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Listening Post / Brief reviews of select releases


Willie Nelson, "You Don't Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker" (Lost Highway). Calling Cindy Walker the Irving Berlin of country music is not overstating the case. The Texas native penned some of the most timeless songs to ever qualify as country music, and writing for the likes of Bob Wills, Gene Autry, Ernest Tubb and many more, brought elegance and grace to the form. On "You Don't Know Me," Willie Nelson and an impeccable ensemble, under the direction of Roy Orbison producer Fred Foster, pay tribute to the genius of Walker. Like Nelson's 1978 standards collection "Stardust," "You Don't Know Me" offers assured recastings of beautifully constructed songs, warmly embraced and caressed by the man's refined singing and wonderfully idiosyncratic gut-string guitar playing. This, a testament to the continued relevance of both Walker and Nelson, is as good as country music gets. Review: 3 1/2 stars (Out of 4) (Jeff Miers)



Red Garland, "Trio at the Prelude" (Prestige, two discs). Although we always associate him with Miles Davis' first classic quintet, pianist Red Garland goes all the way back to Hot Lips Page, for pity's sake. It was Page who "discovered" him. And in this first complete American release of a post-Davis 1959 gig at the long-gone Prelude in Harlem, he has the happy geniality of a swing player, happy to drink and schmooze with the club patrons rather than a great artist (like Davis) who carried distance and isolationism within. He pushes his trio right into a brightly swinging version of Count Basie's theme for "M-Squad" and never looks back. It's uncomplicated, extroverted small club piano from a man perfect for the milieu. Review: 3 stars (Jeff Simon)


Monty Alexander, Concrete Jungle: The Music of Bob Marley (Telarc). Forget that Monty Alexander turned into a kind of fluent, junior grade Oscar Peterson at the piano -- a much-treasured fellow blues-slinger with Ray Brown and Milt Jackson, for instance, and the husband of the late jazz guitarist Emily Remler. Think of him, instead, as a Jamaican who, on this disc, returns home where "47 years ago, in 1958, at the age of fifteen, I played the piano for the first time in a recording studio." The trouble is that there isn't all that much Alexander, for all his digital glibness, can add to the compositions of the Caribbean secular saint. But then that's not really the point. He's there to go back home and celebrate. Review: 2 1/2 stars (J.S.)



Michael Sahl, In Fashion at Last -- "Serenades" and "Jungles" performed by pianist Joseph Kubera and electric quintet led by violinist Mary Rowell (Albany/Troy). There is absolutely nothing cutesy or ironic about the title of this disc. By day, composer Michael Sahl made ends meet almost 40 years ago as a pianist and arranger for Judy Collins. By night, he began writing defiantly unclassifiable music full of melody, folk influence, jazz harmony and largely barren of the "necessary astringency" that would have vaunted his reputation among classical peers. He had to wait for postmodernism to efface the old high/low polarities to be heard for the figure he is. Think of him as the next generation's Virgil Thomson only upside down. Listen to his absolutely brilliant 35-minute piano piece "Serenades" here in wonderful performance by Joseph Kubera. It is haunting music -- beautiful, lyrical, surprising and, while clearly "classical" even more seamlessly colloquial than anything by his contemporaries Philip Glass, Steve Reich and Terry Riley. Written in 1994, its compositional poise is perfect. The world has, indeed, caught up with him -- all praise. Review: 4 stars (J.S.)


Pilar Lorengar: Prima Donna in Vienna, with the Vienna Opera Orchestra, Walter Weller, conductor (Decca Universal). In my teens, I found a Vox record of Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro," with Heinz Rehfuss, who later taught at the University at Buffalo, as the Count, and Pilar Lorengar as Cherubino. It cost just $1.99, but I've never topped it. I still love Lorengar's voice for its peculiar lightness, sweetness and ease. She's perfect for the lighter Germanic repertoire on this disc in Deccas Classic Recitals series, with Lehar, Korngold, both Strausses and even a bit of Mozart and Beethoven. An aria from the folky "Der Vogelhandler" is a curiosity -- I wandered into a performance in Vienna once and now I feel lucky, because it's one of those operas that never caught on over here. Just one problem is the tiny, faint liner notes. Most people won't be able to read them. Review: 3 1/2 stars (Mary Kunz Goldman)



Prince, "Ultimate Prince" (Warner Bros.). One could argue that a greatest hits collection from Prince is ultimately useless; if you care about the man's art, you really should buy all of his albums. There's not a dog among them. That said, stripped of their long-player context, the songs spread across this two-disc set -- one of radio hits and album gems, a second of remixes -- lose none of their power, grandeur, sparkle or grit in the process. Prince is the greatest of the post-'60s R&B songwriters and musicians. This stuff, even though some of the production values sound dated today, is still wholly relevant. Review: 3 stars (J.M.)

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