nolead ends Rome is a soundtrack album without a movie, a spaghetti western ode to Sergio Leone in which promiscuous producer Brian Burton, also known as Danger Mouse (Gorillaz, Broken Bells, U2), teams with Italian composer Daniele Luppi as well as a pair of distinctive vocalists named Jack White and Norah Jones. Recorded in the City of Seven Hills at Forum Studios, once Orthophonic Studios, where Leone recorded the mind-bending, evocative scores for The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West, the new Rome might risk being too respectful of its source material were it not for White and Jones. The vocalists bring a personal touch to their role-playing, with White well suited to the role of crooning caballero riding into town at sunset (and sounding more at ease than in any of his other recent side projects) and Jones bringing enough sultry eroticism to tunes like "Season's Trees" and "Problem Queen" to assure that there's more to Rome than just captivating atmospherics.
- Dan DeLuca
nolead begins Christina Perri
nolead ends nolead begins lovestrong
nolead ends nolead begins (Atlantic ***)
nolead ends This Philly native got her big break the traditional way: on reality TV. Last year, Fox's So You Think You Can Dance featured an obscure song, "Jar of Hearts," from aspiring singer-songwriter Christina Perri. A vehement kiss-off to a former lover, the ballad was so haunting that the show invited Perri to perform it live two weeks later. Massive downloading ensued.
Now comes Perri's debut, an assured and affecting collection smartly produced by Joe Chiccarelli, who has worked with everyone from Tori Amos to Frank Zappa.
Perri has a uniquely emotive voice, willowy yet tensile. It's perfectly suited to this CD, the musical diary of a bruised romantic.
- David Hiltbrand
nolead begins Kate Bush
nolead ends nolead begins Director's Cut
nolead ends nolead begins (Fish People **1/2)
nolead ends Kate Bush originally wanted the title track of 1989's The Sensual World to include passages from Molly Bloom's soliloquy at the end of James Joyce's Ulysses, but Joyce's estate denied permission. Recently that changed, and the reclusive singer rerecorded the song as originally envisioned, retitling it "Flower of the Mountain." That prompted her to revisit 10 other songs from that album and its successor, 1993's The Red Shoes, to record new vocals (and some new drums) and remix the original tracks.
These aren't radical reimaginings, aside from electronic manipulations to "Deeper Understanding" and a few others, and Bush's vocals usually follow the originals' contours. Fans will definitely want to hear "Flower" and the minimalist "This Woman's Work." But ultimately, Director's Cut is a fascinating placeholder - there's an album of new material in the works, rumor has it - and a gift to the already converted.
- Steve Klinge
nolead begins Aretha Franklin
nolead ends nolead begins Aretha: A Woman Falling
Out of Love
nolead ends nolead begins (Aretha's Records **1/2)
nolead ends Let's be happy we still have Aretha Franklin.
The queen of soul, 69, was felled by a mystery illness (rumors of pancreatic cancer were denied) late in 2010 and since then has slimmed to a healthy weight. Brava. Who else could have turned the patriotic warhorse "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" into a unique and rapturous call for hope during President Obama's inauguration?
That tune is a highlight of Aretha: A Woman Falling Out of Love. Available exclusively at Wal-Mart and Walmart.com throughout May and various digital outlets afterward, her new album isn't filled with the youthful brio of Take a Look, her recent Columbia-label boxed set covering the early '60s. This isn't the legendary Atlantic label Aretha of the mid-to-late '60s and '70s, or even the glossy Arista-era Aretha of the '80s. The Woman Falling Out of Love R&B elder is richly capable of subtly sung, elegantly nuanced soul songs like the self-penned-and-produced "How Long I've Been Waiting." She also oversings and tackles tired standards like "The Way We Were." But she gets points for covering the schmaltzy "Theme From a Summer Place" and for staying alive to keep the legend going until next time.
- A.D. Amorosi
This Is Country Music
(Arista Nashville ***)
nolead ends This is country music, indeed. Unlike a lot of superstars, Brad Paisley does more than just pay lip service to the tradition. But there's a reason he's also the CMA entertainer of the year - he has the talent and charisma to make the music accessible to a modern audience.
This Is Country Music follows the familiar Paisley pattern, going for a split between dark realities and sunny pleasures. Much of it stands with his best: "A Man Don't Have to Die" and "I Do Now" are sobering ballads that never get maudlin; "Eastwood" is a brisk western instrumental that showcases his guitar prowess alongside a whistling Clint; "Life's Railway to Heaven" takes a bluegrass spin on the gospel standard with Marty Stuart and Sheryl Crow; and "Don't Drink the Water" is a rousing honky-tonk lark with Blake Shelton.
At 15 songs, however, the album could use some paring. "Remind Me" is another duet with Carrie Underwood that's not much better than their previous exercise in sap, "Then." Paisley is also growing too fond of glib throwaways that seek to play on his sly boy-next-door charm, and he pads this set with at least three forgettable ones: "Camouflage," "Working on a Tan," and "Be the Lake."
- Nick Cristiano
Kenyatta's Dance: A Tribute to Mom and Dad
(Robert Kenyatta **1/2)
nolead ends Philly drummer Robert Kenyatta has played with everyone from Sonny Rollins to the Beach Boys. Now, at 69, Kenyatta puts out his first CD as a leader.
The set of six originals and Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman" is mesmerizing. The drums form a kind of hypnotic haze for tenor saxophonist Elliott Levin to weave his out-there derring-do. Guitarist Robert Hotep is another major presence, while steel pan drummer Terrence Cameron adds a lilt to the Caribbean-laced title track.
The lyrics are at times quite repetitive. But this set, with trombonist Harold "T Bone" Watson and bassist James Cooper, exudes a lot of friendly energy. Kenyatta, who also works with preschool children at a Montessori school, dedicates this disc to his parents, including his late mother, Lilia Pollock-Crippen, who was renowned as a kind of one-person social service agency in North Philly.
- Karl Stark
Vinson Cole, Charlotte Margiono, and Thomas Quasthoff, The Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra & the Netherlands Radio Choir, Bernard Haitink conducting
(Challenge Classics, two discs, ****)
nolead ends Too bad that a crisis among Dutch orchestras is what prompted this fine performance's worldwide release. Recorded live by Dutch radio in 1999, Berlioz's loose-limbed telling of the Faust legend is populated by some uncharacteristic artists: Neither Haitink nor baritone Quasthoff is known for French outings, much less Berlioz. And though what they deliver lacks Charles Dutoit's quicksilver elegance, the performance shows a fully realized alternative approach, in which Haitink's deliberate rhythms and robust emphasis on bass-register instruments lend the music extra stature. Fresh details abound; Haitink has seldom sounded so alert. Quasthoff's baritone - slimmer and smaller than many who sing this music - shows that surface charm can highlight Mephisto's nastiness. In the high-tenor role of Faust, Cole is at his peak, while Margiono is an excellent, full-voiced Marguerite. This is one of the finest recordings of this piece available. I've often felt that the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra is one of Europe's best, and this confirms it - at a time when the Dutch government is considering mergers and shutdowns of several Dutch orchestras, including this one. What a huge loss that would be. Available, among other places, from Amazon.com.