Raitt produced all those numbers, performing them with her own band, and it's all typically solid stuff. But the highlights are the four tracks helmed by Joe Henry, using his own musicians, especially two excellent Dylan numbers, "Million Miles" and "Standing in the Doorway."
The arrangements are spare and evocative, and bring a new and fresh feel to Raitt's usual blues- and folk-based approaches. It makes you want to hear more from this collaboration.
- Nick Cristiano
Radio Music Society
(Heads Up International ***1/2)
If 2010's Chamber Music Society was bassist/composer/vocalist Esperanza Spalding's hat tip to her classical roots, this new album looks at her popping funk history and the fellow jazz players who helped make the music.
Like a neo-soul Steely Dan, Spalding's arrangements bring differently swinging drummers Terri Lyne Carrington and Jack DeJohnette, spiky Philly guitarist Jef Lee Johnson, salty saxophonist Joe Lovano, vocalist Gretchen Palato, and keyboardist Leo Genovese (among others) to bear on her subtly layered productions.
Save for two riveting tunes coproduced with rapper Q-Tip (their "Crowned & Kissed" is one of the album's high points) and two covers (Wayne Shorter, Stevie Wonder), this is Spalding's shining hour. She lets her alto coo flitter atop the abrupt rhythms and syncopated horns of "Radio Song" and slithers into the blues of "Hold on Me" with sensual aplomb. She pens smartly emotional lyrics for Shorter's "Endangered Species" and turns it into rubbery bop-pop. While "Black Gold" offers a sermon in the church of electric gospel (complete with children's choir), "Let Her" is heel-clicking R&B guided by her supple rhythmic interplay with DeJohnette. Each collaborator shines, their best traits highlighted, their funkiest feet forward. But it's Spalding's show, a truly crowned and kissed moment. - A.D. Amorosi
Amadou & Mariam - the married "blind couple from Mali" of guitarist Amadou Bagayoko and singer Mariam Doumbia - broke through as global pop stars with their 2004 Manu Chao-produced album Dimanche à Bamako. Following Welcome to Mali, their 2008 album, Folila is the second A&M album that faces the challenge of maintaining the essential character of their rhythmically complex, enticingly euphoric music while working to broaden their audience by collaborating with their Western pop-music admirers. Starting with the first single, "Dougou Badia," featuring vocals from Santigold, Folila does a fine job of it, bringing in the likes of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Nick Zinner and rapper Theophilus London without watering down tracks such as the sinewy "Wily Katsao," which features Kyp Malone and Tunde Adebimpe of TV on the Radio. Amadou & Mariam are synthesists rather than purists in the first place. Bagayako's circular guitar lines and Doubia's deeply soulful, keening vocals have pulled from European and American sources as well as West African rhythms all along, and on Folila (which means "music" in the Malian language of Bambara), they're simply adding new elements to a richly varied approach that has served them well for years.
- Dan DeLuca
Older Than My Old Man Now
(2nd Story Sound ***1/2)
" . . . here's another song in C/ With my favorite protagonist - me," Loudon Wainwright III sings on "In C." The singer-songwriter has indeed made a long career of singing about himself, but it's hard to think of another troubadour who does the self-referential with such a mixture of brutal, self-lacerating candor and irrepressible wit.
That's the case again throughout Older Than My Old Man Now. As the title would indicate, death and mortality are much on the mind of the 65-year-old Wainwright, and his stock-taking involves a big focus on family. His late father is a presence. Two songs begin with Wainwright reciting from the writing of the onetime Life magazine columnist. Performing on the album are all four of his children, his current wife, and ex-wife Suzzy Roche. (His first wife, Kate McGarrigle, is dead, but he performs the song they cowrote in 1975, "Over the Hill.") Ramblin' Jack Elliott and Chris Smither also guest.
