- Dan DeLuca
Strength & Loyalty
(Interscope/Full Surface ***)
DJ Copy Presents Bone Thugs-N-Harmony-N-Copy
It shouldn't seem so doggone unique, the bugged but elegant, interwoven, street-smug MC-flow and harmony-filled vocals that is the Bones: Wish, Krayzie and Layzie. But after nearly 15 years, some lame records and the deeply missed presence of Bizzy Bone, no one wraps up rapping and crooning like B T-N-H.
Yeah, they've got guests: Akon doing his usual too-spare smack-that groove for "I Tried" (eh) and "Never Forget Me" (creepy); Will.I.Am doing the same for his Bobby Womack-sampled "Streets" with the Game riding shotgun alongside the trio's hearty choruses. The drive-by ladies fare better, as holy-rolling Yolanda Adams lends her robust pipes to the gospelish "Order My Steps." But the Bones don't need the help. Their silken voices, set against the rapid-fire rap of "Flow Motion" and the slow-slicing strings of "Sounds the Same" are nicer than a dozen brand-name collaborations.
One guy the Bone should keep close is Marius Libman. Better known as Copy, this hard synth-pop producer already unfurled one of 2007's best, glittering grooves on Hair Guitar. But in turning attention to the soul-hop trio's hits, Copy keeps his spare sounds eerily dramatic - through an electro-fried piano-pounding take on "Tha Crosswords" - while uplifting Bone's already ecstatic mien. Nice.
- A.D. Amorosi
Spiderman of the Rings
Following the Go! Team in 2005 and Girl Talk in 2006 comes this year's model, Dan Deacon: over-the-top, super-saturated fun for the hipster set. Drawing on electroclash and classical electronics, on hyper-speed breakbeats and hyper-fun chanted vocals, on cartoon characters (Woody Woodpecker's cackle anchors the opening track; Chipmunks-like sped-up vocoder vocals appear in several others) and classic cartoon music from Raymond Scott and Carl Stalling, on Krautrock and video-game soundtracks, Spiderman of the Rings is unabashedly silly and subversively smart.
Baltimore's Deacon has a graduate degree in electro-acoustic composition, and he knows his Philip Glass and his Walter/Wendy Carlos (witness the Switched-On Bach-like "Pink Batman"), but Spiderman is more concerned with partying than studying. "The Crystal Cat" echoes Plastic Bertrand's new-wave novelty "Ça Plane Pour Moi," the epic "Wham City" draws on Sesame Street singalongs, and most of Spiderman is a weird, irrepressible sugar rush.
- Steve Klinge
Are You Listening
More than five years after her band, the Cranberries, quietly disbanded, Irish songstress Dolores O'Riordan has reemerged with a solo effort worth the wait. Aside from a few artsy collaborations, O'Riordan had been keeping a low profile, working on this disc and raising her children. It's no surprise, then, that issues related to family - love for her husband, the birth of a child - are sprinkled throughout, but the Youth-produced CD sounds more inspired than self-indulgent.
O'Riordan smartly sidesteps the overwrought, prog-rock flavorings of the end-stage Cranberries to focus on her greatest strength: a supple, strong voice that works best with melodic pop. Revved up by urgent guitars, sweeping keyboards and driving percussion - not to mention some nicely cinematic songwriting - O'Riordan takes on everything from romantic love ("Apple of My Eye") to a death in the family ("Black Widow") in a muscular fashion.
- Nicole Pensiero
(Yep Roc ***)
Robbie Fulks wears a maniacal grin on the cover of this two-disc set. It's a goof - just like the clever studio set piece that introduces the supposed rationale for this live recording - but it does capture some of the gleeful spirit with which the often-brilliant Fulks both sends up and embraces country music.
The energy comes through most overtly on Disc 1, an electric set that ranges from the classic-sounding honky-tonk of "Rock Bottom. Pop., Pt. 1" to the satirical "Cigarette State," the killer ballad "The Buck Starts Here," and Fulks' ill-fated stab at pop success, "Let's Kill Saturday Night." Disc 2 is an acoustic outing with some long instrumental passages that throw off the pacing. But, like Disc 1, it shows Fulks' ability to be funny and serious - he's both on the new "I Like Being Left Alone" - and it includes between-song patter that gives a good feel of what a Fulks show is really like. It all ends on a high note with Kelly Hogan taking the stage to harmonize on a spirited take on the traditional "Away Out on the Old Saint Sabbath."
- Nick Cristiano
The Wheel Man
Watermelon Slim's new album comes with a plug from Jerry Wexler, the legendary Atlantic Records producer, who declares that Slim "incarnates the deepest and truest roots of American music . . . [He's] a one-of-a-kind pickin' 'n' singin' Okie dynamo."
