This Week in Music, May 28, 2013: Rollin’ with proud Fogerty

John Fogerty: Wrote a Song for Everyone

New release (Vanguard)
Photo by Nela Koenig

Dusting off old songs, a veteran rocker teams up with (mostly) younger musicians for duets: Often, this can be a recipe for tedium, if not disaster. So it’s a joy to report that John Fogerty’s Wrote a Song for Everyone is among the best of such tributes.

When he was at the helm of Creedence Clearwater Revival in the late 1960s and early ’70s, Fogerty almost always wrote his songs for everyone. But because of legal/personal discord, he later went years without playing them for anyone. Today, reunited with his own material in the studio, he sounds like he’s having the time of his life, and nearly every guest on this album helps add fresh blood to the tracks.

Ten songs are from the Creedence catalog. Standout versions include the Foo Fighters amping up the attack of “Fortunate Son,” Dawes emphasizing the beautiful melody of “Someday Never Comes,” Alan Jackson heading into the Deep South with “Have You Ever Seen the Rain,” and Jennifer Hudson, Allen Toussaint, and the Rebirth Brass Band letting the bon temps roll on “Proud Mary.” Also fine: “Long as I Can See the Light” (My Morning Jacket), “Who’ll Stop the Rain” (Bob Seger), and two non-CCR songs, “Almost Saturday Night” from 1975’s John Fogerty (Keith Urban) and “Hot Rod Heart” from 1997’s Blue Moon Swamp (Brad Paisley).

Not fine: “Lodi,” with Fogerty joined by sons/guitarists Shane and Tyler, has lost its sense of dejection. Same goes for Miranda Lambert’s take on the title track, especially when Tom Morello unleashes an inappropriate guitar blast. (For the record, Mavis Staples didn’t have any better luck with the song on her 2010 album, You Are Not Alone.) Still, those are the only missteps, and they’re mitigated by Fogerty performing two new compositions: the down-and-dirty “Train of Fools” (reminiscent of the cowboy poem The Hell Bound Train) and the particularly excellent, four-part homage to The Road, “Mystic Highway” (with one part recalling the a cappella break in the Doobie Brothers’ “Black Water”).

Yes, he’s still writing songs. He also produced this album, and with a mix by Bob Clearmountain, it has a sharp punch to the rock and a clear evocation of the country. Almost 50 years after we first heard Fogerty, we remain the fortunate ones.

P.S. The CD’s generous booklet has track-by-track notes by Fogerty explaining his writing of the songs, as well as photos that include many archival shots.

Kinky Boots

Kinky Boots (Original Broadway Cast Recording)

New release (Masterworks Broadway)
Photo by Matthew Murphy/The O+M Company

The entire creative team behind the musical Kinky Books has been nominated for Tony Awards: Cyndi Lauper (Best Original Score: Music and Lyrics), Harvey Fierstein (Best Book), and Jerry Mitchell (Best Direction and Best Choreography), along with the orchestrator and the designers of sound, lighting, scenery, and costumes. So have both leading actors, Billy Porter and Stark Sands, as well as featured actress Annaleigh Ashford. Add ’em all up — with, of course, a nomination for Best Musical — and you get 13 possible Tonys.

Kinky Boots is based on the 2005 British film of the same name, which was inspired by the true story of a factory that escapes bankruptcy by changing its product from men’s shoes to drag-queen stilettos. As one of Lauper’s song titles proclaims, “Sex Is in the Heel.”

The Tony Awards will be broadcast on June 9. Fun fact: One of Lauper’s competitors is Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio, who co-wrote the music for Hands on a Hardbody — which closed after 56 performances (half of them previews). Better luck next time, Trey.

Marling Once

Laura Marling: Once I Was an Eagle

New release (Ribbon Music)
Photo by Lucy Hamblin

If you haven’t become acquainted with Laura Marling, you owe it to yourself to catch up. This is the fourth album in 5 years from the wise-beyond-her-age, 23-year-old British singer/songwriter, and judging from the three tracks I was able to preview — the reflective “Once,” the brisk “Where Can I Go?,” the percussive “Master Hunter” — she has lost none of her muse. As produced by Ethan Johns and supported by organ, bass, and drums, Marling’s acoustic folk summons the 1960s but sounds utterly contemporary. Maybe it’s because singing and songwriting this rich and natural are ultimately timeless.

