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Listening Post / Brief reviews of select releases


Thin Lizzy, "Vagabonds of the Western World: Deluxe Remastered 2-CD Edition" (two discs, Decca). Walk into Dublin City's center, take Grafton Street toward the hustling, bustling commercial district, then take a sharp turn onto Harry Street -- think fast, or you'll miss it amid all the human traffic! -- and you'll stumble straight into a lifesize bronze statue of one Phillip Paris Lynott. Does it seem odd to see in this setting a black man peering through thickly hooded eyes from beneath a Hendrix perm, hand defiantly on hip, arm holding aloft a Fender Precision Bass as if it's a sword with which one might defend a maiden's honor? Yes? OK, it's time for you to get hip to Thin Lizzy, the band Dubliner Lynott -- son of an Irish mother and a Jamaican father, the latter of whom abandoned him post haste upon his birth -- led from the early '70s until his death in 1986.

Ireland's first international rock star, Lynott was also a poet with a romantic streak wider than the River Liffey, a man who loved Hendrix, Van Morrison, wine, women and James Joyce in equal measure. He is responsible for some of the most intelligent and well-crafted and literate and image-rich hard rock to ever see release.

If you've no clue about Lynott or Lizzy, start with this just-released remastered reissue of the band's third -- and first brilliant -- effort, "Vagabonds of the Western World." It predates the mid-'70s string of albums that would define Lynott's greatest work, but there is something primal and poetic about the manner in which Lynott and friends push the power-trio envelope beyond its capacity here. Finally, after all of these years since its September 1973 release, "Vagabonds" sounds the way it most likely did when the band first cranked it back through the recording studio monitors. It's crisp and clean, and now padded with bonus live John Peel Sessions recordings and various BBC-based goodies. And most importantly, it reminds us why that statue sits in the middle of Dublin's shopping district, frozen in defiant grace. 4 stars (out of 4) (Jeff Miers)



Michael Daugherty, Route 66 and Other Works performed by Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by Marin Alsop (Naxos). A strange case, Michael Daugherty. A serious composer with the equivalent of a pop artist's sensibility? Or a pops concert entertainer and cajoler with serious ambitions and flourishes? It's hard to say. There's ample evidence for both characterizations here, which, it seems to me, makes him the 21st century Morton Gould. "Route 66," "Ghost Ranch" and "Sunset Stript" would be, I think, not too challenging for any ambitious pops concert. "Time Machine," on the other hand, was written for three conductors and orchestra and entails a bit more Ivesian collage, even if it seems to me one very clever conductor and one very good orchestra could handle most of it. 3 stars (Jeff Simon)


Hindemith, The Complete Music for Viola and Orchestra performed by violist Lawrence Power, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and conductor David Atherton (Hyperion). At his reputation's zenith -- and reviewing no less Hindemith's unquestioned masterwork "Mathis der Maler" -- the great Virgil Thomson said that Paul Hindemith's music is "both mountainous and mouselike. The volume of it is enormous; its expressive content is minute and not easy to catch." Thomson was far from wrong as Hindemith's life progressed. For every sublimity like "Nobilissima Visione" and the slow movement of the Symphony in E-flat, there is a thicket of listener-resistant but finely crafted and empty counterpoint. The viola was Hindemith's instrument and, sadly, this disc of his music for viola and orchestra doesn't give a persuasive view of it. Not only is the viola the string laggard behind the violin and cello, but Power is not a violist of expressive power even on the occasions when Hindemith's music allows it. Consummate pro that he was, Hindemith could write this disc's greatest work -- the "Trauermusik" -- in a mere matter of hours on deadline as a memorial in England to King George V who'd just died. As a demonstration of method and result, it says something about Hindemith that his most admired Baroque forebears would have understood but which the composer himself -- consummate craftsman -- could only resist. 2 1/2 stars (J.S.)



Corinne Bailey Rae, "The Love EP" (Capitol). After last year's meditative album "The Sea," cut in the wake of her husband's death, British soul chanteuse Corinne Bailey Rae brings a renewed vigor to "The Love EP." Out now but pegged to Valentine's season, the EP is a sweet-but-simmering batch of romantic cover tunes recorded on and off stage during her recent tour. High points include a gorgeous little cover of Paul McCartney's "My Love" and a classy reinvention of Bob Marley's "Is This Love," Rae's reliably exquisite voice leading the way. A color-by-numbers run through Prince's "I Wanna Be Your Lover" is proficient if predictable, but the dark sensuality of "Low Red Moon" (Belly) and cool-grooving "Que Sera Sera" (Doris Day as channeled through Sly Stone) find Rae taking the sorts of chances that give an edge to her sophisticated soul. 3 stars (Brian McCollum, Detroit Free Press)



Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., "The Very Best of the Rat Pack" (Rhino/Reprise). If you take the Kennedy inaugural as a point of demarcation, you could say -- as some people are -- that this is the 50th anniversary of what we've come to know as "The Rat Pack" as a performing entity. Nevermind that real Hollywood historians trace the origins before Sinatra to "the Holmby Hills Rat Pack" of Humphrey Bogart, no less. What we now think of as "The Rat Pack" are those three guys on the loose in Vegas -- Frank, Dean and Sammy -- hacking around onstage with whatever comic they designated to do their deadpan stooge work (usually Joey Bishop, though at least once, not very successfully with Johnny Carson). Lord knows they had hangers-on -- Kennedy entree Peter Lawford, anyone? -- but Frank, Dean and Sammy were the real talents and the authentic brotherhood, the ones who created a Vegas act of middle American freedom out of all the things they liked about their favorite lounge comics (Don Rickles, Shecky Greene). They were singers, basically, though, which means in this exuberant tribute mostly uptempo swingers and mostly the versions for Sinatra's label Reprise, even though a couple Capitols are here, too (Dean's sly, winking "Ain't That a Kick in the Head"). Sinatra is represented by "Come Fly with Me," "I've Got You Under My Skin," "Luck Be a Lady," the Vegas mythology songs and "Witchcraft." The duets aren't much. And Martin -- Elvis' favorite balladeer -- proves the rectitude of Will Friedwald's judgment that he was perhaps at his best with novelty songs no one else would have believed in. These days, though, the revelation among these three continues to be how grand a singer Sammy Davis Jr. was and how great a jazz singer he might have been if, for instance, producer Norman Granz had done what he did for Fred Astaire -- surround him with Oscar Peterson and first-rate jazz soloists. The Bill Zehme notes are unfortunate but predictably so, as is the fun of the music. 3 1/2 stars (Jeff Simon)

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