For a famously self-loathing shut-in, Trent Reznor is sure acting like a magnanimous man about town of late. "This one's on me," he says, on Nin.com, where
is available for download for absolutely nothing, and you couldn't leave a tip even if you wanted to. And on "Discipline,"
's first single, which fuses tinkling piano with fuzzed-out guitars, Reznor is open about his inability to go it alone: "I need your discipline," he admits. "I need your help."
On the same song, Reznor asks, "Is my viciousness losing ground?" Not so much that he should worry about it.
, which is the latest in a recent outpouring of material that's included the instrumental opus album
, is the best NIN album since 1994's
The Downward Spiral
. That's because it returns to the tightly-coiled tension that marked Reznor's early work, while dropping in delicate, whispering ballads such as "Lights In the Sky."
"Put the gun in my mouth, close your eyes, blow my . . . brains out!," the 43-year-old Reznor politely requests in "1,000,000," lest you think he's getting soft, or will ever run out of compact, claustrophobic, catchy bursts of self-directed rage.
- Dan DeLuca
I Know You're Married
But I've Got Feelings Too
Like father Loudon Wainwright III, Martha Wainwright relishes exploring the less-savory sides of characters: adulterers, suicides, despairing or obsessing lovers. Like mother Kate McGarrigle, she can sing acoustic-based folk-pop with restraint and beauty. Like brother Rufus, she also has a penchant for art songs and grand gestures.
But Martha Wainwright is not merely the sum of her family. Although her mother and brother drop in (as do Pete Townshend, Garth Hudson and Donald Fagen) on the deliciously titled
I Know You're Married But I've Got Feelings Too
, her second album is the work of a fully formed, independent-minded artist, not just someone with an impressive friends list. Wainwright delves into politics ("Tower Song") and pop (covering Pink Floyd's "See Emily Play" and Eurythmics' "Love is a Stranger"), and warbles and twists melodies, and narratives, in unexpected ways.
- Steve Klinge
The description isn't too sexy: Exquisite soul vocalist who experiments with electronic noise and crepuscular ambience. But that's what you might have found on weird Brit swinger Jamie Lidell's business card until
came along. That's not to say the gray clouds that filled 2000's
are gone completely. They've been blown aside - way aside - to allow Lidell's sunnier disposition to shine through in an elegant display of Motown-y shuffles and heavenly atmospheric gospel-ish pop just this side of Sam Cooke.
With a playfully picked acoustic guitar, some fluttering violins, and a spare, thumping rhythm, Lidell - a slight grit to his voice - teeters about "All I Wanna Do" like a love-drunk schoolboy. Same goes for the candle-flickering funk of "Little Bit of Feel Good" and the quietly hiccupping R&B of "Green Light."
's songs are sonorous and swaying. The grooves are in the heart. And his voice is an instrument of God. You just wished that the Lord and Lidell allowed some of
's silver linings a little of
's blackening. A little dusk and musk might have earned this one more star.
- A.D. Amorosi
Weezer (The Red Album)
Weezer has always set up its musical tents in the sweet glade between the cultish glee of Devo and the power pop of Cheap Trick. And the bazaar is wide open on the band's sixth album.
Oh, the places you'll go on
The Red Album
. "Everybody Get Dangerous" is a mad mash of Barenaked Ladies and Red Hot Chili Peppers. "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)" bounces from Queen-like bombast to spartan sacred.
The lyrical point of view is just as out there. "Troublemaker" is the anthem of a confirmed delinquent. "Pork and Beans" is the jaded saga of a flabby pop star desperate to rescale the charts. And "Heart Songs" is a virtual mix tape that name-checks everyone from Gordon Lightfoot to Grover Washington Jr., from Quiet Riot to Debbie Gibson.
It sounds dangerous to rock this hard when you have your tongue planted so firmly in your cheek. But Weezer once again pulls it off with élan.
- David Hiltbrand
The Hard Way
Now in his mid-40s, James Hunter is older than most of the other retro-soul stylists of the moment. One other thing's for sure: The late-bloomer from England, once a backup singer for Van Morrison, has forged one of the most distinctive identities out of his old-school inspirations.
The Hard Way,
Hunter again shows how adept he is at drawing from two different strains for his own music. There's the Sam Cooke silkiness of such string-kissed numbers as the title track and "Carina," and the Ray Charles earthiness of horn-stoked R&B workouts like "Don't Do Me No Favors" and "Josephine." He also offers up some hot guitar solos, but, like his songs, they are sharp and concise.
- Nick Cristiano
From the Reach
As slide guitarists go, Sonny Landreth has one of the most easily identifiable sounds you'll hear. His liquid tone approximates the thick, sweet air of his native south Louisiana, while the playing itself carries echoes of the area's rich Creole and Cajun culture.
From the Reach,
Landreth shares the spotlight with some other estimable guitar men, including Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler and Vince Gill, as well as keyboard master Dr. John, but his music loses none of its emotional thrust and sense of place. Hurricane Katrina seems to be a hovering inspiration, but the anger and hurt that surface on "Blue Tarp Blues" and "Storm of Worry" give way to hope and healing on "Blue Angel" and "Universe." And that's the spirit that dominates this collection.
