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Listening Post / Brief reviews of select releases

>Punk

Anti-Flag, "For Blood and Empire" (RCA). Pittsburgh's Anti-Flag has accepted punk rock's truest inheritance -- more than the "three chords, anyone can do it" philosophy, the band has embraced the explosive political criticism ethos, and come up with a pop-punk album that packs the political punch of the Sex Pistols' "God Save the Queen." "For Blood and Empire" is a scathing indictment of the Bush regime, and it is both relentless in its attack and surprisingly thorough in its assessment of the situation. These guys have done their homework; they also put their money where their mouth is during election-time jaunts across the country with the "Rock Against Bush" tour. This is more of a "concept album" than Green Day's "American Idiot." If you don't agree with the political opinions stated herein, avoid this. It's impossible to gloss over the texts presented, and simply tap your foot in time. This is hard-core. Review: 3 1/2 stars (Out of 4) (Jeff Miers)

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>Classical

Shostakovich: A Portrait (Naxos, two discs). Don't reject this two-disc set out of hand. It's true that, of all 20th century composers, Shostakovich may be the one who least tolerates being turned into snippets arrayed on CD in a sampler. If ever there was a composer whose works demand to be heard in full to get any understanding of their profound, secular, spiritual and epic drama, it is Shostakovich (much more amenable to piecemeal jukebox treatment, in fact, would have been his Russian contemporary Prokofiev). But these Naxos "portraits" are always very impressively done. This is a solid basic piecemeal presentation of the 20th century master who seems to be the modern composer who currently prevails in the 21st. More of the string quartet music would have been smarter but you'll find the composer himself here in 1951-52 recordings of his solo piano works and a 1941 radio address from Leningrad. Review: 3 stars (Jeff Simon)

***

Bach, Goldberg Variations and 14 Goldberg Canons performed by harpsichordist Richard Egarr (Harmonia Mundi, two discs). Much scholarly concern for authenticity went into these performances. All repeats are observed and Egarr is very precise about the best way to replicate the sound of the instrument in Bach's era. At the same time, though, there is still no way his version can supplant -- or even approach -- the 1955 Glenn Gould piano recording he concedes still dominates our basic conception of Bach's Goldberg Variations. Egarr's cause is helped considerably by a rare multi-track performance of the Goldberg canons discovered in 1974. It's interesting Bach performance, suffused with scholarship and seriousness but not terribly gripping. Review: 2 1/2 stars (J.S.)

***

"Player's Fair: The Music of John Anthony Lennon," Daniel Stanislawek, guitar (Albany). The upstart Albany label strikes an unusually mellow tone with this disc of elegant solo guitar pieces by Lennon, a California-born guitarist and composer. From the passionate, Latin-themed "Gigolo" to some quasi-Renaissance dances to a lyrical "Serenata," the music is overtly melodic, with an assertive sense of rhythm. Stanlislawek shows himself to be a player of great delicacy. Review: 3 stars (Mary Kunz Goldman)

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>Country

Kris Kristofferson, "This Old Road" (New West). It's strange that, out in the broader public, Kris Kristofferson is better known as an actor than as one of the finest songwriters in country music. From "Sunday Morning Comin' Down" and "Me and Bobby McGee" onward, the man has been tirelessly perfecting a rough-hewn, dusty form of country-folk. "This Old Road" is being called a comeback for Kristofferson; he teamed here with producer Don Was, and many see this as indicative that the results are much like Rick Rubin's collaborations with Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond. Fine, if this gets the man some more sales, but in essence, this is just pure, stripped-down Kristofferson. That means it's simple, beautiful, unabashedly honest. Classic stuff. Review: 3 stars (J.M.)

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>Jazz

Joey De Francesco, "Organic Vibes" (Concord). "After Joey, nobody's close" the late Jimmy Smith was reputed to have said about the current tribe of Hammond B-3 organists that followed in his wake. And Amen to that. DeFrancesco is one of the great current jazz spirits. It's a good thing too because simply in terms of sonority, organ and vibes are not the most natural group cohabitants, however much DeFrancesco and the great vibist Bobby Hutcherson may have wanted to play together. Too many mid-tempo ballads on this disc go nowhere special. If only the disc had made more room for the great and too-little heard tenor saxophonist George Coleman, who would have been, in truth, a far more natural and welcome full-disc partner for DeFrancesco than Hutcherson. Review: 2 1/2 stars (J.S.)