2007 Records To Die For Page 10
FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE: Welcome Interstate Managers
S-Curve/Virgin 5 90875 2 (CD). 2003. Mike Denneen, prod., eng.; Adam Schlesinger, Chris Collingwood, prods. AAD? TT: 55:10
When it comes to pop music for the new millennium, it doesn't get any better than this. Even if you weren't in love with "Stacy's Mom," a wistful, lustful teenage fantasy that was a surprise radio hit, there's lots to love here. I can't drive over the Tappan Zee Bridge without hearing "Little Red Light" (about how technology can't fix everything), and I smile every time I hear the opening lines of "No Better Place": "Is that supposed to be your poker face / Or was someone run over by a train." Half of Fountains of Wayne's songwriting team is Adam Schlesinger, who gave us "That Thing You Do," and that might explain the infectiousness that oozes from every track here. But there's also super-smart poignancy—such as the lush, Paul Simon-esque "Valley Winter Song." It's trés cool—full of youthful fun, pondering, quirkiness, and sweetness—and that's what, at least for me, Fountains of Wayne is all about. (XXVI-10, XXVII-2)
LOVE: Forever Changes
Elektra Traditions/Rhino 8122 73537 2 (CD). 1967/2001. Arthur Lee, orig. prod.; Bruce Botnick, orig. prod., eng. Bonus tracks: Arthur Lee, prod.; John Haeny, eng. AAD? TT: 74:24
Back in the December 2003 issue of Stereophile, I swooned (five stars' worth) over Love's The Forever Changes Concert. That live re-enactment of this glorious West Coast blend of rock, folk, country, and revolution—recorded in London to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the album's release in 1967—was proof, if anyone needed it, that Arthur Lee's masterpiece had stood the test of time. But the original is even better (I'd give it six stars if I could). In the same league as Pet Sounds, Revolver, and Blonde On Blonde, Forever Changes is all heart and soul (Love was a multiracial band, after all), doing all it could to break down barriers, stereotypes, and prejudices. If you weren't tuned in to this overlooked gem when it first hit, this CD will give you a taste of those stormy yet thrilling days. If you were, this will pour out of your stereo with the warmth of a priceless vintage. The bonus tracks are generous and appropriate, but it's the original 11 tracks that are to die for. Here's to Arthur Lee and his lovely band for leaving them to us.
DAVID PATRICK STEARNS
FRANCK: Music for Piano and Strings
Prelude, Fugue & Variation; Prelude, Chorale & Fugue; Piano Quintet
Alice Ader, piano; Ensemble Ader
Fuga Liberra FUG 509 (CD). 2005. Armin Fimolizmande, prod.; Franck Rossi, eng. DDD. TT: 70:17
Though pianist Alice Ader has been part of the European classical scene for some 35 years, her name was new to me when I recently stumbled on her many Debussy recordings. As excellent as those are, this Franck disc is a greater accomplishment: she makes this second-tier composer sound like a first-tier one. Widely performed and recorded, the Prelude, Chorale & Fugue has always embodied anguish, though Ader gives it tragedy on a Shakespearean scale, and not through any perverse treatment of the score. She seems to find depth simply by looking harder and pondering longer. Same thing with the Piano Quintet, which she plays with her longtime chamber ensemble, Ensemble Ader: a unanimity of conception allows the music to unfold as a single mercurial, even volatile entity. The recording, made at IRCAM in Paris, lacks personality but captures Ader's rich sound.
J.S. BACH: Goldberg Variations
Celine Frisch, harpsichord
Alpha 014 (2 CDs). 2001. Hugues Deschaux, prod., eng. DDD. TT: 102:10
Though among the most consistently interesting early-music labels, Alpha releases seem to drift only quietly into the US. So on wondering where this fine recording of J.S. Bach's Goldberg Variations had been all my life, I realized I could have already been enjoying this since 2001. Then again, who'd have thought that, among so many recordings of this work, Frisch would so clearly distinguish herself. Her relaxed tempos allow her to mold the music in an improvisatory manner, and not just through the concentrated but unpretentious sense of deliberation she brings to its treble lines. In any given variation, tempos are flexible and smartly molded around areas of tension. Chords aren't always played straight, but discreetly broken into arpeggios. So even though each variation unfolds over a harmonic floor plan that's unshakably uniform, the performance feels as if it's always on shifting sands. The resulting dynamic tension keeps your ears glued to the performance. Topping it off, few harpsichords have such a mellow sound as hers. The brief bonus disc is devoted to the Ensemble Cafe Zimmermann, which specializes in repertoire that Bach and his fellow Leipzigers heard in coffee houses, from folk songs to the canons on which some of the Goldbergs were based. The warm, cozy recording venue is the chapel of l'Hopital Ntre-Dame de Bon Secours, which appears to have partly sponsored the recording. Whatever it takes.
JUNE TABOR & THE OYSTER BAND: Freedom and Rain
Rykodisc CD-10194 (CD). 1990. Oyster Band, prods.; John Ravenhall, eng. AAD. TT: 38:57
This hauntingly beautiful record is the product of a collaboration between the crepuscular vocals of the legendary June Tabor and the Celtic roots rock of the Oyster Band. Both entities have strong musical personalities of their own; together they make a perfect unit, with bassist Chopper and drummer Russell Lax carving out a stark architecture for the perfectly balanced colors of Tabor's lead vocals and harmonies from Alan Prosser and John Jones. The balance of material is superb, from a tart rendition of Shane McGowan's "Lullaby of London" through Richard Thompson's foreboding "Night Comes In," Billy Bragg's breakup anthem "Valentine's Day Is Over," and Tabor's magnificent reading of Lou Reed's Velvets vehicle for Nico, "All Tomorrow's Parties."
The Butterfield Blues Band, Al Kooper, Eric Clapton & The Powerhouse, The Lovin' Spoonful, Tom Rush
Collectors' Choice Music WWSUN151671 (CD). 1966/2005. Gordon Anderson, prod.; no eng. listed. ADD. TT: 38:33
Elektra Records' reissue series offers a fresh listen to this delightful compilation of obscure material by some of the most interesting musicians around in 1966. The Lovin' Spoonful delivers the self-descriptive "Good Time Music" and a couple of early rock'n'roll covers, "Almost Grown" and "Searchin'." The Butterfield Blues Band is snappy and soulful on "Spoonful," "Lovin' Cup," "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl," "Off the Wall," and "One More Mile." Al Kooper offers a prototype of the Blues Project staple "I Can't Keep from Crying Sometimes," and Tom Rush delivers "I'm in Love Again." Three tracks credited to Eric Clapton & The Powerhouse are from a one-off supergroup combining Clapton and Jack Bruce (pre-Cream) with Steve Winwood and drummer Pete York (both from the Spencer Davis Group).