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DISCS

Folk/Jazz/Pop

Joni Mitchell

Songs Of A Prairie Girl

[Rhino/Nonesuch]

Review: 4 stars (Out of 4)

The second in a series of compilation discs by Joni Mitchell, and drawn from various points throughout her storied career, "Songs of a Prairie Girl" offers a glorious account-in-song of the time Mitchell spent in Saskatchewan, the Canadian province she left decades ago as Roberta Joan Anderson, folk singer.

Mitchell, as she displayed with this series' first installment, "Dreamland," has an uncanny knack for cherry-picking tunes from her canon and assembling them in a manner that boasts a continuous narrative and tells a clear story, even if the tunes have been culled from different decades.

"Prairie Girl" is marked by two strains of Mitchell's narrative voice -- tunes directly concerning her immediate surroundings, and pieces regarding various topics which happened to have been penned in Saskatchewan. Regardless of their origins, these tracks evoke both physical and spiritual landscapes, and give even the listener who has never been anywhere near the Canadian province a strong, imagistic sense of the place. Mitchell's many talents are in full evidence throughout, naturally -- her earliest forays into a harmonically sophisticated folk music marked by her genre-defying acoustic guitar work, the midperiod immersion in jazz harmony, the later penchant for mixing both into a new organic whole.

Finding a classier songwriter than Joni Mitchell is tough to do. And though this material is all previously available, "Prairie Girl" works as an album with an arc and flow all its own.

-- Jeff Miers

World Music/Classical

Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble

Silk Road Journeys: Beyond the Horizon

[Sony Classical]

Review: 3 1/2 stars

When they first came together five years ago at Tanglewood in Lenox, Mass., the combination of Yo-Yo Ma and indigenous Asian musicians smacked of gimmickry at worst and watery, ineffectual musical idealism at best. The resultant first disc was not without its fascination but whatever this Eurasian music is (a suggestion for those who insist on category: think of it as terrific film music to nonexistent film), it's far more fully realized and naturally coherent on this new disc than you'd imagine.

The point is that there is, in the language of the folk musics of the world, almost a kind of Chomsky-esque "deep structure." Listen to a traditional dance from Armenia/Georgia and it could be an Irish gig or the basis for a movement from a Bach Unaccompanied Cello Suite. The instruments may come from China, Iran, India, Armenia, South America, Africa, and Europe but, despite the vast global reach of the musicians involved, the music is all meant for those same astounding and tiny receivers we all have on either side of our heads. It's gorgeous. And it should surprise no one that Yo-Yo Ma was smart enough to know it and to enable such beautiful music to be made and recorded.

-- Jeff Simon

Americana

Greg Trooper

Make It Through This World

[Sugar Hill]

Review: 4 stars

Veteran singer-songwriter Greg Trooper's music mirrors legends he thinks of as the Holy Trinity: Otis Redding, Hank Williams and Bob Dylan. "Make It Though This World" is yet another rich, soulful gem from Trooper, who molds brilliant images out of an economy of words -- such as this description of a tough-love named Alice in "Don't Let It Go to Waste": Your mother was a double martini / your daddy gave up wearing clothes /now you're cold as the Arctic Circle / living where nobody goes.

These lyrical bonbons litter 12 Trooper songs put to disc with sound advice from veteran soul producer-songwriter Dan Penn, and a cast of solid musicians, including Bill Kirchen on guitar and Dave Jacques on bass. Best of a great lot: "Dream Away the Blues," "Green Eyed Girl" and "Sad, Sad Girl."

-- Randy Rodda

Rock

Sloan

A Sides Win

[Koch]

Review: 3 1/2 stars

At long last, a collection of Canadian power-pop legend Sloan's "hits," 14 of the group's singles logged in chronological order, with two brand spankin' new studio recordings acting as the package's caboose. "Greatest Hits" compilations can be a drag; all too often, songs lose some of their impact when stripped of the broader context afforded by a complete album. With Sloan, this isn't necessarily a factor -- of all the indie-pop bands to emerge since the end of the 80s, this quartet has always known the value of the short, sharp single.

If 45s were still in production, Sloan would've released a whole bunch, more than likely with those groovy glossy picture sleeves that arrived like direct blessings from God when I was a kid. Like the Raspberries, whose best album is certainly their "best of" collection, Sloan shines in this format. There's not a dud among these tracks, and the two new ones kick butt, too -- especially "All Used Up," which could well be one of the greatest power-pop singles of the decade. There's nothing missing here, from the early roughshod tunefulness of "Underwhelmed" and "Coax Me," to the arena-rock leanings of "Money City Maniacs" and "If It Feels Good, Do It," and the undeniable sugar-sweet appeal of "The Rest Of My Life". Great stuff, all, and fine summer listening.

"A Sides Win" will be released as both a single-disc hits collection, and a CD/DVD package including videos for each song.

-- Jeff Miers

Classical

La Casa Del Diavolo: Music of Gluck, Locatelli, Boccherini and C.P.E. and W.F. Bach

Il Giardino Armonico

[Naive]

Review: 3 stars

You have to have a nerve to call your CD "The House of the Devil," and adorn it with a child's diabolical crayon drawing, when you're playing Gluck and Boccherini. But then, the group that calls itself the Garden of Harmony belies its gentle name. From the beginning, this ensemble's tone is arresting. Dynamic contrasts are sudden and huge. Tempos are frenetic. And even when they're performing at a moderate pace, these musicians rarely sound relaxed. They're always on the edge.

Gluck's famous 1761 "Dance of the spectres and the furies" rockets past with hairpin-turn crescendi and decrescendi. The Boccherini Sinfonia the album is named for also has a definite bite to it. Not all the music Il Giardino chooses to perform could be called exactly memorable. But the musicians seem to be out to rebel against the too-stilted mannerisms of too many early music groups.

And that's fine with me.

-- Mary Kunz