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Listening Post / Brief reviews of select releases

>Pop

Pat DiNizio, "Buddy Holly" (Koch). As leader and primary songwriter with the Smithereens, Pat DiNizio has always worn his influences proudly on his sleeve. The band's power-pop rivals Cheap Trick's, and like the latter band, the Smithereens have never made a secret of their Beatles fetish. It makes sense, then, that one of DiNizio's biggest influences was also an icon to John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Buddy Holly's name is likely to be popping up all over the place this year, as the 50th anniversary of his untimely death is marked. Certainly, Holly's small but stellar catalog will be delved into by all sorts of folks. It's doubtful any of them will come close to DiNizio's "Buddy Holly," one of the finest tribute albums I've ver come across. Clearly, DiNizio understands Holly, who was a master of understatement in performance and deceptive simplicity in songwriting. With the help of revered veteran arranger Charles Calello, DiNizio doesn't so much reinvent these songs as he does lovingly embellish them in a manner both reverential and creative. Calello's arrangements are uniformly smart and subtle, and they couch DiNizio's Elvis Costello-like timbre gorgeously. All too often, even well-turned tribute albums seem moot when one could just as easily listen to the original artist. DiNizio has pulled off the seemingly impossible -- he's made Buddy Holly's music new again. Outstanding. Review: 4 stars (Out of 4)

(Jeff Miers)

*

Ben Lee, "The Rebirth of Venus" (New West). Ben Lee's seventh effort is a collection of feel-good pop ditties dedicated to the Goddess of Love and Beauty, and is a tribute of sorts to femininity itself. A nice concept, and one that would seem to be well-suited to Lee's unashamedly sunny pop tendencies. "The Rebirth of Venus" is a bit of a drag, though. Lee's nice-guy persona can be cloying, and though he is clearly happy to be where he is, personally and musically, the 13 songs collected here are mostly unremarkable, when they aren't downright annoying. Lee sounds like a member of kids television band the Wiggles throughout "Venus." As earnest and well-meaning as he may be, Lee's songwriting is cliche-ridden and twee. Toothless, this thing. Review: 1 1/2 stars

(J.M.)

***

>Jazz

Miles Davis, "Kind of Blue -- Legacy Edition" (Columbia/Legacy, two discs). Justly worshipped as the "the premier album of its era, jazz or otherwise" (in Ashley Kahn's words) by the miraculous jazz group often said to be the greatest working group in jazz history -- the Miles Davis Sextet of 1958-59 -- "Kind of Blue" celebrated its 50th anniversary months ago with one of the more luxurious box sets in recent memory. "A beautiful monster," they called it at Legacy records. Here is the digested baby version of it -- two discs of music by that transcendent sextet Miles assembled with John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderly and Bill Evans -- and masterful notes by Francis Davis which pinion its eternal mystery and paradox "it continues to speak to us forcefully today because it seems so much a creation of its own time." At the same time, says Davis, its modal improvisation opened the door to everyone from the Beatles, Steve Reich and Philip Glass to Amy Winehouse and Christina Aguilera. All of which is impressively historical and fine but doesn't begin to match the sublime beauty of the music, which will never fade. Review: 4 stars

(Jeff Simon)

***

>Classical

Michael Nyman, MGV and the Piano Concerto performed by pianist Kathryn Stott, the Michael Nyman Band and Orchestra and Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under Michael Nyman (MN Records). Nyman, famously, is the man who, as music critic, first applied the word "minimalism" to music. He was a tough, bracing and entirely unpredictable critic, which describes the large body of "minimalist" music he has composed over the years. You could argue, I suppose, that Nyman's MN label, like Philip Glass' Orange Mountain Music, is a vanity label. I think they are more like key contemporary composers, blissfully blessed, with financial means, finding ways to create definitive versions of their music. Kathryn Stott is a pianist who has recorded splendid Faure, Debussy and Ravel, which makes her an inspired performer of the concerto Nyman created out of his much-loved (and award-winning) score for Jane Campion's "The Piano." MGV is Nyman's abbreviation for "Musique a Grande Vitesse -- High Speed Music" and it has got to be the most impressive music composed to honor a railroad line since Honegger's "Pacific 231." Says Nyman: "tempo changes, unpredictable slowings down, bear no logical relation to the high speed of the Paris -- Lille journey," but nor is it a Concerto Grosso either. It's just a fascinating, headlong Michael Nyman piece. Review: 3 1/2 stars

(J.S.)

*

The Corona Guitar Kvartet, "The Corona Guitar Kvartet" (Albany Records). The Corona Guitar Kvartet takes its unorthodox spelling from the musicians' Scandinavian heritage. They are all over the map in a number of ways. They start this disc with a delightful performance of J.S. Bach's entire "Italian Concerto," a piece written for piano. (Do peek at the cute, creative notes. Of the slow movement, one of Bach's most passionate works, the Kvartet muses memorably: "The figure is being passed around among the guitars like a joint.") The Kvartet, who played Canisius College once and on that occasion tackled the music of Persis Vehar, embraces the new as well as the old. An arrangement of Ravel's "Ma Mere l'Oye" follows the Bach, changing the mood completely. Then it's three songs by Renaissance composer Thomas Morley -- charming. Composer Hsueh-Yung Shen, born in 1952, contributes "Polar Nights," a nine-minute nocturne rather jarring and bewildering but not unlistenable. Everything ends on an entertaining if not surprising keel with four pieces by ubiquitous tango king Astor Piazzolla. I'll bet this disc works out well for little Albany Records. It's a great mix of delicacy and robust adventure. Review: 3 1/2 stars

(Mary Kunz Goldman)

***

>Country

Glen Campbell, "Glen Campbell's Greatest Hits (Capitol). Once upon a time, Glen Campbell was just a guitar-playing member in good standing of the Wrecking Crew, that rather mind-boggling loose coalition of L.A. studio musicians who played just about every kind of music on just about everyone's records. You always have to remember, then, that behind all Campbell's smash hit records, the TV and movie stardom, and the narcissistic forelock of hair that would give impeached Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich ideas decades later, there was a good old boy who might well have been content to play anonymously forever for the Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, etc. To the degree, then, that he ever succumbed to star megalomania, it was definitely working-class megalomania, firmly rooted in the belief that you have to actually do something worth doing before you become famous. He was too musicianly to ever be anything other than a great singer of country pop. As always with greatest hits packages, there are a couple of hopeful new and semi-new ringers thrown in just to prove that, by God, he can so sing Dave Grohl and Jackson Browne at 72. It's the other stuff you want though -- "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," "Rhinestone Cowboy," a dandy Spectorish wall-of-sound cover of Conway Twitty's "It's Only Make Believe," etc. Rhinestones DO sparkle, you know. Review: 3 1/2 stars

(J.S.)

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