(Shout Factory ***)
nolead ends Throughout his long career, Richard Thompson has been justly celebrated as both a songwriter and a guitarist, and Dream Attic provides ample new evidence of each talent. "The Money Shuffle" and "Here Comes Geordie" showcase his satiric wit in deft character studies. "If Love Whispers Your Name" and "A Brother Slips Away" are deeply felt ballads. "Among the Gorse, Among the Grey" and "Crimescene" grow from ancient roots in the British folk tradition. "Bad Again" and "Haul Me Up" cross jovial rock-and-roll with desperate pleas.
The 13 new songs were recorded in front of audiences with a quartet featuring Joel Zifkin on violin and mandolin. Much of Dream Attic's appeal comes from the kinetic performances: Almost every track contains a Thompson electric-guitar solo that is its own compact narrative. The songs are typically solid; the solos rank with his best.
- Steve Klinge
nolead begins Heart
nolead ends nolead begins Red Velvet Car
nolead ends nolead begins (Sony Legacy ***)
nolead ends The Wilson sisters of Heart were hard rock's main mamas in the '70s. Biting, clarion-clear vocalist Ann Wilson; harmony-singing, guitar-slinging sister Nancy; and the pair's cleanly emotive brand of Zep-inspired folk-and-pop-metal melody ruled the charts. Eventually, they turned into a hair band doing Bic-flicking power ballads and became their own acoustic side project (Lovemongers) in between semiretirements.
Along with gearing up for a catalog overhaul, Heart recorded this stirring first new studio album in six years with warmly dramatic producer Ben Mink. The results are closer in cloyingly contagious melody and intimate lyricism to their early music, as in the cocksure "Queen City." Yet the album's mostly acoustic palette of cello, autoharp, banjo, and such allows songs such as the softly sonorous "Hey You" to take your breath away without ever eschewing their ability to rock out, as Heart does on the rousing "WTF."
- A.D. Amorosi
nolead begins The Sword
nolead ends nolead begins Warp Riders
nolead ends nolead begins (Kemado ***)
nolead ends For two albums, the Sword conjured Tolkien-flavored storms of sweaty Texas metal. On Warp Riders, the foursome finds its influences in the science-fiction realms of Bradbury and Asimov, as illustrated by the paperback feel of the CD's artwork. But more important is the band's attack, which has finally become streamlined and sensible. The Sword backs off the sludgy rhythms so the dueling riffs of J.D. Cronise and Kyle Shutt can breathe, and several songs quickly find near-radio-friendly grooves. "Lawless Lands" and "Night City" are the best of them. Others - "Tres Brujas," "The Warp Riders" - waste no time showing off, either. That's almost half the album, with plenty of other moments ("Arrows in the Dark") left soaking in sweat.
- Michael Pollock
nolead begins Lyfe Jennings
nolead ends nolead begins I Still Believe
nolead ends nolead begins (Jesus Swings/Warner Bros. **1/2)
nolead ends Lyfe Jennings is an odd cat. Somewhere between the poetic grit of Bobby Womack and the weird, weary psych-soul of Erykah Badu (Baduizm was an acknowledged inspiration while Jennings was in prison) lies Jennings, a gruff street crooner with a mean falsetto. His three previous opinionated albums are an abstract expressionist portrait in modern soul.
Those elements aren't what make him seem odd. He has called I Still Believe his final studio album, which does seem strange. He's just scratching the surface, with cuts that are both caramel-coated and biting, such as "Statistics," which looks at the slim pickings women have in finding a worthy mate. Thoughtful and positive without being too preachy, big soaring songs such as "Hero" (featuring Anthony Hamilton), ruinous R&B jams like "It Coulda Been Worse," and the homespun yet provocative "Mama" prove that Jennings has plenty left to say and tons of smooth, reflective ways in which to sound it off.
nolead begins JJ Grey and Mofro
nolead ends nolead begins Georgia Warhorse
nolead ends nolead begins (Alligator ***)
nolead ends JJ Grey's new album is named after a tough little grasshopper indigenous to the American Southeast. Grey himself is from northern Florida, and his music continues to have a distinctly Southern feel.
Georgia Warhorse builds on the warm, organic sound Grey and his band, Mofro, developed over their first four albums. The repertoire includes blasts of hard-edged rock ("All," "The Hottest Spot in Hell"). Grey is best, however, when he veers toward Memphis-style soul ("The Sweetest Thing," a duet with reggae great Toots Hibbert) and gutbucket blues (the title song); injects some gospel urgency ("Gotta Know"); and - setting seduction to a sort of swamp-jazz vibe - goes "Slow, Hot and Sweaty."
