- Katherine Silkaitis
God Willin' and the Creek Don't Rise
Ray LaMontagne, folk-rock's reluctant laureate, takes his trademark accessibility to new heights on the excellent God Willin' and the Creek Don't Rise.
Accompanied by a stellar backing band, the Pariah Dogs, LaMontagne pairs his raspy croon with a distinctly '70s sensibility, drawing on the Band, Faces, and Nick Drake to guide his experimentations with country and Americana.
The rocky opener "Repo Man" has a seductive twang reminiscent of Rod Stewart or the Band, and there's something endearing about the shambling "Old Before Your Time," on which the thirtysomething LaMontagne mourns a lost youth.
But it's the melancholy "New York City's Killing Me," which relocates Nick Drake to the Big Apple, that centers God Willin'. Wistful and touching by turns, it's a reminder of just why LaMontagne became the face of modern folk.
- Emily Tartanella
Alive As You Are
"Backseat" opens Darker My Love's third album with a minor-key folk-rock strum that looks back to the Velvet Underground. The next song begins with some very Byrds-y guitar, and the song after that uses the Beatles' "Dr. Robert" as a point of departure. These are not uncommon templates, but the Los Angeles five-piece is not slavish to its source material; Alive As You Are is full of detours.
Darker My Love's previous albums were much heavier, dense with psychedelic guitars, and that sound is still evident in tracks such as "Dear Author." But the new looseness allows more space for vocal harmonies between Tim Presley and Rob Barbato and for shifting textures of organ or steel guitar. Alive As You Are is relaxed, dark, drifting, and vaguely but pleasingly familiar.
- Steve Klinge
(Warner Bros **1/2)
When SoCal's crunchiest metal marauders, Avenged Sevenfold, scored their first Billboard No. 1 album last week, two thoughts came to mind. The first was that they thankfully toppled Eminem's five-week Recovery run. The other was Huh? What's special about Avenged's fifth studio album that it crashed through to the top?
The answer comes in remembering that megawatt singer M. Shadows and Company isn't just the most aggressive of spooky metal-core acts. Avenged has long been the catchiest; they never lost sight (or sound) of their punk-pop roots or muggy melodies. Add to that pretty potion a renewed love of '80s hair metal - soft (power ballads like "Victim"), hard (pile-drivers like "Buried Alive), and epic (thunderclappers like "Save Me") - as well as production courtesy Mike Elizondo (50 Cent, Snoop) and the result is densely dynamic rawk with an emphasis on swelling, double-kicked rhythm.
- A.D. Amorosi
Country/Roots On the Floor of Heaven: Deluxe Edition
Before he died in February 2006, Billy Cowsill, one of the lead singers and writers for the Blue Shadows, expressed the wish that the Canadian quartet's 1993 debut album would be reissued so it could find a wider audience - it had never been released in the United States. Cowsill, who had been part of the '60s pop group the Cowsills, had a right to be proud. On the Floor of Heaven was, to use the cliche, a lost classic. Now, with this two-disc set, we can lose the "lost."
Certain comparisons are inevitable with the Blue Shadows. Cowsill and his co-front man, Jeffrey Hatcher, mixed country and pop, but not in the kind of vanilla way that passes for country these days. Rather, they cut their twang with crisp, Beatlesque tunefulness and Everly-like harmonies. The result sounds more timeless than retro, although the approach certainly was a throwback even in '93.
The second 12-song disc contains self-penned outtakes that could stand with the dozen cuts on the just-about-perfect original album, as well as sharp covers of Merle Haggard and Joni Mitchell and a killer take on the George Jones-sung stone-country ballad "Hell Stays Open All Night Long."
- Nick Cristiano
Jazz Just Once More
Intriguing modernisms segue into something more menacing and even funky on the opening tune of this wide-ranging disk from South Philly-based pianist Ed Strauman.
An assistant professor at Chestnut Hill College, Strauman has assembled an intelligent recording that is part free and suave, and serves as a Philly homecoming of sorts. Tenor saxophonist Michael Pedicin, who worked with Gamble and Huff's R&B label for a decade along with many jazz gigs, is lured back from the Jersey Shore along with Philly expats guitarist Johnnie Valentino and singer Elissa Lala.
Strauman, an accompanist to various ballets, never loses his forward drive. "In Loco Parentis," with its flowing chords, is typical of the good work here.
- Karl Stark
Strauman and his trio will play Chick's Café, 614 S. Seventh St., Philadelphia on Sept. 2 at 8:30 and 10 p.m. 215-625-3700. No cover.
Classical Mark Padmore, tenor; Paul Lewis, piano.
(Harmonia Mundi ****)
Werner Güra, tenor; Christoph Berner, fortepiano.
(Marmonia Mundi ****)
Matthias Goerne, baritone; Ingo Metzmacher, piano.
(Harmonia Mundi ***)
Three major Schubert song discs, issued about the same time and by the same recording label, might seem to tax the limited market for this music - until you examine the individual artistic trajectories. The hugely acclaimed Mark Padmore/Paul Lewis Winterreise recording all but demanded a follow-up with Schubert's other great song cycle, Die Schöne Müllerin. And even by the high standards set by many past recordings of this piece, Padmore delivers a rare combination of depth, vulnerability, and linguistic precision.
As for Werner Güra, his many other excellent German lieder recordings led inevitably to Winterreise, a rather different experience from Padmore. Accompanied by the slim but penetrating sound of the fortepiano, Güra deploys a gleaming, robust, frankly operatic tenor to portray a heartbroken protagonist who doesn't go quietly into the winter landscape but is like an angry, wounded animal, fighting almost to the end, when he accepts his fate.
The fourth volume of Matthias Goerne's ongoing Schubert series lacks the vocal freshness or precision of his earlier years - and that blunts the inventiveness of his phrasing. The program, however, is a valuable cross section of Schubert's vast song output, steering clear of the often-heard greatest hits but also avoiding the composer's more obscure, justly neglected items. Conductor Ingo Metzmacher turns out to be a memorable pianistic collaborator. In fact, all three discs are as notable for their pianism as for their vocalism. - David Patrick Stearns