New Recordings

Posted: March 27, 2011

Pop

Angles

(RCA **1/2)

"People want a rock band of their generation they can trust," Julian Casablancas told Spin recently. The Strokes' leader got that right. And people of the Strokes' generation want the Strokes to be the band they were back in the early aughts, when the tightly wired Is This It (2001) and Room On Fire (2003) arrived as a most welcome corrective to the rap-rock knuckleheads ruling the charts at the time. Angles approximates that world-weary, insouciant spirit better than the last Strokes album, the too-worked-over First Impressions of Earth. But it's hardly the full-fledged return to form the New York quintet's fans so desperately seek. Considering it was begun with one producer and finished with another, with Casablancas recording his vocals in L.A. after the rest of the band had recorded the tracks in New York, it doesn't sound as disjointed as it might have. But after a brisk start with the snappy reggae rip "Machu Picchu" and the terrifically snarling "Under the Cover of Darkness," Angles settles into a labored hit-and-miss affair, bottoming out with the unfortunate bossa nova mishap "Call Me Back."

- Dan DeLuca

Those Shocking Shaking Days: Indonesian Hard, Psychedelic, Progressive Rock and Funk 1970-1978

(Now-Again ****)

In 1975, known world music (and fuzztone guitar) enthusiast Jimmy Page observed that there was already "enough music recorded and in the vaults everywhere for me to be happy forever." Given how increasingly available the planet's cumulative wealth of recorded music has become, his notion has only grown more viable since. The global archives continue to deepen with more (re)discoveries of great, diverse music - and the unprecedented sharing of same. Best is when the curated presentation of the obscure yet enthralling comes as a lavish, well-annotated, well-chosen collection - like this. Particularly in its vinyl triple-disc version, Shaking Days delivers an engrossing swath of historic rock-based culture from Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous country (and most populous Islamic nation).

Genres referenced in the compilation's descriptive subtitle are accordingly represented over 20 tracks. Earthy Indonesian evocations of Led Zeppelin's blazing crunch, Deep Purple's churchy boogie, Hendrix/Santana acid flow, catchy psychedelia, and Afro-jam-rockin' James Brown-ian funk are often cut with native dangdut folk-pop and other Asian elements. The Indonesian archipelago's ethnic diversity is also evident, from the trippy four-brother hard-rock act Panbers of Sumatra (the soaring "Haai") to the darker-skinned otherness of Western Papua's Black Brothers ("Saman Doye"). Truly mind-blowing.

- David R. Stampone

Femme Fatale

(Jive ***1/2)

With her last two albums, pop princess Britney Spears showed a deep inclination - even a need - to engulf her voice in the eccentricities of electronica. But on Femme Fatale, Spears sounds more willing than ever to become both a tool of technology (a cog in the machinery, from the rigid dubstep of "Hold It Against Me") and its remote yet passionate commander. Listen to "Trip to Your Heart," the achy-breakiest electro-pop ever, and tell me you can't feel Britney's yearning through the Auto-Tune-n-tweaks.

Surely Spears picked the FX-heavy producers who'd twist her vocal pleas and was in on their moody cold waves and molten hot mixes. Max Martin and Dr. Luke turned a majority of Femme Fatale into a gilded Eurodisco palace that Giorgio Moroder would have envied, with the thrilling "Gasoline" being the weirdly best of the bunch. Will.i.am makes "Big Fat Bass" into a flexed-out showcase for Brit's deepest desires. On the CD's deluxe edition, "He About to Lose Me" (penned by producers Rodney Jerkins and Darkchild) manages to be eerie, cocky, and soulful.

Forget Gaga, Fergie, and Christina's leaps into electro. Britney's the ice queen.

- A.D. Amorosi

All Eternals Deck

(Merge ***)

John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats writes finely observed character studies of individuals in crisis. That may sound more like the purview of a short-story writer than that of an indie musician, but Darnielle's songs impress first on a literary plane. They don't try to dazzle with diction (see the Decemberists), nor are they self-consciously complex in structure (see Sufjan Stevens); instead, they go for psychological and emotional depth, with subtle acoustic settings for his reedy voice.

Darnielle has been working at a consistently high level for the last decade, during which he's released an impressive eight albums, the newest being All Eternals Deck. While not quite as superlative as the novelistic Tallahassee, the autobiographical The Sunset Tree, or the theological The Life of the World to Come, All Eternals Deck is full of Darnielle's empathy, wit, and existential dread.