(Blue Note **1/2)
Singer Cassandra Wilson, whose work often veers beyond jazz, cuts a session largely of vintage standards for the first time since 1988. In her use of smears and squishing of time, Wilson seems to be channeling Betty Carter and Nina Simone.
Wilson gets spacey at times, swallowing lines and impersonating a horn in a search for a novel take. The breathy obliqueness on "Gone With the Wind" doesn't score much.
Wilson's pared-down take of "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most" has more energy, but Marvin Sewell's reverberating steel guitar sound proves distracting on this duet, as it does elsewhere on the CD.
Where Wilson shows some pizzazz is on the funky remake of "St. James Infirmary." There's no sidestepping the vibe here; Wilson cooks straight up. Likewise, "Dust My Broom" is a righteous blues with true fire.
It's expected that Wilson, whose last CD,
, boasted scads of programming and loops, should approach standards with a twist. But the classic tunes often prove daunting enough to accentuate her less desirable habits.
- Karl Stark
The Magic Within
Bassist Tyrone Brown plops string players amid a sizzling jazz rhythm section. The combination can create a pretentious cocktail - the strings do sound whiny at times - but the Abington-based Brown, longtime bassist to the late drummer Max Roach, never loses focus on this as a jazz excursion.
His 10 compositions, inspired by the paintings of abstract artist Herbert Gentry, offer Monkian views of the world, fertile grooves and snake-charming lyricism. "Dancing Turk" is nicely exotic, while the title track bubbles along with a respectable solo by cellist Jim Holton.
Throughout, there's the clear-your-head playing of altoist Bobby Zankel, whose keening lines seem to get more to the point every year. Vibraphonist Randy Sutin offers some sympathetic playing, while drummer Craig McIver is at the root of every happening vibe.
Anna Netrebko, Rolando Villazon, Nicole Cabell, Boaz Daniel, Vitalij Kowaljow. Bavarian Radio Orchestra and Chorus, Bertrand de Billy conducting.
(Deutsche Grammophon, two discs, ***1/2)
Norah Amsellem, Marcus Haddock, Georgia Jarman, Fabio Capitanucci, Christopher Schaldenbrand, Kevin Glavin. Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Robert Spano conducting.
(Telarc, two discs, ***)
Two new recordings here, of Puccini's beloved
, both recorded live by symphony orchestras (as opposed to opera companies) with handpicked casts and hyper-alert conductors, released a month apart. The DG set, out Tuesday, features Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon (recorded in April 2007, prior to his string of cancellations) in close to peak form. Few Rodolfos have ever delivered the emotional peaks of Villazon - and he does so without the fortissimo relentlessness of his most recent solo disc,
Cielo e Mar
. Netrebko's phrasing is dramatically true, though her mezzo-ish tone gives her Mimi a not-entirely-appropriate maturity and robustness. The set's major selling point is its all-around quality: Orchestra and chorus under conductor Bertrand de Billy border on miraculous, secondary casting is strong, and in general, you hear far more
than in the best staged performances.
In the Atlanta disc, out in early July with a two-for-one price, the big picture is excellent, the details less so. The fine Telarc engineering and the Atlanta Symphony Chorus lend a cogent musicality and atmosphere that's rarely heard in the Act III opening. The cast of lesser-known singers include a particularly vivid Musetta in Georgia Jarman. But as Rodolfo and Mimi, both Marcus Haddock (heard in the Opera Company of Philadelphia's 2005
Ballo in Maschera
) and especially Norah Amsellem sing to the balcony in ways that blight the intimate tenderness of their roles. Though Amsellem handles her death scene masterfully, her stentorian singing and slight wobble suggest that, elsewhere in the opera, she's auditioning for
- David Patrick Stearns
Alexandre Tharaud, Ensemble Orchestral de Paris, Andrea Quinn conducting.
(Harmonia Mundi ****)
Well-informed American music lovers could look at this disc and not recognize a single name on it. But all these talents are well-established in France; the 2007 piano concerto
was named "best premiere" by French Grand Prix de la Critique - with good reason. Earnest, explosive, and owing much to the American minimalists, the concerto unfolds with each event etched with scintillating clarity, wind writing suggesting bird calls and energetic motor rhythms recalling Carl Orff. As easily identifiable as these antecedents are, composer Thierry Pecou has an intense, expressive imperative that galvanizes even the most disparate elements.
The rest of the disc, all by the 47-year-old Pecou, is equally notable: The 2004
is an eight-movement suite, similarly eclectic but more enigmatic, its far-reaching gestures implying more than they state. The earlier, 1995
Petit Livre pour clavier
is raucous and youthful in the best sense: Each section is atmospherically written for a different keyboard instrument, from medieval organ to clavichord. Considering that live performances may be logistically impossible, this recording is the only way to hear this nutty piece.