Anywhere I Lay My Head
The idea of Scarlett Johansson making a reputable album of Tom Waits covers isn't as farfetched as it might seem. Before making dubious acting career moves such as
, ScarJo had hipster movie roles in
Lost In Translation
, and woke Woody Allen up creatively with
. So with
Anywhere I Lay My Head
, Ryan Reynolds' intended aims to re-establish her artsy bona fides. She digs into the oeuvre of guttural-voiced bohemian street poet Waits, and hooks up with Dave Sitek of art-rockers TV on the Radio, who produces, and brings in the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Nick Zinner, plus some guy named David Bowie.
Sitek surrounds Johansson with fuzzy layers of sounds, in a production style he's described as "Tinker Bell on cough syrup." The result is an intriguing vanity production with a hollow echo at the core. The problem is that is that Johansson's impersonal voice never sounds the slightest bit relaxed, and is often unsteady. She has great difficulty carrying lugubriously paced tunes - like "Fannin' Street" and "Fallin' Down." As musical debuts from crush-worthy actresses go, this will inevitably be unfavorably compared to Zooey Deschanel's charming collaboration with M. Ward as She & Him, and that's more than fair.
- Dan DeLuca
Home Before Dark
You can strip your arrangements of the schmaltzy excess of their recent past. You can get producer Rick Rubin to silence the drums and hire quirky studio cats to open your songs' spacious skies. You can play guitar to bring urgency to your writing. But can you keep away from the hamminess, Neil Diamond? Can you get closer to the spooky "Solitary Man" of your past and not "Forever in Blue Jeans?"
Yes and no.
The grit in his baritone voice, the loss in the lyric, and the swagger in the melody of "Forgotten" is tense and rocking - pure, vintage Diamond, at once coolly confident and epically torn down. Diamond's musky duet with Dixie Chick Natalie Maines on "Another Day (That Time Forgot)" is as elegiac a love song as Neil has penned, lyrically and musically. "If I Don't See You Again" is graceful, boozy and icily conversational - an accomplishment within the Diamond canon. But there are dumbo paeans to the muse of songwriting and loopy tunes lifted to divine providence ("One More Bite of the Apple," "Pretty Amazing Grace"), so saccharine they make the teeth hurt.
Whether great or ghoulish, Diamond's crafting songs for no one but himself. That's worth the ride home.
- A. D. Amorosi
Tijuana Sound Machine
(Nacional Records ***1/2)
By 2000, it was a great idea made reality: a gang of Tijuana sound artists, already veteran club DJs and erstwhile techno-popsters steeped in electro-rock savvy from Kraftwerk on, began creating experimental dance tracks spiced up with their native border region's norteño and brass-driven
third release for the Nortec Collective showcases founding members Bostich (Ramón Amezcua) and Fussible (Pepe Mogt), who, as many had hoped, deliver more "Nor" and less "tec" this time, with pumping
low-end and shimmering processed accordion riffs driving tracks like "AKAI 47" (the title itself a playful merge of the Japanese electronics firm moniker and the weapon of choice for Mexican
). Those unable to catch Bostich and Fussible gigging in Mexicali can hear the entire record Saturday at the Walnut Room when Nacional Records and Philly's Afrotaino Productions cohost a free listening party.
- David R. Stampone
(J Records **1/2)
Five years after "I Don't Want To Be" helped his homespun, piano-driven pop-rock debut album
reach platinum status, Gavin DeGraw is back with a slightly edgier but less consistent follow-up. Going for a more straightforward rock sound, DeGraw displays plenty of prowess as a pianist, guitarist, and writer of infectious, radio-friendly melodies. The album's first single, "In Love With A Girl" is one of those perfect, roll-down-the-windows summer songs, while the tender "Let It Go" proves DeGraw a worthy romantic balladeer. But his keen musicality and distinctively soulful vocals can't completely overcome the overabundance of wordy rhymes and nonsensical lyrics that show up on songs like the guitar-and-piano fueled "Medicate the Kids," a cringe-worthy rant against ADD meds, or "Cop Stop," in which he earnestly promises a potential love interest that he won't, uh, treat her "like a rental car."
