Oldie songs are new again with Jimmy Webb, Broadway gems

"W.ants W.orld W.omen."
"W.ants W.orld W.omen."
Posted: June 29, 2010

A Philly landmark is name-checked, showstoppers are sung anew and several concert faves are back in action in this week's album releases.

THE WEBB HE WEAVES: "God bless Philadelphia, they were standing in the rain, outside the Main Point, a wet and lonely train." So goes the lyric to "If You See Me Getting Smaller," one of the classic Jimmy Webb songs earning a refresher course on his new "Just Across the River" (E1, B+).

While Webb was one of the most successful of country-pop songwriters to emerge in the 1970s, his career as a performer never amounted to much, in the same way then-rival Burt Bacharach couldn't cut it as a recording artist either - both for the lack of pipe power.

But time and maybe Auto-Tune have been kind to Webb. He sounds better here than he did in his youth and more than capable of keeping up with his guests. Yeah, that's Billy Joel helping out on "Wichita Lineman"; Lucinda Williams joining on Webb's "Galveston"; Mark Knopfler lending a dire growl to "Highwayman"; and Glen Campbell on "By The Time I Get to Phoenix. "

Others helping to reweave the Webbs include Willie Nelson, Vince Gill, Jackson Browne, Michael McDonald, J.D. Souther and Linda Ronstadt.

SHOWSTOPPERS: Speaking of Bacharach, he's gotta be glowing over the performances Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth are wringing from his swinging pop score for "Promises, Promises" (MasterWorks, B+), now back on Broadway and in new cast album form. This revised production effectively inserts a couple of other BB/Hal David notables - "Say a Little Prayer" and "A House Is Not a Home" - to exploit Chenoweth's fire power and interpretive skills. And Hayes' singing improves on original cast member Jerry Orbach.

That Newsweek writer who suggested this newly out talent (of "Will & Grace" fame) has no business playing a "straight" romantic lead isn't just idiotic, he's tone deaf.

Soundtrack collectors should also seek out John Adams' brilliant score for the art film "I Am Love" (Nonesuch, A-), a serious Academy Award contender. But tread lightly around the stage musical adaptation of "The Addams Family" (Decca, C+). Stars Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth are fine, but the tradition-minded Broadway score by Andrew Lippa is forgettable.

THEY DO PROTEST, ENOUGH: Performance artist Laurie Anderson is up to her dry, droll and creative best on "Homeland" (Nonesuch, B+) with material that touches on U.S. foreign policy, economic collapse, the erosion of personal freedom and medical malpractice. Anderson plays World Cafe Live on July 11.

Looking for a contemporary black voice wailing in the Marvin Gaye "What's Going On" vein? Check out the latest missives of neo-soul singer Dwele on "W.ants W.orld W.omen" (E1, B). On "How I Deal" (featuring Slum Village), he sings of "waiting for Obama to kick in."

CONCERT ZONE: While conspicuously absent from any of the lineups for this summer's (first in 10 years) Lilith Fair (hitting the Camden shed July 28), you'll find feminist faves the Indigo Girls running down the hits in a mix of acoustic and rocked-up band treatments on the double-disc concert set "Staring Down the Brilliant Dream" (Vanguard, B).

The Derek Trucks Band covers lots of sonic territory in concert, from expected blues rock ("Key to the Highway") to jazz ("Afro Blue") on the jamtastic double disc set "Roadsongs" (Masterworks, B+).

Philly's far-out jazz legend the Sun Ra Arkestra is still illuminating under the direction of Marshall Allen, and "Live at the Paradox" (In+Out Records, B+). Secret of their longevity? The Ark surrounds the eerie synthesizer scorched likes of "Take Off" with vocally crooned, old-school emulators like "Discipline 27-B/I'll Wait for You" and "Millennium" and catchy curios like "Velvet" that help define the time-space continuum from Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk.

Reminding anew how folksy and rough around the edges the Grateful Dead were in their youth is the latest release of board tapes "Road Trips, Vol. 3, No. 3" (Dead Net, B), capturing acoustic-light performances at the Fillmore East in New York from May 15, 1970. By the way - that exhibit of Dead memorabilia at the New York Historical Society, originally set to close this weekend, has just been extended to Sept. 5. Worth an outing to NYC!

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