The Big Doe Rehab
(Def Jam ***1/2)
Anybody interested in what makes the Wu-Tang Clan so strangely great will do well to check out "The Heart Gently Weeps," a twisted tale of violence in the aisles of Pathmark. It employs Erykah Badu on the chorus, and features Dhani Harrison (son of George) and John Frusciante (of the Red Hot Chili Peppers) playing the majestic licks of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" while the song's protagonist raps "he wouldn't let go the joint - so I . . . bit him." The rest of the Wu's first album in six years doesn't maintain those heady heights - though the Little Red Riding Hood retelling, "Wolves," featuring George Clinton, comes close. But it's much more energetic, gritty and imaginative than you might expect from a bunch of old hip-hop heads who've been making records together, on and off, since 1993.
Over the years, Wu- Tangers like Method Man and The RZA have been so busy acting and producing other artists that the Wu brand has grown weak. Ghostface Killah, however, has been more than keeping his end up.
The Big Doe Rehab
is another wildly creative, hyper-speed hip-hop platter that maintains a furious stream-of-consciousness pace. Early on, on "Yolanda's House," Ghost is on the verge of getting it on with the object of his affection when he gets interrupted by a visit from the authorities. From that moment on, he's off to the races, and has a hard time relaxing even when trying to stop and smell the roses in "Slow Down." On that song, assisted by Chrisette Michele's Billie Holiday-esque vocal, he chills with his "pet cheetahs" while listening to "underwater surround sound speakers." The Killah's universe can get a little too frantic, but he never runs out of ideas.
- Dan DeLuca
Rufus Does Judy
at Carnegie Hall
When Rufus Wainwright played the Mann Center this summer, he included a set of Judy Garland songs, which he performed in drag. They were fabulous, by turns campy fun and impressively sophisticated, but they were just a taste of the full Garland show, a recreation of her storied 1961 Carnegie Hall concert that Wainwright has performed several times including this take from June 2006 (a separate DVD documents a London performance from this year).
Accompanied by a 40-piece orchestra throughout this two-CD set, Wainwright treats these songs affectionately but not somberly. He croons "Alone Together" tenderly; he forgets the lyrics briefly on "You Go to My Head"; he's extravagant on "That's Entertainment." And he proves himself a charming, old-fashioned entertainer as he tells stories of Judy Garland and of his childhood and brings out his mother, Kate McGarrigle, for "Over The Rainbow" and Lorna Luft and Martha Wainwright for other songs.
- Steve Klinge
Audio Day Dream
With the debut of its most recent winner, Jordin Sparks, barely scraping the Top 10,
quickly sends in the runner-up - beat-boxer Blake Lewis - to see how much bounce to the ounce he'll muster. The second string (heck, even the third string) has been good for
dom. (See Chris Daughtry, Clay Aiken and Jennifer Hudson for reference.) But this time, the pickin's aren't so lush. Despite the presence of rapper Lupe Fiasco on the bippity-bobbity "Know My Name," a startling dedication to jittery '80s pop, and a formidable hair-don't, Lewis has made a mess that's screwier than his thrift-shop wardrobe. Things like the skipping "Break Anotha" and "What'cha Got 2 Lose?" are electro-fried muddles of punk-funk-ska-dancehall-rock.
Lewis' slight but solid vocals can't always carry the weight of the melodic banality put forth on songs like "Surrender" by Ryan Tedder, the songwriter from OneRepublic. But the halting "Gots to Get Her" has just enough eau de "Puttin' on the Ritz" to make it zesty. On this song, at least, Lewis's warbling trills are cute indeed.
- A.D. Amorosi
The title of Scarface's first proper album in five years is a nod to godfather culture. Not surprisingly, the Houston rapper is going through a series of they-pull-me-back-in motions. But the passion is still there. Singles "Never" and "Girl You Know" coolly reject snitching and monogamy, respectively, while "Burn" recounts (yet another) cold-blooded murder with an eerie matter-of-factness. (Lucid storytelling is one of Scarface's many specialties, no matter how many times we've heard the story.)
Like 'Face's best albums - 1994's
is terse (under 45 minutes) and full of complete thoughts with songs whose abstract, one-word titles ("Go") barely hint at the revelations buried within. Scarface has never been one to overstay his welcome, and he probably never will. With albums that say this much, why would he?
- Michael Pollock
She does a Tom Waits song, but Hope Waits is no relation to the junkyard bard. With this mesmerizing debut, however, the young singer from Louisiana, now based in L.A., seems destined to make her own name in the business.
Waits grabs you right from the start with "I'll Be Satisfied," turning the Berry Gordy-penned Jackie Wilson hit from upbeat and up-tempo to slow and sensuous. She's equally masterful as an interpreter on a wildly diverse set that ranges from the supper-club purr of Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer's "Come Rain or Shine" to the roadhouse rawness of Don Robey's "Mother-in-Law Blues." If the originals by Waits and producer-guitarist Peter Malick don't quite measure up to the covers, they do have their own drama, mystery, and ineluctable emotional undertow.
