This Week in Music, March 19, 2013: Justin Timberlake. Seriously. Page 2
Simone Dinnerstein / Tift Merritt: Night
New release (Sony Classical; tour dates)
Photo by Lisa-Marie Mazzucco
As the press release points out, these two artists "could not come from more different musical backgrounds": Simone Dinnerstein, a Juilliard-trained classical pianist from Brooklyn, while Tift Merritt, taught by her Dad to play by ear, is a folk/Americana singer/songwriter from North Carolina. Night brings them together in a song cycle that, to be sure, is primarily nocturnal in subject and sound.
The collaborations here take several forms. After Dinnerstein joins Merritt's vocals and acoustic guitar late on the opening track, the Merritt original "Only in Songs," we're actually in the realm of art songs, with the pianist backing the vocalist on Schubert's "Night and Dreams," Billie Holiday's "Don't Explain," Purcell's "Dido's Lament," and Brad Mehldau's "I Shall Weep at Night." (Of these, only "Don't Explain" proves a challenge for Merritt's delicate voice, despite Dinnerstein's searching support.) Then there's a mini-cycle of the artists "conversing" between their own recordings, with Dinnerstein's take on Bach's Prelude in B minor serving as a bridge between two vocal-and-guitar numbers by Merritt: the sober traditional "Wayfaring Stranger" and her own peppy, determined "Still Not Home."
Another traditional, "I Will Give My Love an Apple," and Patty Griffin's title track return us to piano and vocals. Both the Griffin and the Mehldau tracks were written especially for this project, which also includes Dinnerstein's world-premiere recording of "The Cohen Variations," Daniel Felsenfeld's adaptation of Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne." But in another shift, the remainder of the tracks gather all three musical forces - guitar, piano, and vocals - for Merritt's "Colors" and "Feel of the World" and Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now," which brings us out of the night to close the album with that bright, sunshiny day.
Gorgeous and bare, impressionistic and plainspoken, from a European chamber to an Appalachian front porch - somehow, it all works together. And in its expert sequencing, with a few songs that segue from one to another seamlessly, Night is a throwback to the days when albums were Albums.
Low: The Invisible Way
New release (Sub Pop; tour dates)
Photo by Zoran Orlic
Whoever said Low was humorless?
Now they make you piss into a plastic cup, and give it up.
The cup will probably be here long after we're gone. . . . What's wrong?
They'll probably dig it up a thousand years from now, and how.
They'll probably wonder what the hell we used it for, and more.
'This must be the cup the king held every night, as he cried.'
Meanwhile, "So Blue" is - surprise! - the most upbeat track on The Invisible Way. Elsewhere, things are more customarily contemplative, as in the beautiful homages to "Clarence White" and "Mother." Wilco's Jeff Tweedy is the producer here, giving clarity to Alan Sparhawk's guitars, Steve Garrington's bass and keyboards, and Mimi Parker's drums. Parker's vocal contributions are especially charming (and numerous) this time out, and it's a marvel how a song like "On My Own" can shift your focus from her enchanting harmony line to Sparhawk's electric grunge dirge. Low has been quietly mulling things over for 10 studio albums and 20 years now. Unimpressed?
Well, maybe you should go out and write your own damn song, and move on.
Alpha Rev: Bloom
New release (Kirtland; tour dates)
Photo by Tommy Moore
How can loss affect you? Let singer/songwriter Casey McPherson count the ways in his new material for Alpha Rev: " 'Black Sky' is about dealing with losing everything you have from a fire. 'Lonely Man' is about losing your family from working too much. And 'When You Gonna Run' is about losing the ability to look good in front of somebody.' "
McPherson knows something about loss in his own life: Both his father and his brother committed suicide. And on "Lonely Man," that kind of loss echoes endlessly in the wide open spaces of McPherson's American Southwest. But on the chorus of "When You Gonna Run" (as well as those of "Lexington" and "Sing Loud"), he and the band achieve a cathartic, near-U2 grandeur - if U2 had come from Texas.
There are lesser tracks ("Crystal Colorado," "Eden Home"), but then there are the haunting sonics of "I Will Come." And ultimately, Alpha Rev is a band meant to rise above loss. As McPherson sings, if that "Black Sky" does cover the sun, "I'll wait for the light to come."
New release (MRI/Megaforce; tour dates)
Photo by Andy Buchanan
I prefer cover versions to actually do something with the originals - rearrange, re-invent, or outright abuse them. But in the case of this faithful Anthrax EP, I'm happy to make an exception because the band brings maximum chops and cheer. MVPs: the unstoppable rhythm section of bassist Frank Bello and drummer Charlie Benante. Tracks: Rush's "Anthem," AC/DC's "TNT," Boston's "Smokin'," Journey's "Keep On Runnin'," Cheap Trick's "Big Eyes," and Thin Lizzy's "Jailbreak." Bonuses: the original and a decent remix of Anthrax's own "Crawl" (from the band's current album, Worship Music).
Josh Rouse: The Happiness Waltz
New release (Yep Roc; tour dates)
Photo by Allen Clark
Says Josh Rouse: "Songwriting for me is something I have to do to stay on the sunny side of life." No wonder, then, that the title of the leadoff track on his new album implores, "Julie (Come Out of the Rain)." Although you wouldn't know it from the photo of Rouse above, his wife and children have him wearing his sunny feelings on the song-title sleeves of many other tracks: "Simple Pleasure," "It's Good to Have You," "Our Love," "Start a Family." (Then there's that album title.) This outlook suits his feel-good folk-pop music to a T. As for "Purple and Beige": If Rouse's stories and songs are decidedly colored the latter, they're still as sweet as a friendly Facebook post. What's not to Like?
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club: Specter at the Feast
New release (Abstract Dragon/Vagrant; tour dates)
Photo by James Minchin
The death of sound engineer/"fourth member" Michael Been, who was bassist Robert Been's father, sent BRMC back to the roots of their 2001 debut - back to the assorted garages of their youth. So whereas this album opens with abstract tones, the band suddenly grabs a lowdown beat for the rest of "Fire Walker" and then ramps up the rock for "Let the Day Begin" (a cover from Michael Been's own band, the Call). Yes, there's plenty of bluster and swagger here. Unfortunately, the noise can get a tad monolithic, so the plush "Lullaby" is a welcome respite. The same can't be said for "Some Kind of Ghost" and "Sometimes the Light," two brooding tracks that are inexplicably paired up. Similarly linked are "Hate the Taste" and "Rival," which share essentially the same chorus. Specter at the Feast is bracing, but it ain't groundbreaking.