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Listening Post / Brief reviews of select releases

>Celtic/New Age

Enya, "Amarantine" (Reprise). If you're hoping for something new from Irish songbird Enya, don't bother looking here. "Amarantine," her first new record in five years, does nothing to modify or update the formula she and her team -- lyricist Roma Ryan and producer Nicky Ryan -- perfected on the breakthrough effort "Watermark." Why should it? It's unlikely Enya is dying to make a jazz record, or a rock record, or an entry in the overcrowded Great American Songbook market. She does what she's good at, which is conjure mystical dream worlds bathed in multitracked vocal harmonies and enough reverb to make Phil Spector nervous. The songs sound ancient in melodic construction, captured forever in the '80s by the blend of pizzicato strings, harpsichords and synth washes that suggest a Celtic Brian Eno. It's all very beautiful, like the best church music, minus the collection plate.

Review: 3 stars (Out of four) (Jeff Miers)


Hovhaness, Symphonies Nos. 4, 20, and 53, The Prayer of St. Gregory performed by John Wallace, trumpet, the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama Wind Orchestra under Keith Brion (Naxos). When a composer gets to his 53rd symphony (Opus 377!), one certainly has the right to wonder whether or not he is -- as Virgil Thomson once said of the late Alan Hovhaness -- merely creating little more than vast rolls of musical wallpaper. That all these works are for wind orchestra merely stacks the cards even more on the side of sameness. Even so, Hovhaness' contemplative, spiritual sound world so eerily pre-figured the consonant music of the Baltic Sea masters (Gorecki, Part) who are now so popular that this budget-priced disc couldn't be more welcome. Performances and sound are both very good.

Review: 3 1/2 stars (Jeff Simon)


INXS, "Switch" (Epic). The first INXS album after the death of singer Michael Hutchence suggests that the band held a talent contest on national television before the TV eyes of millions, a la "American Idol," in order to find a singer to fill Hutchence's sizeable shoes. Oh, wait a minute . . . Musically, this is standard INXS -- white funk married to eminent pop hooks. But new singer J.D. Fortune sounds like the guy from Papa Roach trying to imitate Michael Hutchence. And that's depressing, at best, offensive at worst. This is pretty gross.

Review: 1 star (J.M.)

>Roots Music

Various Artists, "Our New Orleans 2005: A Benefit Album" (Nonesuch). Yet another fine New Orleans benefit CD for victims of Katrina -- this one a beautifully produced and turned-out disc of newly recorded gems from New Orleans mainstays whose net proceeds will benefit Habitat for Humanity's efforts there. Among the contributors are the likes of Allen Toussaint ("Yes We Can Can," "Tipitina and Me"), the Dirty Dozen Brass Band ("My Feet Can't Fail Me Now"), Dr. John ("World I Never Made"), Buckwheat Zydeco (a long and moving "Cryin' in the Streets"), Irma Thomas (Bessie Smith's "Backwater Blues"), and, Randy Newman, whose prescience in writing the anthem "Louisiana 1927" in 1972 is chilling. The producers include Joe Henry, Hal Willner and Ry Cooder and the book includes an essay by Richard Ford. This is a worthy project filled with love, balm and lamentation.

Review: 3 stars (J.S.)


Deanna Witkowski, "Length of Days" (ArtistShare). She sings and plays piano -- not well enough to worry Diana Krall or Jessica Williams, perhaps, but with enough freshness and poetry at both that she can make something new out of Monk's "Straight, No Chaser," Cole Porter's "In the Still of the Night," and Ellington's "I'm Beginning to See the Light."

Review: 2 1/2 stars (J.S.)


"The Producers," Music and Lyrics by Mel Brooks (Sony Classical). Mel Brooks isn't kidding. When he calls this music his "rude, simple, 32-bar songs," he's being descriptive and truthful and not unduly modest. Except for the immortally absurd "Springtime for Hitler" (which came from Brooks' original movie), this music has, to be extremely charitable, no life whatsoever apart from the movie Brooks and Co. made from the Broadway play (that, in turn, came from his original movie -- a kind of record, there.) And we won't see it in Buffalo until Christmas Day.

Review: 2 stars (J.S.)

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