"You'll sleep better when you think you've stepped back from the brink," Darnielle sings in the pedal-steel-kissed piano ballad "Never Quite Free." He sounds reassuring, but he's most interested in the lure of the brink.

- Steve Klinge


The Mountain Goats with Megafaun play April 15 at 9 p.m. at the Theatre of Living Arts, 334 South St. Tickets: $27. Information: 215-922-1011, www.livenation.com.

Country/Roots

Steppin' Up

(Kizybosh ***1/2)

There's a bittersweet story behind this album. Steppin' Up fulfilled a longtime dream for Dennis Taylor - it was the first solo set by the veteran saxophonist, who had backed Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Buckwheat Zydeco, Duke Robillard, and, most recently, Delbert McClinton. But he never got to see its release - he died in October at 56.

It's nice to note that Taylor made the most of his one opportunity to be up front. Working in an organ-trio format with McClinton keyboardist Kevin McKendree and a rotating cast of three drummers, Taylor presents a collection of instrumentals (save for one McClinton vocal turn) that shows him blending the urbane sophistication of a jazzman with the earthy exuberance of a roots-music maven. He ranges easily from the infectious funkiness of his own "Lee's Lick" to the Crescent City hoodoo of Dr. John's "I Walk on Gilded Splinters"; from the gospel-infused abandon of Ray Charles' "Hallelujah I Love Her So" to the after-hours ambience of his own "Back at the Teddy Bear Lounge."

In probably the most unusual move, he tackles Lennon-McCartney's "And I Love Her." And like everything else here, it exudes deep and unaffected soul.

- Nick Cristiano

Jazz

Captain Black Big Band

(Posi-Tone Records ***1/2)

Pianist Orrin Evans embraces a larger-than-usual cast on this big-band recording. The seven pieces - one is recorded at Chris' Jazz Cafe in Philadelphia, the rest at the Jazz Gallery in New York - are hard-blowing, tumultuous affairs that could come from the Art Blakey playbook, albeit with some updating.

Evans, a composer, arranger, and even a promoter, pulls players from Philly and New York for a CD full of warm horns and slashing solos.

Composers/arrangers Todd Bashore and Todd Marcus offer up compositions and arrangements along with Evans, who keeps the reliably combustible proceedings on track. While not always pretty, it is the real deal. Tenor saxophonist Ralph Bowen and altoists Rob Landham and Jaleel Shaw are some of the folks who light up this disc.

- Karl Stark


Orrin Evans and the Captain Black Big Band will play at Chris' Jazz Cafe, 1421 Sansom St., on Monday from 8 p.m. to midnight. Admission: $10. Information: 215-568-3131, www.chrisjazzcafe.com.

Classical

Gounod's "Romeo et Juliette" with Jussi Bjorling and Bidu Sayao, Emil Cooper conducting

Puccini's "La Boheme" with Carlo Bergonzi and Licia Albanese, Thomas Schippers conducting

Puccini's "Tosca" with Leontyne Price and Franco Corelli, Kurt Adler conducting

Rossini's "Barber of Seville" with Giuseppi di Stefano and Lily Pons, Alberto Erede conducting

(Sony ***1/2)

Though most hard-core opera people have heard these great historic Metropolitan Opera live performances, these mid-priced Sony sets are their first legitimate releases, and with the exception of Romeo et Juliette, are heard in far better sound than in most previously circulated bootlegs. The performances catch some of the greatest voices of the 1940s, '50s, and '60s in their prime, sometimes a bit rough, but with an interventionist attitude that made the operas feel like living theater - in contrast to the curatorial manner common in the more polished but less spontaneous performances often heard at the present-day Met.

Not all the singing has aged well stylistically. While the oldest set, the 1947 Romeo, feels incredibly immediate thanks to the elegance of Jussi Bjorling and Bidu Sayao, in the 1962 Tosca, the notoriously nervous Franco Corelli falls back on a lot of Italian mannerisms. In the 1950 Barber, Lily Pons isn't the cleanest vocalist, especially next to Giuseppe di Stefano's fresh pipes. The best overall is the Boheme, partly thanks to Thomas Schippers' vital conducting, partly because of Licia Albanese, whose voice was not the most ingratiating but who gave every phrase linguistic authority and profound dramatic truth.

- David Patrick Stearns

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