicly (it would have gone against her social status), she instead settled down to composing. And delightful stuff it is, too, as Kirkby and friends demonstrate in this charming recital. A number of the songs add violin, cello, or both to the piano and voice combination. "Ecstasy," for instance, has a most effective violin part that is an ideal foil to the purity of Kirkby's voice. Other highlights include the Schumannesque Browning Songs and the amiable Shakespeare Songs (the last of which, "Fairy Lullaby," is irresistible). The final item here, "Elle et moi," is an upbeat little number that suits Kirkby's lithe soprano to perfection. Occasionally, in some of the more lushly textured songs, such as "A Mirage" and "Stella Viatoris," perhaps a fuller voice would have been preferable, but then sample "Chanson d'amour" (written when Beach was only 21 and with a wonderful cello part in addition to the piano) and try to imagine it being better sung. The purely instrumental items are played with unfailing sensitivity and elegance. The Romance is straight out of the salon, while the much later Piano Trio (though actually based on early material) packs plenty of emotion and variety into its 14 minutes. The recording is exemplary, as are the concise notes and texts and translations.