Favourite Worst Nightmare
nolead ends The Arctic Monkeys' debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, arrived early last year amidst such deafening hype that it was hard to accept that the album justified it. The young quartet from Sheffield, England, possessed a wordy, sharp and observant writer in Alex Turner, and like their recent forebears the Libertines, they demonstrated a refreshing affinity for early rock and pop. One b-side found them covering "Baby, It's You," the old Shirelles song.
On Favourite Worst Nightmare, the Monkeys' much-anticipated sophomore set, the lads trade jittery velocity for thumping, machine-gun guitars that are heavier and harder and less immediately thrilling. On "Balaclava" and "If You Were There, Beware," Turner's torrent of words gets punctuated by posturing prog-rock tempo shifts.
Still, the swinging "Fluorescent Adolescent," the amphetamine surf-rock of "Brianstorm," and the zippy "The Bad Thing" recall the first album's breathless excitement, and I bet the songs will sound good on the dance floor of the Electric Factory, where the band will perform May 17.
- Steve Klinge
nolead begins Tori Amos
nolead ends nolead begins American Doll Posse
nolead ends nolead begins (Epic **1/2)
nolead ends Imagine if you will the Pussycat Dolls singing lyrics of personal political empowerment. That is, if they couldn't dance, the words all had a tortured, biting weariness to them, and they all sounded like Tori Amos.
Before taking a hammer to your thumb, know that Amos' loosely knit 23-track concept CD - five distinct characters based on Greek mythology, all with their own wigs and blogs - sounds better than it looks. Or than Pip, Clyde, Isabel, Santa, and Tori look.
Despite having to sing through Clyde's Persephone-inspired gloom, "Bouncing off Clouds" (like the sharper Tori-sung "Big Wheel") simply gallops through its wifty woe and drifty melody. Thank jittery drummer Matt Chamberlain's tight, inventive rhythms for bringing out the best in Amos' hammered piano and air-honey vocals. When the music stays stark and spare (the arch "Code Red," for example) all's well. Same with ballads, like the Isabel-sung "Yo George," which sings wistfully of Lincoln before dissing the current president. (Is Tori the Republican or is that Isabel?) Yet when Amos cheesily rocks out on Pip tracks like "Teenage Hustling," she sounds like little more than a fourth-rate Karen O; or worse, Alanis Morrisette.
The moral of American Doll Posse? Blame Pip.
- A.D. Amorosi
nolead begins The Nightwatchman
nolead ends nolead begins One Man Revolution
nolead ends nolead begins (Epic **)
nolead ends On his first album as the Nightwatchman, Tom Morello forsakes the heavily processed guitars of his years in Rage Against the Machine for the sound of six unamplified strings.
Morello's alter ego is a revolutionary outlaw who makes common cause with Seattle Starbucks-smashers in "Flesh Shapes the Day." But don't mistake him for Woody Guthrie; this outlaw's idea of privation is being turned away from the Playboy Mansion.
Morello conveys sincerity by biting down on every syllable, but his hectoring vocals quickly wear thin, and the album's conspiracy theories sound more like laundry lists. Its most effective tracks add subtle instrumentation, like the bagpipes and hammered dulcimer that flavor "Road I Must Travel." Even lone wolves can use a hand now and then.
- Sam Adams
nolead begins Sa-Ra Creative Partners
nolead ends nolead begins The Hollywood Recordings
nolead ends nolead begins (Babygrande **1/2)
nolead ends Sa-Ra is proof that it's fast becoming the norm for artists to leapfrog back and forth between independent and major labels. A trio that produces, sings and raps, this talent collective has managed to drop what's sure to be a high-selling indie bomb. The deeply layered, rich production of the record hits on trip-hop, alternative, soul and hip-hop. It's packed with diverse guests, such as Philly's own Bilal, who is the perfect complement to Sa-Ra's uninhibited strangeness on "Sweet Sour You." At times sexual, Sa-Ra takes listeners on a magic spaceship ride that harks back to the psychedelic Age of Aquarius. Unfortunately, much of the album suffers from distorted sound, resulting in muffled vocals. While Sa-Ra offers the blueprint for success with the hard-to-please hipster faction, it wasn't intentional.
