Review: 3 1/2 stars (Out of 4)
If there ever was a salve for these troubled times, it is this dreamy, soothing disc of 14 lovely songs sung by the dusky voice of Carly Simon.
While her last CD (2005's "Moonlight Serenade") was a gorgeous collection of old standards, Simon returns now to her folk roots. And if the first three cuts don't clue you in to the fact that you are taking an amazing musical journey, then you aren't listening closely enough.
Cut 1: The title track -- "Into White," a beautiful remake of Cat Stevens' song from the '70s.
Cut 2: "Oh! Susanna" -- yes, the Stephen Foster classic from the 19th century -- which Simon has turned on its head and made almost hymnlike.
Cut 3: The Beatles' "Blackbird." Simon's lushly downtempo interpretation makes you quickly forget the Lennon/McCartney version. They would be proud.
The arrangements are surprisingly fresh for all 14 songs in this collection. On standards such as "Over the Rainbow," "Scarborough Fair" and "You Are My Sunshine," Simon's unique voice in combination with strings and piano make them sound new again to her old fans, as well to a new generation of fans.
Speaking of a new generation, Simon's children, Ben and Sally Taylor, join their mother on the moving "You Can Close Your Eyes," written by her ex-husband, James Taylor.
In fact, on this new CD, Simon and her son cover the Everly Brothers' "Devoted to You," which she and James Taylor sang together in 1978.
Talk about going full circle.
"Into White" is a dreamy and beautiful musical gift from an artist who just gets better every time she records.
-- Susan LoTempio
Review: 3 1/2 stars
There's a struggle going on for possession of hip-hop's soul, and it's not some big-name, high-profile mudslinging war involving tabloid dudes of the Eminem and 50 Cent variety. This war is being fought pretty far from the mainstream spotlight. It's taking place inside home studios, on street corners, on college campuses, probably on the sidewalk outside your favorite independent record store or food co-op. It's an ideological battle between the "backpackers," or college-aged hip-hop enthusiasts, and the old-school MCs. Between those who believe hip-hop needs to assimilate more musical information into its character, and those who think it simply needs more bass in the trunk, faster rhymes, a sort of hyped-up athleticism, in order to continue its Top 40 dominance.
L.A.'s Busdriver isn't a kid; he has been pumping out the caffeinated hyper-slang for a decade now. But his fifth record, "RoadKillOvercoat," clearly shoots one across the bow of the old-school hip-hop ship. Just as Beck made it plain that even nerdy white dudes could rap, and in the process, created a cut-and-paste revolution that hit the mainstream with gale force, Busdriver has offered an "indie hip-hop" record of such startling inventiveness -- and such singularity in its refusal to toe the present-day hip-hop line -- that it should be impossible to ignore.
Busdriver has it over many of his "rap-as-music" brethren, because he's not a mush-mouthed, lazy freestylist. In fact, his raps -- which follow inventive rhythmic lines, and often devolve into straight-up melodies -- are technically dazzling, both in terms of speed-of-delivery and the intellectual incisiveness of their text. With his collaborators DJ Nobody and Boom-Bip, Busdriver sounds like a smarty-pants prophet of doom with a Ph.D. in his hip pocket, as he spits out the technicolor surrealism and high-minded hi-jinks of "Kill Your Employer (Recreational Paranoia Is the Sport of Now)" and "Ethereal Driftwood." Even if you follow underground hip-hop, you've not likely heard it delivered with so much fire and readily apparent talent.
Musically, "RoadKillOvercoat" blends psychedelic pop, '80s alt-rock, electronica, new wave, soul ... well, it's pointless to go on, really. Busdriver is capable of assimilating whatever he so desires, and with DJ Nobody and Boom-Bip turning intellectual esotericism into arena-friendly "club bangers," he has been afforded quite the setting within which to perform his strange alchemy. The ante has been upped; this record should change things.
-- Jeff Miers
Steinway Legends: Alfred Brendel
Review: 4 stars
What classical music fan over 30 didn't grow up with tons of cheap but terrific Vox and Turnabout records with swirling colorful cover art, ensembles like Paul Angerer and the Vienna Pro Musica (actually, the Vienna Symphony Orchestra) and, most gloriously, pianist Alfred Brendel?
Looking back, it seems almost impossible, because Brendel is now so far from the bargain bin. In some ways, he is a class by himself. Largely self-taught as a pianist, he is an erudite, witty man who writes poetry. He is a man of the people, never courting glory. This two-CD set generously samples the Germanic repertoire with which Brendel is most identified.
There's a marvelously unstuffy version of Bach's towering Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue and an insightful performance of a sonata by Haydn, a composer Brendel championed before it was fashionable. Brendel probes the introverted beauty of Mozart's brooding Fantasia in C Minor K. 396. A single Schubert piece, the lesser-heard D. 946, No. 2, is an odd choice, seeing that Brendel is so well known for Schubert, but it shows the transcendent grace he is capable of. Beethoven's "Appassionata" sonata, more restrained than other pianists' versions, is a triumph of bottled-up passion.
And though you could never call Brendel self-indulgent, four Liszt pieces show that even he can revel in the waves of this super-romantic music.
-- Mary Kunz Goldman
Ricky Jay Plays Poker: Deluxe Edition
Review: 3 stars
Ricky Jay is one of my favorite Americans: vaudeville historian, magician, occasional actor (see "Boogie Nights", the earliest episodes of "Deadwood," etc.) and a fellow who can, at a distance of 50 feet, split a cucumber in half with a thrown Ace of Spades. Here, in a world that has suddenly become poker mad, is Jay's Celebration of Poker: a disc of 21 poker songs from vintage pop music, a DVD of Jay demonstrating cool things for poker players and would-be cheats to know and a 66-page booklet by Jay giving disc notes. Oh yeah, you get a deck of cards, too, with the set's logo.
The centerpiece, of course, is Jay's choice of songs, which as the disc puts it, presents the "sleight-of-hand master and historian of deception" picking 21 songs "about hustlers, reprobates, blacklegs, scallywags and the passions and pleasures of poker." You'll find everything from "Darktown Poker Club," sung by both the legendary Bert Williams AND Phil Harris, to Anita O'Day's "Ace in the Hole," Bob Dylan's "Rambling Gambling Willie," Blind Blake's "Poker Woman Blues" and -- are you ready? -- Lorne Greene's "Five Card Stud." Where else would you find bluesman Robert Johnson on the same disc with Howard Da Silva and the Broadway cast of "Fiorello?" You get the idea.
Great fun and a winner. Top to bottom. Back to front.
-- Jeff Simon