Listening Post: Hard Working Americans, New Year’s Eve with the Vienna Philharmonic, and Rufus Reid - The Buffalo News
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Listening Post: Hard Working Americans, New Year’s Eve with the Vienna Philharmonic, and Rufus Reid


Hard Working Americans, Hard Working Americans (Melvin Records). These are tough times for American working folks, and singer/songwriter/satirist Todd Snider feels your/our pain. Snider, who is about to release his first prose collection, “I Never Met A Story I Didn’t Like” – is a prolific folk/roots artist with a devout following that laps up his sardonic story-song observations loyally. For this album, a thematically connected collection of covers that have to do with the struggles of common working people during ongoing economic distress, Snider convened a supergroup consisting of guitarist Neal Casal of the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Dave Schools of Widespread Panic, Duane Trucks (younger brother of Derek) and Chad Staehly (Great American Taxi). A raw, organic and live-in-the-studio feel pervades here, and the ensemble sounds positively inspired by the material, which includes tracks written by the likes of Lucinda Williams, Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, Hayes Carll, Will Kimbrough, Tommy Womack, Brian Henneman (The Bottle Rockets), Kevin Gordon, Kieran Kane, Chuck Mead of BR5-49, and Kevn Kinney of Drivin’ ’N Cryin’. The playing throughout is of the sublime variety, particularly that of guitarist Casal, who is able to weave a tapestry from elements of Southern rock, jam band improvisation, Americana, country and folk traditions into a style that is a wholly convincing hybrid. Tough times demand tough talk, and tough talk demands tough rock. Here’s a platter full of it. ∆∆∆½ (Jeff Miers)


“New Year’s Concert 2014,” Vienna Philharmonic, Daniel Barenboim, conductor (Sony Classical). This isn’t your usual frothy New Year’s Eve concert. Daniel Barenboim is conducting, and a set of pieces recall his peacemaking efforts with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. A grim anniversary is recalled: A hundred years ago this year, in 1914, World War I began. The romantically lovely “Moonlight Music” from “Capriccio,” included on CD 2, warrants brooding mention in the liner notes, which make the case that Strauss, in writing this gloriously lovely music in the depths of World War II, distilled “the nostalgia, resignation and (unfulfilled) longing of his contemporaries.” Strauss actually wrote this music as a young man, as part of a set of obscure piano pieces, and included it in the opera because his son thought it was too beautiful to shut away in a drawer. But the point is, this New Year’s celebration is not quite as glittery and gay as other years. I guess I don’t mind. Look back on the history of waltzes and other typically Viennese music, shadows were always right around the corner. You could think of how Ravel’s “La Valse” became an exploration of the chaos of war, and Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier” was a last hurrah before World War I. There are a lot of glimpses of the lighter side, from the traditional Radetzky March to the “Dynamiden” waltzes of Josef Strauss. “Dynamiden” translates to “The Secret Powers of Magnetism” and the music was written for an industrial ball in 1865 Vienna. It makes for fascinating listening because it includes a wistful theme that inspired Strauss’ famous “Rosenkavalier” waltzes. There are also several delightful dances with the evocative marking “Polka schnell.” As burdened as the music might be by its historic context, it’s beautifully performed and sparkling as befits Vienna’s glittering Musikverein. Bravi, tutti. ∆∆∆½ (Mary Kunz Goldman)


Rufus Reid, “Quiet Pride – The Elizabeth Catlett Project” (Motema). Here is a major jazz composition if ever there was one – a five-movement suite composed by veteran and ubiquitous jazz bassist Rufus Reid and employing a jazz orchestra including no less than Herlin Riley, Vic Juris, Tim Hagans and Steve Wilson, among others. Among the great jazz composers Reid has played with are Bob Brookmeyer and Thad Jones. The work is dedicated to the work and life of Elizabeth Catlett (1915-2012), sculptor and civil rights activist whose work Reid admires enormously. She moved to Mexico in 1946 and, because of her politics, was declared an “undesirable alien” when she became a Mexican citizen in 1962. That didn’t stop her on New York visits from making sculptures of Ralph Ellison, Mahalia Jackson and Louis Armstrong and finding her work in the collections of such pivotal members of the Black Elite as Bill Cosby and Oprah Winfrey. The work is in tribute to five of her works, depicted in the disc notes. The solos are stronger than the composition, in truth, but the very existence of the disc itself is a substantial achievement in a musical genre thought to be not waving but drowning (to steal the title of a poem by Stevie Smith.) ∆∆½ (Jeff Simon)

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