- Ainé Ardron-Doley
nolead begins Standard Songs
for Average People
nolead ends nolead begins (Oh Boy ***)
nolead ends nolead begins Southern Culture on the Skids
nolead ends nolead begins Countrypolitan Favorites
nolead ends nolead begins (Yep Roc ***)
nolead ends It's not a pairing you'd expect, but 60-year-old singer-songwriter great John Prine and 81-year-old country-bluegrass star Mac Wiseman fit together like a comfortable pair of old shoes. With their weathered voices highlighting tastefully spare, mostly acoustic arrangements, they generate a warm, relaxed vibe on a set that leans mostly on country gems by Ernest Tubb, Bob Wills, Tom T. Hall and others.
Southern Culture on the Skids takes a broad view of "countrypolitan." But what would you call an eclectic collection that mixes songs by Ray Davies, Marc Bolan and John Fogerty with country standards by Don Gibson and Roger Miller? The roots-rockers known for their white-trash shtick play it pretty straight. The trio provides an extra-rocking jolt in some cases, but always treats these favorites with affection, and that helps give this hip jukebox of an album its considerable charm.
- Nick Cristiano
nolead begins Terry Anderson and the Olympic Ass-Kickin' Team
nolead ends nolead begins When the OAKTeam
Comes to Town
nolead ends nolead begins (Doublenaught ****)
nolead ends If a flying saucer landed on our lawn tomorrow and the little green men asked, "What's rock-and-roll?", we'd hand them this disc. Terry Anderson doesn't try to reinvent the music, he just distills it to its glorious essence - fast, loud and, above all, fun - and he does it with an uproarious, hick-happy brilliance.
This live set serves up many of Anderson's greatest hits, or what should have been hits. (His best-known tunes were done by others and are not here - the Georgia Satellites' "Battleship Chains" and Dan Baird's "I Love You Period.") Anderson can do straight-up and melodic in winning fashion - see the likes of "Weather or Not" and "Sunday Dress." But most of the time the North Carolinian and his mighty OAKTeam are gleefully tearing up pea patches like "Daddy Had a Wreck" and "I Feel a Drunk Comin' On." The influences are obvious - NRBQ, Faces, Chuck Berry, etc. - but it's also clear how smartly and colorfully Anderson twists them to create his own indelible rock-and-roll personality.
nolead begins Robin Eubanks + EB3
nolead ends nolead begins Live Vol. 1
nolead ends nolead begins (http://robineubanks.com ***1/2)
nolead ends Master trombonist and Philly native Robin Eubanks has been using electronics to juice up his instrument for more than 15 years, and the fruits of his discoveries are gathered on this self-produced CD and DVD.
The brother of Tonight Show guitarist Kevin Eubanks, Robin Eubanks is an amazing technician who seems capable of turning the trombone's clunky slide into molten metal. But it's even more impressive to watch him overdub trombone licks atop one another with on-stage electronics and splice in strong beats, creating an overwhelming sonic wave, as he does on the entirely one-man tune "Me, Myself & I" and later on "Solo Latin." He displays serious power 'bone, especially when he turns his tone into a snarling guitar on "Blues for Jimi Hendrix."
Everyone in this crackerjack trio plays multiple roles. Drummer Kenwood Dennard is a spectacle, picking out bass on a keyboard with his left hand while drumming with his right hand and feet. The guy looks possessed and swings outrageously.
Keyboardist Orrin Evans is another combustible collaborator who sometimes adds bass to his fervent forays up and down the keyboard.
This all makes for a high-level performance, and the electronics actually enhance the experience.
- Karl Stark
nolead begins Steve Kuhn Trio
nolead ends nolead begins Live at Birdland
nolead ends nolead begins (Blue Note ***1/2)
nolead ends Steve Kuhn has been a stealth pianist for a long time. A Harvard man, he was the original pianist in John Coltrane's Quartet, serving for two months, before going on to play with Art Farmer, Ornette Coleman, Art Blakey and Stan Getz.
