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Listening Post / Brief reviews of select releases


Nicola Benedetti, violin, Homecoming: A Scottish Fantasy (Decca Universal). Her name might be Italian, but Nicola Benedetti is a Scottish lass. She grew up in Ayrshire, so the liner notes to this album say, and with this disc she is paying tribute to her roots. Her springboard is Max Bruch’s wonderful “Scottish Fantasy,” and from there she branches out into folk fiddle, with “Auld Lang Syne Variations,” “Ae Fond Kiss” (love that title), “Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond,” etc. She is joined in the songs by another fiddle, guitar, accordion, flute, bouzouki, etc., as well as the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Rory MacDonald. The result is a rich cinematic sound that brims with nostalgia and emotion. Benedetti achieves a natural sound full of easy, improvisatory virtuosity. Soaring over her colleagues in “My Love Is Like a Red, Red Rose,” she sounds completely at home. Listening to her fiddling freely through a reel called “Hurricane Set,” you can feel her joy. This was a great idea for a crossover album, and it really works. ∆∆∆∆ (Mary Kunz Goldman)


Faure, Lydia’s Vocalises, Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, Trumpet, Roy Howat, Piano (Linn). Here is a rarity. As the notes begin, “Not often does the opportunity arise to publish over 30 hitherto unknown pieces by a major composer from a century ago.” The good news is, the composer is Gabriel Faure. The bad news is, this isn’t music that will change the world. The “Vocalises” were little teaching pieces that Faure threw together, often on scraps of music paper, to serve as sight-reading tests at the Paris Conservatoire. You have to love how the liner notes sell it to us. The Vocalises, they say, “offer a rare glimpse into a composer’s busy working life. … Some were probably dashed off during busy weeks in the office; some suggest a sudden inspiration taking Faure by surprise … Once tidied up, these complete drafts were then used by the Conservatoire’s official copyist to prepare tidy scores for exam candidates and juries to read from.” Ha, ha! It sounds like a joke out of P.D.Q. Bach. The music, though, is happily better. They take surprise twists and turns, which makes sense considering they were supposed to put students through their paces. They are pleasant, graceful and individual, if sometimes sharply truncated. Many of them do amount to good music. Thanks be to composers who make learning pleasant and poetic. With these pieces, Faure joins this fellowship, which reaches from Chopin and his etudes and Mozart and his oddly poignant learners’ sonatas down through Clementi and Czerny. To complete the disc, Freeman-Attwood and pianist Daniel-Ben Pienaar collaborate in music by composers including Couperin, Chabrier, Rameau and Faure. ∆∆∆ (Mary Kunz Goldman)


Brad Paisley, Moonshine in the Trunk (Arista Nashville). When the nation last took the measure of Brad Paisley, it was for “Accidental Racist,” a ham-fisted message song featuring the rapper LL Cool J. After it brought him every kind of ridicule, Paisley suggested that he’d merely been aiming for a teachable moment. But what, in the process, did he learn himself? Judging by “Moonshine in the Trunk,” not much that’s worth learning. A shiny clunker of an album, it rings of brand rehabilitation and topical retrenchment. Its load-bearing tunes are would-be party starters: “River Bank,” an ode to summery leisure; “Crushin’ It” and “4WP,” half-baked hymns of weekend release; and “Limes,” a blithe inducement to self-medication. The problem isn’t just that these are dim songs that hold their audience to be dimmer; it’s that Paisley seems so calculated on the subject of carousing. Fine. How about his earnest side? A few songs on this album fly the banner of female empowerment, but far less deftly than Paisley has before. “You Shouldn’t Have To” puts an unfortunate backspin on chivalrous flirtation: You looked sensational/And totally capable/Of buying your own beer/But you shouldn’t have to. (Take note, ladies: Paisley goes on to list a few more things he’d be happy to do for you, like killing spiders, changing flat tires and zipping up the back of your dress.) There’s an equally queasy undercurrent in “Shattered Glass,” which flogs a glass-ceiling metaphor. A cheer from the sidelines for a high-achieving woman, it begins by picturing her as a babe in arms – the height of oblivious paternalism. Let’s not even get into “Cover Girl.” Paisley proved long ago that he’s capable of subtler and cleverer things, so it’s doubly frustrating that he and his songwriting partners (mainly Kelly Lovelace, Lee Thomas Miller and Chris DuBois) often seem hobbled by concerns about audience reception. Two of the more enjoyable tracks come unburdened by either country-bro posturing or social aims: “High Life,” a redneck picaresque that leaves no question about its critical distance, and the title track, a showcase for Paisley’s hot-rodding on guitar. As for “American Flag on the Moon,” which follows a snippet of John F. Kennedy’s moon speech from 1962, it blandly recalls a moment when this country showed a gumption and unity that put our current politics to shame. The kicker comes on the following tune, “Country Nation,” an anthem of blue-collar solidarity and a show of aw-shucks dominion. “We’re the fabric of this nation, and we’re a nation all our own,” Paisley sings. That could sound a little dicey in the wrong context, but he seems sure of being understood. (Nate Chinen, New York Times)


Ty Segall, Manipulator (Drag City). There’s a two-level sense of time running through Ty Segall’s new album. Segall, 27, is a hero and motivator of the Orange County garage-punk scene; he got that way by grit and speed and capability. DIY and tight budgets and a deep study of rock bands that broke up before he was born – the Troggs, T. Rex, Black Flag – don’t quite explain it: He’s in a race against something greater than himself. He makes so much music – eight scruffy kinetic-blast albums and two full-length collaborations in six years, as well as a pile of singles and EPs – that he has trained us to hear each new record as a transitory marker, like a haircut. “Manipulator” is different: These are simple songs, but finessed and articulate, the band tight and contained, with a string section on three tracks. (In many cases, the band is Segall himself, playing most of the instruments.) He has worked on his singing, and on his warm and serrated guitar sound. The record is long, and transmits a desire to stay around a while, even to be permanent. And yet it’s still sprinting. The double-tempo disposition goes right down to the center of the music, to Segall. His voice is mellow-groovy, glam-languid, with early-’70s, stoned-pasha falsettos and renderings of the word “movie” as “mew-vee-yeah.” But his natural sense of tempo is the opposite: determined, rabbitlike. He’s the drummer on most of the record, and a swift, manically precise rhythm guitarist. When he solos, he’s wild and gestural and sometimes graceless. This kind of tension juices up the best of the songs, which want to explode but stay on track. “The Clock,” with a 12-string guitar and a string section, sounds like something from Love’s “Forever Changes,” but understood by someone with a natural tempo that’s about 15 beats per minute faster than yours; “Tall Man Skinny Lady” has a secure, strumming groove out of David Bowie’s “Man Who Sold the World,” but its guitar solos go haywire. The record is a study of form, particularly of form at the outer levels of the music. It’s as if Segall absorbed fills and flourishes and affects from old records and they were leaking out from his pores. But all the energy and detail begins to be undermined by the stuff that hustle can’t help. There are 17 songs here, and after a while they feel short on basic songwriting surprises: Built on narrow foundations, high on crude intuition, they keep running into walls. (Ben Ratliff, New York Times)

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