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Discs: Silver Linings soundtrack, Lamar, Keys, Schumann


Silver Linings Playbook

Various artists

[Sony Classical]

3 stars

The buffalo from Buffalo who are buffaloed by the buffalo/From Buffalo” goes the lovely folkish ditty from Alt-J and the female Vermont trio Mountain Man. “Buffalo, ah, the buffalo from Buffalo.”

See “Silver Linings Playbook” and you’ll quickly realize that the song has absolutely nothing to do with either our city or even the movie itself, except, in the latter case, for a mood of sweetly deranged sensitivity suitable for the love story of two emotionally damaged folks who have taken a lot of prescribed meds in their time to simulate normality.

But then, as catchall soundtracks go, this one is one of the best things about the occasionally annoying film – along with a performance by Jennifer Lawrence that would be “star making” if she weren’t already the princess of the “The Hunger Games” franchise.

British indie band Alt-J’s sweet nonsense, then, is on the same disc as the hero’s nemesis song, Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour” and a clever combo platter of Dave Brubeck beauties, “Unsquare Dance” in 7/4 time and “Maria” (from his “West Side Story” album). What else? Les Paul and Mary Ford’s “The Moon of Manakoora,” Crab Corps’ wiseacre semi-serious senior prom version of Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s “Monster Mash,” Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash in one of the clumsiest duets in pop music history on “Girl from the North Country.”

Rare Earth? Jessie J and Diane Warren? Eagles of Death Metal – the California band that has no more to do with death metal than this movie has to do with buffalo or Buffalo? Sure, bring ’em on.

The movie is a kind of semi-smart backyard folk-rock version of a halfway house back to normal – or How David O. Russell Always Puts the Fun Back in Dysfunctional. You need a catchall soundtrack this eccentric – and this weirdly pretty – to seem absolutely apt.

–Jeff Simon


Kendrick Lamar

“good kid, m.A.A.d. city”

[Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope]

3 1/2 stars

“I was never a gangbanger/I mean, I was never a stranger to the fold, neither,” Kendrick Lamar admits on “The Art of Peer Pressure,” the most tellingly titled song on his second album.

That insider/outsider mentality is at play in every track on this major label debut from Dr. Dre’s latest protégé. Lamar, 25, hails from Compton, Calif., the place that Dre and his N.W.A crew established as a ruthless hip-hop proving ground in the ’80s. But Lamar takes a deeper, more introspective look at life in the city.

He spends this album – or “short film,” as he calls it – in constant conflict, reveling in the pleasures of gang life while always weighing the inevitable consequences.

The early tracks – in which Lamar invokes his 17-year-old self – are loose, lusty blunt raps. But the album grows darker and more compelling as the story progresses, with Lamar’s good life being clouded by the specter of death.

He broods over gang violence (“m.A.A.d. city”), binge drinking (the eerie single “Swimming Pools”) and material success (“Real”) without simplifying or glorifying any of it. Lamar’s anguish peaks in the 12-minute “Sing for Me, I’m Dying of Thirst,” in which he ruminates on his mortality, as if his time could come at the end of each verse. “good kid, m.A.A.d. city” is a solemn spin on typical gangsta storytelling.

Still, the narrative of this “short film” – a pensive street kid atones for his sins and hopes his talent will pull him through – is nothing new. That’s the story that drove many of hip-hop’s classic breakthroughs. And it’s safe to say that this album isn’t a stranger to that fold.

– Jason Silverstein


Alicia Keys

“Girl on Fire”


3 1/2 stars

Alicia Keys doesn’t waste any time clearing things up.

“Don’t be mad,” she sings to open “Girl on Fire” after a short interlude. “It’s just a brand new kind of me.”

She’s not kidding. After the disappointing “The Element of Freedom” album, where Keys seemed to compromise her usually strong artistic vision to create a more easily digestible (read: blander) brand of soul-tinged pop, “Girl on Fire” finds Keys feistier and more determined than ever.

Starting with “Brand New Me,” Keys returns to the piano-based balladeering that made her a Grammy-winning star, though she is stretching that formula once again. Sometimes, as in “Brand New Me,” she does it with more aggressive lyrics.

Sometimes, as in the gorgeous neo-soul of her duet with Maxwell (“Fire We Make”) or the dance-floor anthem “New Day,” she does it musically.

And, to her credit, it all works. Even the title track, which has worn out its welcome on that super-annoying American Express commercial, sounds fresh, thanks to a remix and verses from Nicki Minaj.

Keys is at her best on “Tears Always Win,” a ’60s-style soul ballad wrenching in its simplicity, that encapsulates everything she does well in less than four minutes. She brings her past influences into the present, twisting it into something new, singing it dramatically without going over the top.

“Girl on Fire” is arguably Keys’ best album yet, the kind of triumph that comes only when you’re not out to prove anything, when your potential turns into actual mastery of your craft.

– Glenn Gamboa, Newsday



Liederkreis, Op. 39 and 24

Sung by Gerald Finley


4 stars

It sounds funny to say this, because he comes from Ottawa, of all places. But Gerald Finley is the best baritone out there right now. He kind of sneaked up on me and now I can’t take my eyes off him. He has a deep voice of power and beauty and also he has a kind of explosive quality, in that you are never sure what he will do next. He makes a smoldering Count in “The Marriage of Figaro,” lashing out, roughing people up, commanding attention. (He just finished playing the Count at the Met.) And last year in “Die Meistersinger” at Glyndebourne, he portrayed Hans Sachs not as a wise elder but as an emotional wreck, barely holding it together. It was tremendously affecting.

Finley brings this kind of honesty and creativity to everything he sings, from Schubert to “Doctor Atomic” to his recent disc of songs by Benjamin Britten. His unflinching exploration of the delicate songs of Robert Schumann is as good as you would think it would be. He makes those exquisite Schumann love songs irresistible. The dramatic songs, like the famous “Lorelei,” get a jolt of that explosive Finley quality. And in a sensual song like the shimmering “Mondnacht,” you just marvel at the beauty of Finley’s voice. Julius Drake, his habitual recital partner, artfully negotiates the exquisite accompaniments. This is a wonderful disc by one of the great singers of our time.

– Mary Kunz Goldman