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Red Barked Tree


3 1/2 stars (out of 4)

Few of those involved in the art-punk vanguard of the late 1970s offered any indication they intended to be around for the long haul. This devil-may-care attitude toward the future is part of what made that particular generation -- like New York City types Television and Talking Heads and England's edgy and articulate Wire -- so thrillingly inventive. But carrying it all on into maturity? Doubtful, at best.

Wire, formed in 1976 as a punk quartet but rapidly transforming into a purveyor of spacious, intelligent and acerbic art-rock, has released its 12th album, "Red Barked Tree," and if the heady days of the late '70s and early '80s can no longer provide the context for this music, it must be said that Wire continues to surprise and delight.

The album arrives with a nattily attired bad attitude in the form of "Please Take," during which singer/guitarist Colin Newman sounds positively thrilled to be telling someone to "F--- off out of my face/You're taking up too much space," all the while riding the waves of a gloriously peppy melody line.

Fellow founding member Graham Lewis propels several of the "Red Barked" tunes on the strength of taut bass lines -- the very sort that have been aped by alt-rock bands for the past few decades, from the Cure to the Killers, though with far less melodic acumen than Lewis displays during pieces like "Now Was" and "Bad Worn Thing."

These are the moments that fully display Wire's post-punk pedigree, and if they alone comprised "Red Barked Tree," the album would be strong. However, there is much more going on than a recapitulation of glories past. The epic pieces are both true delight and revelation, particularly the lyrically complex and harmonically grandiose title song, which must certainly qualify as one of finest bits in the entire Wire oeuvre.

Part of the impact of the record can be traced to the gleefully irreverent intellect on display throughout the collection of song lyrics. One of the clearest signifiers of art-punk is the presence of a keen intelligence that ably matches the massive, in-your-face attitude that brands the music as punk. This is something that many of the bands following in Wire's footsteps failed to grasp. Many of them understood the fire and the fury but either weren't capable of producing or just plain forgot about the finesse. Not so Wire, which takes much apparent pleasure from the simple act of being a damned fine band of musicians who have obviously read a book or two along the way.

Wire has never been granted as much credit in the influence department as groups like Joy Division, or even Guided by Voices, though it is clear that the band's early ability to blend the cool, clinical propulsion of a Kratftwerk or a Can with the multilayered urgency of art-rock guitars was way ahead of its time and remains more than relevant today. Perhaps "Red Barked Tree" will help to balance the scales. The album proves that cutting-edge rock need not be the sole domain of youth.

-- Jeff Miers




"Redman Presents ... Reggie"

[Def Jam]

2 1/2 stars


Ghostface Killah

"Apollo Kids"

[Def Jam]

3 1/2 stars

Years ago, Def Jam made its name finding bankable stars (see LL, EMPD, DMX). Today, much is the same, but the label tries, at least on paper, to root for the veterans. Big Boi and the Roots put out two of 2010's best-received albums, and now come new releases by golden-era stalwarts Redman and Ghostface.

Both records are a resistance to change. "Reggie" is Redman in his familiar zone, tossing off goofy punch lines that are sometimes lame but never lazy. And while producer Erick Sermon is absent, old-schoolers Kool Moe Dee and DJ Kool nab appearances. Things unravel only when the B-listers (Ready Roc, et al.) show up too many times. Redman is a capable M.C.; fitted with new, slick production, he doesn't need the extra help.

Ghostface doesn't have that problem. "Apollo Kids" is heavy on guests, but some of them (Game on "Drama," Busta Rhymes on "Superstar") turn in their best verses in years here. Where Redman goes for gloss, Ghostface is all grit, rocking over dusty beats ("Starkology") and joined by longtime friends (GZA, Method Man, Raekwon). It might play more like a record-club gift than an album, but it's this consistency that makes the new Def Jam feel old again.

--Michael Pollock, Philadelphia Inquirer




Cape Dory

[Fat Possum]

3 1/2 stars

Before they recorded their debut as Tennis, husband and wife Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore spent six postcollegiate months sailing the Eastern seaboard. That explains the nautical and geographic references that inundate "Cape Dory," in songs like "Waterbirds," "South Carolina" and "Seafarer."

It doesn't, however, account for the sunny nostalgia that is the album's main charm.

Moore sings with youthful swing and swagger, with lots of sha-na-nas and whoah-uh-ohs that blithely echo the Chiffons, Shirelles and other early-'60s girl groups. Riley plays trebly guitar in shimmery and jangly lines that sometimes recall early-'80s United Kingdom bands such as Orange Juice or the Pastels.

The homemade, lo-fi sound of these brief songs -- the 10 clock in at less than 29 minutes -- contrasts winningly with the classic melodies and Moore's extroverted vocals. Fans of Camera Obscura, the Raveonettes or Best Coast should smile.

-- Steve Klinge, the Philadelphia Inquirer



Oleg Frish

Bring Me Sunshine

[Time Out Media]

4 stars

Oleg Frish grew up in the Soviet Union worshipping and studying the Great American Songbook, and with this CD he realizes his lifelong dream.

He recorded 15 offbeat numbers with the tight, sassy Patrick Williams Big Band -- and not only that, but he cut the record at Capitol Studios. I love nostalgia for Capitol Records and for the big-band era, and Frish's accent only adds to it. After all, weren't Russians in vaudeville, and didn't guys from Russia write a lot of our songs? Frish is certainly in their mold. He is a TV personality in Russia -- he has been called the Russian Merv Griffin -- and he also is a magician, and his entry in Wikipedia is being considered for deletion.

On this CD he is clearly in heaven. He belts euphorically with the big band, the songs arranged and conducted by the man himself, Williams, who worked with Sinatra. He croons ballads (e.g. "Have a Good Time") against the kind of retro jukebox vocal accompaniment that accompanied Dinah Washington or Big Joe Turner.

Frish's entertaining song choices include "I Wish You Love," "A Lot of Livin' to Do," and the all-American cabaret cutie "Rhode Island Is Famous for You." As a bonus you get a DVD on "The Making of 'Bring Me Sunshine.'" But that, I am guessing, is a whole other story. It's hard to assign this a rating, so what the heck -- let's call it perfect.

-- Mary Kunz Goldman

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