From the Forest
Stewart Rose, French horn, and St. Luke's Chamber Ensemble
[Arabesque Recordings] ****
Every now and then a sleeper of a recording comes along and blows you out of the water. This collection of horn concertos - by Haydn, Telemann, Leopold Mozart and Christoph Foerster - is just such a phenomenon. I got no farther than the slow movement of the opening Haydn Concerto No. 1 in D Major before I was absolutely mesmerized by the gorgeous sounds coming out of the speakers. Rose's breadth and warmth of tone, and his superbly sustained support of the lyric line, all in the horn's subterranean register, must be heard to be believed. His nimble control, articulation and phrasing of fast running lines are also exemplary, as is the blend between horn and the apparently conductorless St. Luke's Chamber Ensemble, a group of from nine to 13 players who play with the soul, spirit and unanimity of a single musical mind.
Virtually every movement of every work contains some ear-opening revelation of horn technique, impeccable blend of horn and strings, exciting luftpauses in phrasing or some nuance of execution that was wholly unexpected but elevates the entire listening experience. And in Leopold Mozart's rather trivial Concerto in D Major these artists play it with such lightness, sauciness and respect that it seems to open a new world of sound possibilities that validate Mozart pere's musical ideas after all.
In the third movement listen to the way the horn and strings playing together in perfect ensemble bandy the musical ideas back and forth with such joy and lightness. This is a recording to be treasured, not only by horn players but by average music lovers searching for new frontiers of musical excellence.
- Herman Trotter
You Had It Coming
[Epic] *** 1/2
One-third of the holy British guitar trinity with Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck continues his love affair with modern recording technology on "You Had It Coming." "You Had It Coming," which is only 36 minutes in length, is a continuation of the virtuoso's fascination with techno music that began on last year's "Who Else!" While not for everyone, the results are magnificent.
Beck and his co-conspirators (guitarist Jennifer Batten, bassist Randy Hope-Taylor, drummer Steve Alexander, programmer Aiden Love and producer Andy Wright) come out swinging on the aptly titled "Earthquake." The song features Beck texturing the feral rhythms with intense riffing befitting the violent nature whirling behind him. The aural assault continues on such tunes as "Roy's Toys," "Loose Cannon" and "Rosebud." Yet, instead of using modern studio technology as a gimmick, Beck mixes electronics and computerized beats into cohesive pieces of music that never overshadow his six-string prowess.
Beck coaxes sounds out of his beloved Fender that dumbfound even seasoned ax-slingers. His playing on "Dirty Mind" is somewhere in the stratosphere and clearly demonstrates the influence he had on many virtuosos who followed him.
His update on the blues classic "Rollin' and Tumblin' " works wonderfully thanks largely to the otherworldly vocals of Imogen Heap. The song, which is most associated with Muddy Waters, is usually sung gut-bucket but Heap's womanly pipes are equally yearning.
Here's an old master who not only embraces the present - in this case, techno or electronica - but adds to its language.
- Ray Hogan, Stamford Advocate
Elvin Bishop & Little Shorty Smothers
That's My Partner
[Alligator Records] *** 1/2
It's Saturday night and your house party is starting to feel as washed out as Tom and Nicole's marriage. No problem. Toss on this "ain't nothing but a party" CD and push the furniture out of the way.
Recorded live at San Francisco's "Biscuit & Blues," these two guitar swashbucklers are in fine form despite Bishop's susceptibility to country boy shtick that would be embarrassing if he wasn't such a firebrand guitarist. Smothers contributes two new songs, Bishop seven and most of them are of the talking blues variety that have long been a staple of Bishop's output.
Smother's version of the saucy "Roll Your Moneymaker" complete with stop-time choruses and "toasting insults" makes it an audience pleaser. The ex-Howlin' Wolf guitarist reprises his former boss' "Little Red Rooster," complete with a sinuous opening guitar riff that makes a pallet for the entire band to lay on.
But it's the stinging guitar riffs from these journeymen Chicago players that make this CD notable. It's easy to identify the players; Paul Butterfield Blues Band alum Bishop plays all the slide guitar parts and in general is more outgoing. Smothers' solo on the push-pull "Rooster" is the epitome of exuberant restraint. Despite Bishop's complaint about growing old as voiced on "Slow Down" ("Better get off that alcohol and get on that Geritol. Stop with the cocaine and get on the Rogaine") and "Middle Aged Man," his playing is still his ace in the hole. Good sound and good-time music make this a quality blues pick.
- Jim Santella
Elliott Murphy and Iain Matthews
La Terre Commune
[Blue Rose] *** 1/2
Some music is special because it reacquaints listeners with the retro virtues of conventional pop or folk structures. "La Terre Commune," the deceptively modest collaboration between former Dylan-in-waiting Elliott Murphy and Fairport Convention founding member lain Matthews, is special in that way.
Like many put off by the next-Dylan hype which surrounded him, I missed the boat on Murphy's smart, unadorned folk-rock the first time around. Judging from his four original contributions to "La Terre Commune," however, his songwriting is as strong as ever. Cuts like "Big Umbrella," "I Want to Talk to You," and "Dusty Roses" are songs that have long since shaken the self-conscious literariness that spoiled some of his earlier work. Now they're simply literate - subtle, mature ruminations on love lost and found, and the melancholy victories life past a certain point allows. The album's high point, the beautiful coming of age tale "Navy Blue," shows Murphy's impressive gift for storytelling undiminished. His voice, too, has improved with age, having seasoned to a kind of weary urban rasp reminiscent of Lou Reed, an early Murphy influence.
Matthews, despite a recently prolific solo career as a singer of easy-going country-pop, isn't the writer or singer Murphy is, though his cover of Jesse Colin Young's "Darkness, Darkness," along with originals "Close to the Bone" and the lilting, album-closing "Unconditionally" have their own undeniable appeal. "La Terre Commune" owes its charm, however, not to Matthews' - or even Murphy's - individual contributions, but to the music they make between them. Because of it, what would have been a likable collaboration between label-mates turns out to be much more: two mature and thoughtful artists covering old and sacred ground. And coming up with something as good as new.
- Wendell Wild
LeeRon Zydeco & The Hot Tamales Raw Roots
"Raw Roots" is a heaping dose of party music spiced with a zesty blend of Zydeco, Cajun, Tex-Mex, Mardi-Gras funk, Caribbean and anything else chefs LeeRon Zydeco and The Hot Tamales wanted to throw in.
The 12-song CD was recorded live at Audio Magic Studios with the same party spirit permeating the band's flavorful performances. Adding to the rich flavor are LeeRon's (Ron Davis) trademark accordion and the fine string playing of Geoffrey Fitzhugh Perry (violin, guitar, quatar) and Ted Lambert (violin). Included are traditional offerings "Hey La Ba," "J'ai Passe Devant Ta Porte" and "Yellow Pocahontas." Also making appearances are C.J. Chenier's "She's My Woman," an accordion-drenched version of Joe Turner's "Baby Please Don't Go" and a spry Zydeco-rich take on the Fats Domino classic "I'm Walkin." The spirited Americana of the Davis-Lambert original "ZydeGrass" fits in perfectly.
- Toni Ruberto