Rock 'n' Roll Jesus
Review: 2 1/2 stars (Out of 4)
For a good while, it seemed that Kid Rock couldn't decide if he wanted to be in RUN-DMC or Lynyrd Skynyrd. A white Michigan kid who loved to rap as much as he loved to crank Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band while swilling Budweiser from the can, the Kid spent most of his time splitting the difference. What emerged was essentially rap-rock. That particular idiom has, um, gone out of style by now, to the point where clinging to it is akin to being hoist on your own meat-headed, Adidas-wearing petard.
It's a good time, then, for Kid Rock to complete his apotheosis from hard rock Vanilla Ice to authentic, rootsy dirt-rocker. Hank Williams Jr. in a tank top and track suit, if you will.
"Rock 'n' Roll Jesus" is straight-up '70s Southern rock, with touches of Michigan-bred Seger soul and Ted Nugent attitude. There's pretty much no hip-hop on the thing, and that's a blessing for both Kid Rock and we-the-listenership. The record is Kid's American pastoral -- Seger's "Night Moves" set in a trailer park of the imagination. Kid Rock can get quite sentimental about his own past. He can't get sentimental about love, though, and he spends a healthy amount of "Jesus" making that fact plain (just in case you were considering dating the guy).
It's telling that the catchiest tune on the record is "All Summer Long," a mash-up of Warren Zevon's piano theme from "Werewolves of London" and Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama," with new lyrics from the Kid. It takes some brass to pull this off. Brass is not something Kid Rock lacks. Lyrically, "Rock 'n' Roll Jesus" is pretty far from the sermon on the mount. It's mostly hilarious stuff -- "You're so hot, I wanna get you alone/You're so hot, I wanna get you stoned," testifies our Kid during the incisively titled dirt-metal throw-down "So Hott" -- but when Kid falls into his Marhsall Tucker Band ballad mode, as he does on "Amen" and "Blue Jeans and a Rosary," he becomes humorless. That's a much less flattering pose.
Far better is the "Walk This Way"-style braggadocio of "Sugar," or the sleazy Detroit blues-metal of "Don't Tell Me U Love Me," which borrows from Steve Miller's "The Joker" at will. When he's in his zone, Kid Rock consistently delivers the goods.
Ultimately, "Rock 'n' Roll Jesus" is a joke. But it's a joke with a good punch line. Har-har.
-- Jeff Miers
The Lost Chords Find Paolo Fresu
Review: 3 1/2 stars
Carla Bley is the Erik Satie of American jazz -- mixed with a little Kurt Weill.
She has been one of the great jazz composers from Day One. But the disparity between the simple melodic beauty of her music and the unflagging whimsy of her presentation of it -- as well as her presentation of herself -- is immense. If you listen to the six-part quintet suite that opens this disc, it is music of such Weillian sweetness and lyric sensitivity that is some of the most beautiful jazz on disc this year (and would you believe a quote from the Beatles' "She's So Heavy"?). Its title? "The Banana Quintet," with six movements marked respectively "One Banana," "Two Banana," "Three Banana," "Four," "Five Banana" and "One Banana More." Why? Because, as Bley "explains" in the accompanying publicity, she and partner Steve Swallow were lying in bed trying to think of things that have five parts. "Hands" suggested Swallow, which is also the name of a bunch of bananas, i.e. a "hand of bananas." So Bley said she'd call it "The Banana Quintet" -- "you know, like Schubert's 'Trout' Quartet."
We might as well be listening to Satie "explaining" how he came to call a two-piano masterpiece "Six Pieces in the Form of a Pear."
Let's not even talk about the disc insert's pseudo-children's book relating of her regular group's courting and seeing of Italian trumpet player Paolo Fresu to make a quintet of her regular band. The music is unfailingly beautiful, with a rapport by Fresu (who plays beautiful open horn in the fat middle registers of Miles Davis) and Bley's saxophonist Andy Sheppard that is wondrous.
This is Bley's best disc in a long while.
-- Jeff Simon
Talk to the Hand: Live in Michigan
Review: 3 stars
Novelty acts wear thin after a while. Just ask Weird Al.
Happily, Canada's Barenaked Ladies have managed to stay both hilarious and relevant for nearly 20 years now. The secret? Great musicianship and songs that are as well-crafted as they are rib-tickling. As any BNL fan will tell you, this is a band made for the concert stage. The group's studio efforts have been consistently strong. But in concert, the musical squirting rubber flower is far more effective. You can listen to comedian Gallagher smashing a watermelon with a sledgehammer on record. It's far funnier when you're actually in the audience picking watermelon seeds out of your hair, however.
So it follows that "Talk to the Hand" would be a nifty concert souvenir, one made even more nifty by the inclusion of the full concert on DVD. Here are all the hits you'd want at a BNL show -- "One Week," "Be My Yoko Ono," "Brian Wilson," "If I Had $1,000,000," "The Old Apartment" -- as well as a handful of recent bits from the albums "Barenaked Ladies Are Me" and "Barenaked Ladies Are Men." Not surprisingly, it's the shared vocals of Steven Page and Ed Robertson that do most of the heavy lifting here, though it should go without saying by now that the rhythm section of bassist Jim Creeggan and drummer Tyler Stewart is consistently propulsive.
It's a treat for fans, then.
Complete Music for Piano and Orchestra, Piano Sonatas 2 and 3
Orchestre de la Societe des Concerts du Conservatoire, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski
[EMI, 3 CDs]
Review: 3 stars
Alexis Weissenberg can raise arguments among piano fans. Some love his power and drama, and others find him occasionally icy and off-putting. In the first movement of the Piano Sonata No. 2, he clearly revels -- if you can use so upbeat a word -- in the music's stormy, frightening nature. The Scherzo picks up exactly where the first left off. It's downright furious.
You get the sense that lyricism doesn't come easily to Weissenberg. But, in a way, that makes the tender interludes more touching. They sometimes seem so awkward. The heartbreaking section in the middle of the Funeral March sounds self-conscious, like a child playing. The Funeral March itself is, of course, almost unbearably terrifying and chilling. The two piano concertos clearly clip Weissenberg's wings. He has to conform to the orchestra, so his rage, if that's what we're hearing, isn't as evident. The slow movements are beautiful enough. One problem lies in the recording. From time to time, the orchestra sounds downright harsh.
It's refreshing, though, to hear a pianist who's original. "Fantasy on Polish National Airs" and "Krakowiak," two unexpected treats, help make this a good, complete glimpse of an engrossing artist.
-- Mary Kunz Goldman