Slim (a.k.a. Bill Homans) is indeed a real character - and a real entertaining one - and he knows his way around the blues. The Wheel Man (yes, the twice-divorced Vietnam vet was once a trucker, as well as a watermelon farmer) includes an a cappella holler and a couple of solo turns by Slim on dobro and harmonica. Most of the time, though, he puts his Workers to work, and they don't mind getting dirty, so to speak. The band delivers grinding, greasy and swampy accompaniment as Slim puts fresh twists on age-old blues themes, from the humorous side ("Truck Driving Mama") to the witheringly sober ("Black Water").
Time and Time Again
Philly-born drummer Paul Motian, who played with pianists from Bill Evans to Keith Jarrett, is a master accompanist who makes everyone around him sound better. Hearing him as a leader represents a fuller opportunity to hear those whom he wishes to bestow his favors on.
This set with tenor titan Joe Lovano and über-guitarist Bill Frisell is notable for the near pulse-free environment that Motian creates. Motian, 76, is into vibes and auras. The music often occurs in a haze, which gives Lovano and Frisell extraordinary leeway to develop the leader's originals.
Motian, who was inspired to learn piano and compose after more than a decade with Jarrett, sometimes presses the tunes toward melody. "Whirlpool" is as gorgeous as this month of May has been. And so is the winsome "K.T."
Other times, Motian sets the table and the tunes get carried on the whims of Lovano's breath or Frisell's fingers. "In Remembrance of Things Past" goes in a Middle-Eastern direction while "Light Blue" is all edgy and angular, hinting of the brief occasions when Motian backed pianist Thelonious Monk.
The subtle stickman is at a high point here.
- Karl Stark
(Dreambox Media ***)
From its opening bass line, this collection from keyboardist and producer Mark Knox hits a sweet spot. The tunes have him foraging for melodies from Asia to the Caribbean even as a bright, funky groove comes and goes.
This is smooth jazz with frequent-flier mileage. Three tunes pay tribute to Japan. Knox really gets his kimono on with "Hiroshima," which has a fantasy quality to it along with a children's chorus. "Evening Song" is a comely Vietnamese folk song that showcases Gerald Veasley's bass in a Jaco Pastorious-like blend, while "Salamanca," a ville in western Spain, throbs with a heavy backbeat more typical of a certain cheesesteak burg.
A bevy of Philly all-stars dig in, including Veasley, whom Knox has produced for many years, trumpeter John Swana, flutist Denis DiBlasio, vibraphonist Tony Miceli, and drummer Jim Miller. Soprano saxophonist Chris Farr gives some mystical zest to the bouncy "Thayohur."
Christian Tetzlaff, violin.
Didn't Christian Tetzlaff just record Bach's sonatas and partitas for the Virgin label? It's hard to believe, but that was 14 years ago, in recordings so different you sometimes wonder if it's the same violinist. The earlier set (among the best available) is from the school of interpretation that infuses Bach's grandly sketched constructions with all manner of angst. Few violinists have done so with as much conviction as Tetzlaff, while leaving minimal labor scars on the music's surface.
The new set favors a more fat-free, unvarnished sound both in his choice of violins and in the recording acoustic, with an approach that's more about pure music than emotional inference. The overall effect might seem more plain were there not a different sense of mastery over his violin: There's almost no gap between Tetzlaff's musical conception and what comes out of his violin. Long stretches unfold with minimal sense that an instrument is being manipulated in the realization of Bach's music.
This less awe-inspiring Bach is also a bit more inviting, though limited in its appeal; I suspect that more repeated listenings will happen with the earlier recording. Yet the second recording should be heard: There's nothing quite like it these days.
- David Patrick Stearns
Nelson Freire, piano.
Unmissable Beethoven piano sonata recordings keep on coming, and Nelson Freire's just might leave jaws hanging. Though he's becoming a grand old man of concert pianists with his increasing visibility and long-cultivated artistry, this recording is that of a lion in his prime, equaling and perhaps surpassing even the most exciting efforts of his frequent duo-piano partner, Martha Argerich. The downside is that his distinctively Beethovenian sense of volatility, which rings so true you wouldn't dream of accusing Freire of bombast, sometimes comes at the expense of details, which can always be heard but not always taken in amid the furious tempos.
That's never going to happen with Andras Schiff, who frames and clarifies Beethoven's more prickly moments rather than re-enacting them. This no less valid than Freire's approach, but creates different experiences. His reading of the famous "Moonlight" sonata is more serenely nocturnal than the typically gothic approach. And the Op. 28 "Pastoral" sonata, which is sort of its photo-negative opposite, is something Schiff was born to play. Thanks to Schiff's Bach background, he finds counterpoint everywhere, which in Beethoven can be more competitive than complementary, such as the clipped, strict rhythms that contast with the flowing lyricism of the "Pastoral."
In Stores Tuesday
Paul McCartney, Memory Almost Full; Chris Cornell, Carry On;
Big & Rich,