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Listening Post

Pop

Father John Misty, “I Love You, Honeybear” (Sub-Pop). “Maybe love is just an economy based on resource scarcity,” sings Josh Tillman, aka Father John Misty, during what is ostensibly an album full of love songs for his wife, known as “I Love You, Honeybear.” That’s Tillman, in a nutshell – the former Fleet Foxes drummer-turned-indie pop auteur can craft an absolutely heart-rending melody, wrap it in neo-folk shimmer, and then trash the whole thing by writing lyrics that sound like the work of a brutally hung-over Chuck Klosterman. If Tillman’s expressing feelings of love, he writes in the voice of a character aware that he is expressing feelings of love, and rather unsure that doing so is a wise move. “There’s a lot of meta in my songs – when I’m writing, I can’t avoid the fact that I’m writing,” Tillman recently told Rolling Stone, and yeah, that fact is writ large all over “I Love You, Honeybear.” Yet, the album does not come across as the work of an underemployed hipster blogger with an ax to grind and a whole barrel full of smarminess to burn through. Tillman’s snark is tempered by the obvious Romanticism in his melodic and harmonic constructions. His most readily apparent musical forebear is the late, great Harry Nilsson, a man who turned self-flagellation via grandiose orchestral pop into a high art. Tillman can deliver a joke because he knows how to laugh at himself, and has spent so much time in the lobby bar of the bittersweet motel that the doorman knows him by name. The jubilant melody and strident tempo of “Chateau Lobby No. 4 (In C for Two Virgins)” work in service of a lyric that feels the need to pin love like an insect to a piece of Styrofoam in order to fully explore its construction. (Yeah, the album title itself is dripping with irony, for Tillman does not seem capable of enjoying pure, unexamined emotions.) “True Affection” is the odd man out on the album, but only because it is the sole tune to break with the warm acoustic organicism of the other 10 tracks by inviting a techno-based drum machine pattern and some giddy synths to the party. This stylistic intermission aside, “Honeybear” is classic chamber pop with indie overtones, its strongest tunes – “The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apartment,” “Bored in the USA,” “Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow” – deftly walking the line between self-deprecating humor and thick, billowing pathos. Welcome this album into your life, but give it some time and space – it reveals its charms slowly and coyly, and increasingly over time. 3½ stars (Jeff Miers)

Folk

Various Artists, “Another Time, Another Place: Celebrating the Music of ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’” (Nonesuch, two discs). Among the galling mysteries of Buffalo cultural life is why Cleveland Hill fire victim Jackson C. Frank has yet to be discovered by the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame, despite his years of performing in coffeehouses here and his subsequent move to England where, before his tragic death, he became a legend in English language folk music. Frank’s classic song “Blues Run the Game” is prominent here in a fine version by Colin Meloy that brought a huge smile to the face of Joan Baez when this concert was broadcast on the Showtime Network. What this disc does is continue the remarkable life of one of the more unfortunate films ignored at Oscar time, the Coen Brothers’ terrific “Inside Llewyn Davis” which was about a struggling singer in the Greenwich Village Folk Music scene of the early ’60s. The soundtrack from the film is one of the best recent movie soundtracks. Along with it though, the Coens and the film’s music producer T-Bone Burnett put on a concert in Town Hall of the leading legends of folk music past, now and to come. The stars, obviously, are Joan Baez (singing “Joe Hill”), Jack White, Rhiannon Giddens, Keb’ Mo, Elvis Costello, Gillian Welch, the Punch Brothers and the Avett Brothers, but that doesn’t mean everything they do is golden. Or that the contributions by the film’s star Oscar Isaac and the emerging Milk Carton Kids are lesser in any way. No one’s ever going to explain to me why the greatest verse of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” was changed: “I saw a sign there/said No Trespassing/On the other side/it don’t say nothin’/that side was made for you and me.” As it’s done by the Dave Rawlings Machine, it eliminates the side of the sign that “don’t say nothing.” The big audience moment is probably Brendan Behan’s “The Auld Triangle” sung by an ad hoc a capella group. It’s a delightful record of a live event anyway, however uneven it turns out to be. Three stars (Jeff Simon)

Classical

Lorin Maazel, The Complete Early Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon (Deutsche Grammophon, 18 discs). Here is a box set that’s a small treasury of the beginning of the FM radio era. When classical music listeners first discovered in the ’50s and early ’60s that classical music, for any number of reasons, belonged on FM rather AM radio, one of the heroes of that discovery (along with Karajan and I Musici) was Lorin Maazel, whose recordings seemed to be heard more on radio than so many other conductors. What was being reflected at the time was not only the quality of Maazel’s recordings of warhorses but the relative generosity of DGG’s promotional policies with classical radio stations. The wisdom of it all was considerable on almost every level. Here is a superb box set of excellent recordings conducted by Maazel as a young conductor which once had a somewhat disproportionately large presence in the ears of classical music’s radio audience – and never, for a second, abused their apparent ubiquity. The orchestras heard here under Maazel’s baton are the Berlin Philharmonic and Radio Symphony, and the Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion-Television Francaise. The works include everything from the “Romeo and Juliet” of Berlioz, Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev, to Beethoven’s Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, Mendelssohn’s “Italian” Symphony, Mozart’s “Jupiter” Symphony, Brahms’ Third, Schubert’s Second, Third, Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, Tchaikovsky’s Fourth and Stravinsky’s “Firebird” Suite and “Song of the Nightengale.” The only time the box truly goes far afield from the most basic classical repertoire is with its performance of Ravel’s one-act comic opera “L’Heure Espagnole.” Maazel was a child prodigy, famously took over from the supreme autocrat George Szell in Cleveland but never was named the conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic as he wanted. The music in this 18-disc box is fine for its time (early ’50s to mid-’60s) but for those who remember hearing so much of it in the period when FM radio colonized classical listening, it has an undeniable nostalgic attraction. Three stars (Jeff Simon)

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