- Nick Cristiano
(Club 88/VizzTone ***1/2)
nolead ends Mitch Woods' new album is subtitled "A Tribute to Smiley Lewis and the Pioneers of New Orleans Rhythm and Blues." In other words, the boogie-woogie piano master and singer picks up where he left off on Big Easy Boogie, his spot-on salute to Fats Domino.
The late Lewis, who recorded the original version of Domino's hit "Blue Monday," is not as well-known as the Fat Man, and that's too bad. He was one of the Crescent City's preeminent blues shouters as well as an accomplished guitarist. (He was also a fine writer, although most of the selections here are by the great Big Easy bandleader and producer Dave Bartholomew.)
Woods again leads a crack band of New Orleans musicians, including members of Allen Toussaint's and Dr. John's bands, as well as longtime Domino sax man Herb Hardesty. Far from being pale imitations, these robust, lovingly rendered revivals recapture just about all the pungent flavor of the originals. A few slow ones, including "Too Many Drivers" and "I Hear You Knockin', " are sprinkled in, but it's the up-tempo stuff like "Ooh La La," "Ain't Gonna Do It," and "Shame, Shame, Shame" that dominates and ultimately defines this set as a joyous, wall-to-wall blast guaranteed to chase away any blues.
(Mack Avenue ***1/2)
nolead ends Danilo Pérez is an elite jazz pianist - but that doesn't stop him from being highly enjoyable. This CD, devoted to his two daughters, feels like an ice-cold drink on a hot day. The Panamanian-born Pérez melds jazz, classical, and Latin American folk music into a potent mix.
There's challenge here but also lurking melodicism and a rich tapestry of influences.
Pérez, who heads the Berklee Global Jazz Institute in Boston, is aptly broad in his choice of collaborators: Indian American saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, Lebanese American percussionist Jamey Haddad, Colombian conga player Ernesto Diaz, and Portuguese vocalist Sara Serpa along with a Boston woodwind quintet and Pérez's longtime trio, with drummer Adam Cruz and bassist Ben Street.
The results weave in and out of accessible and phantasmagoric. "The Maze: The Beginning" fits in the latter category, though "The Maze: The End" makes things beautiful again, and the calls of the drums, as on the quirky "Cobilla," is never far away. Pérez bewitches as he teaches.
- Karl Stark
Paul Lewis, piano; BBC Symphony Orchestra, Jiri Belohlavek conducting
(Harmonia Mundi ***1/2)
nolead ends nolead begins Nos. 1-2
nolead ends nolead begins Arthur Schoonderwoerd, fortepiano; Ensemble Cristofori, Luigi de Filippi, leader
nolead ends nolead begins (Alpha ****)
nolead ends nolead begins No. 5 and Choral Fantasy
nolead ends nolead begins Ronald Brautigam, Norrkoping Symphony, Andrew Parrott conducting
nolead ends nolead begins (Bis ****)
nolead ends How often do new Beethoven piano concerto recordings come from such different sound worlds? The most familiar is that from the Harmonia Mundi set. As with Paul Lewis' acclaimed set of complete piano sonatas, these performances aren't about new revelations but about rock-solid inevitability, arising from a level of intelligent examination that takes that approach to the level of high art. Lewis' immaculate clarity alone freshens these oft-heard works. But is it wrong to want the greater level of invention heard in his Schubert lieder recordings? If there's a problem here, it's that so many past concerto sets have successfully taken a similar interpretive approach. Lewis is among the best, but one of many.
The other two discs are adventures. How could they not be, when Arthur Schoonderwoerd's recording, which is the conclusion of his complete Beethoven concerto cycle, has an orchestra of 17 players (tiny by modern standards)? Of course, he plays a fortepiano, and in recognition of the instrument's state of transition in Beethoven's time, this one lies on a continuum closer to the harpsichord than to the modern Steinway. Greater degrees of delicacy and detail are possible here, suggesting this music has more to say when looking back at its own time rather than forward to ours.
Ronald Brautigam has a period sensibility - conductor Andrew Parrott is a particularly resourceful specialist on that front - but more distinctively he seizes the music with a personal, high-profile approach full of intimate charm. Few pianists have been able to command their instruments with such interpretive specificity amid the welter of notes in this concerto. There's so much authority that Brautigam takes the music's heroism for granted. And why not? It's there in the notes and needs no special pleading. Also, the haphazard Choral Fantasy actually threatens to hang together on this performance - an achievement indeed.