Salvant WomanChild

Cécile McLorin Salvant: WomanChild

New release (Mack Avenue; tour dates)
Photo by John Abbott

Speaking of 23-year-olds: Some observers are already hailing jazz singer Cécile McLorin Salvant as the Next Big Thing. Or, as Stephen Holden of The New York Times has clarified and declared: “If anyone can extend the lineage of the Big Three — Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, and Ella Fitzgerald — it is this virtuoso.” In 2010, McLorin Salvant became the youngest winner of the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition. Born in Miami to a French mother and a Haitian father, she has lived, studied, and recorded in France. WomanChild is her first American album; with accompaniment ranging from a solo acoustic guitar to a full jazz quartet, the material goes all the way back to the 19th-century ballad “John Henry.” And believe me: To hear this album is to be transported by both the skill and the magic of the human voice.

Eisley Currents

Eisley: Currents

New release (Equal Vision; tour dates)
Photo by Chris Phelps

Speaking of a Next Big Thing: Long after it was touted as such by major labels (first Reprise, then Warner Bros.), Eisley keeps the faith on Currents, its second full-lengther on an indie label based in Albany, New York. Still fronting the band are three singing DuPree sisters: Sherri (guitar), Stacy (keyboards), and Chauntelle (guitar). Still backing them up are brother Weston (drums) and cousin Garron (bass). Currents was self-recorded/produced in the band’s home studio in Tyler, Texas, and the music is a mature extension of Eisley’s bright, adventurous pop.

Alice Dinosaurs

Alice in Chains: The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here

New release (Virgin; tour dates)
Photo by Dave Ma

Second album by the Alice in Chains lineup of lead guitarist Jerry Cantrell, drummer Sean Kinney, bassist Mike Inez, and lead vocalist William DuVall. Cursory listen confirms abundant (if similar-sounding) lowdown riffage, leavened by the acoustic/electric balladry of “Voices,” “Scalpel,” and “Choke.”

Listen to the Birds

Ana Gerhard and Various Artists: Listen to the Birds — An Introduction to Classical Music

New release in North America (The Secret Mountain, June 1)

How exactly does author Ana Gerhard introduce children to classical music with this remarkable book and its enclosed CD?

First, she chooses 20 examples of composers drawing inspiration from birds. Some references are specific: the goldfinch (from Vivaldi’s Il Gardellino), the starling (Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 17), the raven (Schubert’s Winter Journey), the robin (Messiaen’s Small Sketches of Birds). Others are general, such as the Bird in Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf.

Next, Gerhard includes a performance of each example (by the likes of the London Symphony Orchestra, the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra, and the Toronto Chamber Orchestra) on the 26-minute CD — short, specific excerpts, to help focus young minds. This is especially useful in allowing readers/listeners to compare different interpretations of the same bird, such as the lark via piano (Tchaikovsky) and violin (Vaughan Williams) and the cuckoo via harpsichord (Pasquini), organ (Handel), and birdcall (Leopold Mozart). There’s even a piece that features a recording of actual larks: “Melancholy,” the second movement of the Concerto for Birds and Orchestra by the most recent composer here, Finland’s Einojuhani Rautavaara (still writing at age 84).

And then, in the book, Gerhard provides explanatory notes for both the pieces themselves and the performance excerpts. But that’s not all. The book also has composer biographies, a glossary of musical terms, and a timeline of composers and musical periods. But that’s still not all, as the book features charming illustrations by Cecilia Varela. (Most of these elements are repeated on the CD as printable PDF files.)

Be advised: Listen to the Birds is for older youngsters. The publisher says ages 7 to 9, but I’d lean closer to early tweens (and even then, some may need the help of a parent or teacher). Yet Gerhard, a pianist herself, makes the subject inviting. Open minds should be captivated by this winning combination of music, text, and visuals.

What’s more, the book was so successful when first published in 2010 (in Spanish) that Gerhard has plans for four similar classical-music introductions that involve “fantastic characters,” water, insects, and toys/mechanisms.