- Nicole Pensiero
Roll With You
(Q Division ***1/2)
A 24-year-old Boston-area native who served a musical apprenticeship of sorts in the Mississippi Delta, Eli "Paperboy" Reed is in a long line of current young singers adopting classic soul styles. Even his nickname is a throwback. Still, he manages to stand out. Read all about it:
Despite the many Stax-era echoes, nothing about the music on
Roll With You
feels secondhand. Right now, Reed sounds more authoritative on the punchy, uptempo stuff than on the ballads, which occasionally betray hints of his youth. But he still emerges as a charismatic, full-blooded personality (all the tunes are originals). His voice can build to an unbridled, Bobby Bland-like squall, but whether he's being gruff and tough, laying on the sweet-soul charm, or playing the hurting lover, he mostly delivers with the focus and controlled intensity of a savvy veteran.
- Nick Cristiano
"I'm a little black girl who'll rock your world," Danielia Cotton declares by way of introduction on "Make U Move," the opening number on her second album. Does she ever.
is the operative word, as this Central Jersey native is primarily a rocker. She has a big voice - strong, clear and well-rounded - that commands attention for self-penned songs that burn with defiance and self-determination. Not that she's all attitude: Cotton's rock is built on a strong foundation of blues and gospel, and throughout
she also reveals all the soul beneath the strength.
Jazz from Europe can be startling.
Polish pianist Marcin Wasilewski's new CD is all liquid and rubato. The vibes are routinely positive and glistening. Much of it could be the missing soundtrack for the movie
On Golden Pond,
where glorious music is always breaking out. But the soloing here raises the proceedings with cinematic sweep and great quiet.
The Polish cats can cook, too, just not on this session, which is full of the introspective mood that the ECM label celebrates.
Wasilewski and his mates - bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz and drummer Michal Miskiewicz - were discovered by their more famous countryman, trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, who has employed the trio as his rhythm section for the last seven years.
The trio here finish each other's thoughts as they sweep through cuts from Stanko's elegiac "Balladyna" to Prince's sparkling "Diamonds and Pearls."
Carla Bley's "King Korn" at least shows some sass, enabling the ever-happy trio to explore some bluesy mischief. Wasilewski's title track is a hushed ditty full of icy chords and crystal lines. But the leader's solo and his comrades' attentiveness make it compelling.
- Karl Stark
Emmanuel Pahud, flute; Orchestre Philharmonique Radio France, Peter Eotvos, Pascal Rophe and Matthias Pintscher conducting.
After years of recording mostly light-to-middleweight repertoire, the Swiss-born star flutist Emmanuel Pahud seriously gets down to business here with a disc of three new flute concertos that's so substantial it may just make history. The most obvious drawing point is Marc-Andre Dalbavie's
Concerto for Flute
, given his recent success with the Philadelphia Orchestra. And though it ranks just below his best - some of its minimalist-influenced repetitiveness becomes a little tiresome - it's a highly appealing piece: He chooses a particular orchestral gesture that seems to ask the same question time and again, but the answers are serious, witty and always thoroughly unexpected.
Thereafter, the disc lives in a world of unrepentant modernists, Matthias Pintscher's
in particular. The piece's manner can be dissonant and knotty, full of alternative articulation techniques for the solo flutist - set against one of the most dazzlingly colorful orchestral landscapes I've heard in a new work in years. You think you've heard every possible sound an orchestra can make? Not unless you've heard Matthias Pintscher. The Swiss-born Michael Jarrell's
. . . un temps de silence. . .
is sort of an anti-concerto, but one that's fresh, alluring, and packed with incident, the composer saving his best inspiration for the final moments: A hushed drone makes the piece stand entrancingly still with spare, occasional percussion effects, and a remarkable final flourish from the flute that feels simultaneously backward, forward and upside-down.
- David Patrick Stearns
(Harmonia Mundi ****)
Considering that Schubert's "Death and the Maiden" quartet is one of the most-played and -recorded works in its medium, no single performance is likely be the absolute best - but that's exactly what this recording is. On the most basic level, it's the best-played recording of the piece, though this technique mastery has meaning that goes well beyond the Jerusalem Quartet's perfectly tuned chords. The interpretation itself is supremely probing, intelligent and deeply felt. And because the group plays so well, every idea reaches one's ears in fully realized form. So vivid, rich and complete is every variation in the "Death and the Maiden" movement that the music feels like a succession of discrete universes. No matter if you have recordings by all the great string quartets of the past and present, this one is a must.