His trio gig here with bassist Ron Carter and drummer Al Foster represents a re-creation of a respected session the three men cut in 1986 at the Village Vanguard. Kuhn, 69, proves to be surprisingly lyrical, the experimental vibe having burned off perhaps in the 1970s. Kuhn is positively folksy on Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz," which enables the trio to get loose and still swing hugely. Carter's "Little Waltz" is handsomely done, creating a burnished candlelight vibe while Kenny Dorham's "Lotus Blossom" cooks at a higher tempo. Carter sounds massive, his big tone working up and down on Henry Mancini's "Slow Hot Wind" with persuasive heft.
Kuhn throughout is amazingly clear and focused. And stealthy as always.
nolead begins Mahler
Symphony No. 1
nolead ends nolead begins Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra, David Zinman conducting.
nolead ends nolead begins (RCA ****)
nolead ends nolead begins Symphony No. 4 and 5
nolead ends nolead begins Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR, Roger Norrington conducting.
nolead ends nolead begins (Hanssler ***)
nolead ends nolead begins Symphony No. 9
nolead ends nolead begins Berlin Staatskapelle, Daniel Barenboim conducting.
nolead ends nolead begins (Warner ***1/2)
nolead ends Among the several new and continuing Mahler cycles, a redundant one still can't be found, and the newest (David Zinman/Zurich Tonhalle) is the best. In no other modern reading of the Symphony No. 1 are the disparate elements - ethnic and otherwise - given their due but kept balanced with each other with so much dynamic tension. In fact, the reading is like a mosaic, built out from the details, but in ways that never distort the classicism of the overall shape. (Simon Rattle would do well to notice this). Thanks to Daniel Barenboim's taste for emphasizing inner voices, his Symphony No. 9 has extra grit - extra everything, really. The second movement rarely has so much wit, and if the final movement sometimes seems to downplay the pathos, it's only a musical valley that makes the peaks all the more imposing. The two Roger Norrington discs are the polar opposite of Leonard Bernstein's 1980s Mahler recordings: They're brisk, textures are low on vibrato, and the most introspective passages make a point of having bounce. Yes, it's Mahler as the composer might have heard. The quality of the orchestra isn't great, but there's nothing like these recordings.
- David Patrick Stearns
nolead begins Christian Gerhaher
of Franz Schubert
nolead ends nolead begins Christian Gerhaher, baritone; Gerold Huber, piano.
nolead ends nolead begins (RCA ****)
nolead ends nolead begins Mahler's Kindertotenlieder
and Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen
nolead ends nolead begins Christian Gerhaher; Gerold Huber; Hyperion Ensemble.
nolead ends nolead begins (Arte Nova ***)
nolead ends Baritone Christian Gerhaher has been most visible to American audiences as the most-neurotic-ever Papageno in the recent Salzburg Festival video of The Magic Flute. Don't blame him for that. He's one of Europe's very best German art song interpreters, and this new Schubert disc (which selects worthy but seldom-heard songs by the composer) is particularly special thanks to its sense of inner stillness - a quality that gives extra clarity to Schubert's ideas and the singer's view of them. Such repertoire always benefits from the clean lyricism that Gerhaher offers, but there's a rougher, earthy basso depth. If Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's perfection got on your nerves after a while, the imperfect Gerhaher will leave you wanting more.
And there's plenty dribbling over from Europe: All three of Schubert's big song cycles are out on RCA's budget label, Arte Nova, and a full RCA recording of Mendelssohn's Elijah conducted by Herbert Blomstedt can be found in import bins. The most recent Arte Nova arrival features Mahler's Kindertotenlieder with surprisingly arresting piano accompaniment, Songs of a Wayfarer in an Arnold Schoenberg chamber orchestration, and Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony (Op. 9) in reduced orchestration - all a bit odd, but well worth hearing.