Wainwright can still turn out glib, clever novelty numbers - "Date Line" and "My Meds." But most of this is about the heavier stuff, leavened by his deft hand. Only Wainwright can sing a ballad called "I Remember Six" as a duet with Dame Edna (who, of course, is a man), and make it sound more true-to-life than ridiculous.
- Nick Cristiano
Loudon Wainwright III, with Rob Morsberger, will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Sellersville Theater, 24 W. Temple Ave., Sellersville. Tickets: $29.50 and $45. Information: 215-257-5808 or www.st94.com
Country/Blues Stronger for It
It's not hard to figure out what has Janiva Magness all riled up on her new album. "I never thought I'd want to hurt a man this bad," she spits out over the raw, hard-hitting R&B of the album's opening number, "There It Is." Stronger for It is fueled by loss and hurt - and anger - but it's much more than just a woman-scorned screed. As the title indicates, Magness' story is also one of resilience and redemption.
"There It Is" is one of only three songs written by Magness. The Blues Music Awards' 2009 B.B. King Entertainer of the Year instead tells her compelling story through a brilliantly selected collection of songs by others. Along the way she makes them her own, from the bluesy isolation of Tom Waits' "Make It Rain" to the in-your-face defiance of Shelby Lynne's "I'm Alive," from the grating frustration of Ike Turner's "You Got What You Wanted" to the soulful tenderness of Gladys Knight's "I Don't Want to Do Wrong." It all ends, appropriately enough, with the liberating gospel of Ray Wyle Hubbard's "Whoop and Holler": "I'm gonna rise up!"
- Nick Cristiano
Jazz This Moment's Sweetness
Singer Rhenda Fearrington can sure lay down a tune. A native New Yorker, Fearrington was a longtime backup singer for Roberta Flack and the R&B group Mtume, and she now works as a store manager at Barnes & Noble in Delaware County.
Her jazz might just be the next best-seller. This CD, with bassist and producer Mike Boone, is classy and earthy. Fearrington, who is hawking this on cdbaby.com and other sites, performs a pleasant mix of pop, jazz, soul, and gospel. Flack's "Killing Me Softly" becomes a stately duet with Boone, while the Kern/Mercer tune "Dearly Beloved" gets the more traditional standard treatment. Tenor saxophonist Larry McKenna and drummer Byron Landham are among the worthies on this CD.
- Karl Stark
Fearrington will hold a CD-release party from 8 p.m. to midnight Monday at Chris' Jazz Cafe, 1420 Sansom St. Tickets: $10. Information: 215-568-1313 or www.chrisjazzcafe.com.
Classical Hamburg Philharmonic, Simone Young conducting.
(Oehms Classics ***)
Orchestra dell' Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Antonio Pappano conducting.
Badische Staatskapelle Karlsruhe, Justin Brown conducting.
(Pan Classics ***1/2)
Among these three conductors new to the Mahler discography, the predictable front-runner is Antonio Pappano, whose authority with Verdi at the Royal Opera translates beautifully to Mahler's own inner opera in the Symphony No. 6. The performance has the clean conciseness of good Verdi, without slighting the gravity of this seriously grave symphony.
The standard of playing is high, Pappano's sense of pacing feels right, relevant details are everywhere, and the recording quality (which has been a minus in past Santa Cecilia recordings) is so good that even the MP3 downloads have a spacious sound picture.
The other two discs have surprises: Justin Brown is the least known of the three conductors but certainly knows his way around the Ninth, in a performance that creates telling contrasts between the piece's inner intricacies and its broad-stroke moments, etching sharp contours in this elegiac work. The orchestra is close to first-class, the SACD sound is superb.
Though Simone Young has certainly displayed an explosive temperament in other repertoire, this first Mahler outing, while perfectly good, doesn't measure up to the considerable competition. Often, she downplays individual events to allow listeners to get their ears around the totality, but with results that sound oddly demure. Mezzo Dagmar Peckova was caught on one of her less charismatic days.
If this is the beginning of a series, it can only get better.
- David Patrick Stearns