- Nick Cristiano
Play It 'Til Tomorrow
(Blue Bella ***1/2)
Nick Moss begins his latest album with a dirty little riff-rocker called "Late Night Saint." Make no mistake, however: This young Chicagoan is a bluesman through and through, and the rest of the two-disc
Play It 'Til Tomorrow
conjures Muddy and the Wolf more than Mick and Keith.
It's not just that singer-guitarist Moss and his razor-sharp combo expertly revive classic Chicago blues. They breathe new fire into the form with top-flight Moss originals that run the emotional gamut from bravado to anguish, and they play them with a raw yet stylish vitality that fairly leaps out of the speakers. On the second disc, they go mostly unplugged, but without losing any of their searing intensity.
In Stores Tuesday
Live in Piedmont Park;
Bow Wow & Omarion,
Oh By the Way
(16-CD boxed set);
Hits & Rarities
The Best of Von Freeman
Earl Lavon Freeman is to Chicago what Bootsie Barnes and Larry McKenna are to Philadelphia: monster tenor saxophonists who rarely leave home.
The decision to stay off the road often limits one's reputation. But no matter where he sleeps, Freeman, now 85, and the father of Chico Freeman, is a unique master who made four sessions on Premonition between 2001 and 2006. Label owner Mike Friedman trimmed these to two disks and a DVD interview along with three previously unreleased tracks.
The leader carries nearly the whole history of jazz in his solos. As a young child, Freeman knew Louis Armstrong, and went on to woodshed with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Sun Ra.
A lot of guys his age get locked into a swing thing. But Freeman can sound earthy like Coleman Hawkins or get all-out modern like the Art Ensemble of Chicago - sometimes on the same song.
His attack is deceptively rough as he cavorts here with a few imported lights like pianist Jason Moran and drummer Jimmy Cobb. His solos can sound like one long smear, but there's no doubting the intensity. Freeman can hit a climax or unwind a ballad with amazing sensitivity. There's no one like him.
- Karl Stark
(Whaling Sound ***1/2)
Guitarist John Stein pays homage to a Philly thing, the organ jazz trio, and to guitarist Grant Green on this reissue of a 1999 release.
This makes for a legitimate piece of barbecue right from the opening, skirt-turning "Booga Lou," a ditty that cries out for a juke joint to hear it in.
Stein, who teaches harmony at Berklee College of Music in Boston, doesn't go too far into his head here. The point is to be soulful and tasty, and Stein achieves this delicate mix with Ken Clark on Hammond organ and Dave Hurst on drums.
The set becomes more of a staid jazz recording by the end. But there's plenty to strut about before that. "Jack's Back" has a magnificent, finger-snapping feel. And it's sublime to hear David "Fathead" Newman enter for three tunes. The former Ray Charles sideman is just about everybody's top choice for sitting in. His take of "Our Love Will See Us Through," with a great intro from Stein, qualifies as archetypal ballad work.
Mass in B minor
Carolyn Sampson, soprano; Rachel Nicholls, soprano; Robin Blaze, alto; Gerd Turk, tenor; Peter Kooij, bass.
Bach Collegium Japan, Masaaki Suzuki conducting.
Mass in B-minor
has had some excellent recordings in recent years (such as that by the Netherlands Bach Society), this two-disc set represents the culmination of a series of historically-informed performances that began some 25 years ago with Joshua Rifkin's then-revolutionary, scaled-down recording on Nonesuch. Conductor Masaaki Suzuki backpedals a bit on Rifkin's one-singer-per-part dictum (which has more historic basis than anybody thought at the time) with three singers per part plus a separate set of soloists. So he still has the transparency of smaller-scale performances but also a range of rhetorical force, color and texture that a more severe approach would lack. Besides excellent singing and playing, this recording stands apart from other like-minded ones with a combination of conviction and a naturalness of expression that suggests everybody involved "speaks Bach" as a first language. No matter how many recordings one owns of this great work, there's always room at the top, which is where this one belongs.
- David Patrick Stearns
Concerto for Cello and Orchestra Op. 104 and Symphonic Variations Op. 78.
Pieter Wispelwey, cello; Budapest Festival Orchestra, Ivan Fischer conducting.
(Channel Classics ***1/2)
On their own, cellist Pieter Wispelwey and conductor Ivan Fischer are live wires. In this particularly inspired collaboration in the Dvorak concerto, there's charisma in every bar and such profundity that it allows you to relive the concerto anew, no matter how long it has been part of your life. Channel Classics delivers its typically roomy, state-of-the-art SACD sound. What keeps the disc from being an absolute top recommendation is any number of interpretive touches from Wispelwey when you're not sure what he's up to - even though there's no doubt that he's up to something big. The
receives an excellent performance, but not one to convince skeptics that the music is major Dvorak.