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Bob Dylan

The Bootleg Series Vol. 5: Live 1975

Columbia/Legacy] ****

"Live 1975" documents Bob Dylan reconnecting with his audience after the relative insularity of his 1974 tour with the Band. Rescuing this much-bootlegged era in Dylan lore from the unreliable grandeur of myth is much easier a task than one might imagine. This is some of the most vibrant music Dylan ever performed in concert. It's also particularly noteworthy for the gorgeous smokiness of his singing, which was at an absolute peak during this period. Rough around the edges, deeply impassioned and extremely alive, Dylan's voice and phrasing here are perfectly matched.

Disc one captures the majority of the show's full-band electric portion. Opening with a torrid take on "Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You" and proceeding through inspired reworkings of earlier tunes such as "It Ain't Me, Babe" and "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll," the set hits its stride with the arrival of "Isis," the epic, imagery-laden poem.

Here was the "new" Dylan, offering an aggressive allegory relating to his turbulent marriage to Sara Loundes, also the subject of the set's crescendo, the heart wrenching, nakedly autobiographical "Sara." Dylan sings both with complete investment, as if laying his soul bare was the only way he could save it from what still today presents itself as a visceral, all-consuming pain.

Disc two offers rivetting solo acoustic takes on "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" and "Love Minus Zero/No Limit," both of which capture some of the finest singing of his career. Joan Baez joins Dylan for soul-stirring harmony on "The Water is Wide," her vibrato-heavy, bell-like tone blending effortlessly with Dylan's ragged, emotional delivery.

"Do a protest song!" yells an audience member. "Yeah, here's one," sneers Dylan before launching into "Oh, Sister," a devastating outline of the eternal division between man and woman rife with Biblical imagery. What a set-up: Dylan verily spits out his words, making plain the fact that the cranky conviction which would mark his "born-again" work in the coming years was already alive and well. "Live 1975" is an essential document for Dylan fans. The recording quality, packaging and liner notes are all first-rate. The performances are simply transcendent.

-- Jeff Miers

Glenn Gould
A State of Wonder: The Complete Bach Goldberg Variations 1955 & 1981
Sony Classical/Legacy] ****

Here, assuredly, is a landmark of classical recording in our era. For the first time, Sony/Columbia has housed Glenn Gould's two recordings of Bach's Goldberg Variations under one roof: the headlong 1955 recording that made Gould's career and screwed Bach ears 180 degrees from where they were and the slower, grander and more magnificent 1981 version whose issuance just barely preceded his death (at the tragically early age of 50).

These two tremendous performances (a third disc has Gould discussing both with liner notes by Tim Page) don't merely bracket one of the greatest careers and most compellingly strange lives in the 20th century history of the piano, they did what only towering performances do: They changed historical understanding of a composer.

Page, in his notes, says it as well as it can be said: "Gould's Bach (in 1955) swung like mad. It was urgent, vibrant, strutting and downright sexy, quite unlike anything else around. His playing had the same tough/tender dichotomy exemplified by such cultural icons as Marlon Brando and James Dean; it was unprecedentedly aggressive on one level, searching and achingly vulnerable on another."

And then came that marvelously eccentric and profoundly meaningful life -- where after a brilliantly weird career in the concert hall, he retired to a reclusive existence characterized by genius in the recording studio, medicinal overkill, terrorized hotel chambermaids all over the world and some of the most brilliant prose about music and ideas ever written by a musician. The Goldberg Variations that emerged after that lifetime may not have the historic head-clearing shock of that 1955 milestone, but it is the one, perhaps, destined to abide with listeners over the course of a lifetime. It is a magnificent reading by a great artist (and formidable mind) of a kind only possible when a great work has resided inside a performer for a lifetime.

This much may almost literally be true: No passionate music-loving home should be without this three-disc set.

-- Jeff Simon

Kate Campbell


Evangeline] ****

On her fifth album, literary folkie Kate Campbell lays out a compelling volume of 10 tracks fragrant with images true to her essence of Southern Baptist. This is sumptuous, uplifting and thought-provoking music, replete with intellect but not at the expense of poetry.

Campbell's songcraft is artfully exposed by mellifluous voice betraying a hint of church choir. Produced and embellished beautifully by Walt Aldridge, "Monuments' " arrangements offer texture, variety and are bedrock solid, the perfect stage for the singer.

"New South" and "Petrified House" are back to back contradictions of a region steeped in heritage, Disney and Coca-Cola. "New South" explores the Starbucks revelation of a region embracing a Galleria world where they "love our money at those Yankee stores."

"Corn in a Box" clamps a lid on the evolutionary marvels of the day by twitting the technocrat with this Ma Nature truism: "Still can't grow corn in a box."

Campbell saves some eerie whimsy for the finale, "Walk Among Stones," the fleeting miracle that was the Muscle Shoals sound. So it begins: "Stars fell on Alabama/near the rocky shoals/in a casket factory/where they found the soul. . . ."

-- Randy Rodda


Craig David

Slicker Than Your Average

Atlantic] **

Following his platinum debut, "Born To Do It," Craig David found himself the target of tastemakers who criticized him for his slick, clinical R&B/pop/hip-hop hybrid. "Slicker Than Your Average" is his response.

David has his back up, and his desire to prove his worth as an artist weakens this sophomore effort. His attempts to set the record straight come across as preachy self-indulgence, particularly during the title track, when the singer whines about "too much jealousy in the industry/why are you watching me/when you should just let me be?"

The listener has a tough time drumming up any sympathy for the guy.

That aside, "Slicker" is a slick blend of R&B, pop and light hip-hop, with David's nimble, occasionally overtly acrobatic voice front and center with fairly generic musical arrangements filling in behind him. David is clearly talented, and fans of slow-jams, romantic mood R&B, and "music to get down to" will dig his grooves, particularly a track such as "Personal," where David the "playa" tells his lady love: "I'd love to hed to your bed so we can get personal." OK, then.

Sting rather bafflingly lends his gorgeous "Shape of My Heart" to David for "Rise & Fall," then plunders that song's virile melody in service of David's by this time wholly annoying need to moan about the fact that "this game I'm in don't take no prisoners."

"Slicker Than Your Average" is ultimately too polite and formulaic to make much of an impact on the listener. But if you enjoyed "Born To Do It," you'll more than likely enjoy its innocuous follow-up.

-- Jeff Miers


matchbox twenty

More Than You Think You Are

Atlantic] **1.2

Color me surprised. "More Than You Think You Are" is certainly a step in the right direction for matchbox twenty, a band previously a suitable poster child for the overproduced modern-rock movement. Singer Rob Thomas has made a name for himself as guest writer to the stars -- Santana's "Smooth," Wille Nelson's "Maria," et al -- and his tendency toward the melodically generic can be less than inspiring.

But "More" reveals matchbox twenty to be a band, not just a backing unit for Thomas. So opener "Feel" rocks harder than anything the boys have offered previously, "Feel" follows some surprising melodic hairpin curves, "Cold" sounds a bit like the re-fried funk of -- gasp! -- the Red Hot Chili Peppers, at least until Thomas the crooner enters the picture. Not bad, guys.

-- Jeff Miers

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