2008 Records To Die For Page 7

STEPHEN MEJIAS
HENRY FIOL: Fe, Esperanza y Caridad
Henry Fiol, lead vocal; Alfredo "Chocolate" Armenteros, Lionel Sanchez, trumpets; Charlie Rodriguez, tres; Alfredo Valdes, piano; Guillermo Edghill, contrabass; Alberto Valdes, conga; Johnny Rodriguez, bongos; Roberto Torres, maracas, guiro, clave; Yayo El Indio, Ramon Rodriguez, Roberto Torres, chorus
SAR SCD-1012 (CD). 1979/1990. Roberto Torres, prod.; Jon Fausty, eng. AAD? TT: 46:49

Fe, Esperanza y Caridad (Faith, Hope and Charity) is so beautifully penetrating, so heavy with warmth and passion and soul, that it's nearly painful. Henry Fiol's voice—at times childlike, leaping with energy and fire, and at times seemingly on the verge of tears, bearing the weight of so many tired lives—is matched by delicate piano, regal trumpet, bold tres guitar, and hypnotic percussion. Fiol's unique timbre and vocal delivery work to transcend the limitations of language, precisely communicating deep and personal emotion, while the all-star band perfectly complements his every gentle quaver and broken word, building a memorial to Cuban country music, son montuno, and the life from which it springs.

Jon Fausty is responsible for the fantastic sound. The overall presentation is slightly dark, with superb dynamics and sense of space. There's a human quality to it—like the music it has captured, the recording breathes and pulses with vitality. I want to memorize these sounds and share these songs with everyone I love. Very simply, Fe, Esperanza y Caridad has changed my life. I wouldn't want to live without it. It is an absolutely devastating piece of art.

ORQUESTA LA CONSPIRACION: Ernie's Conspiracy
Ernie Agosto, George Gentile, trumpets; Nelson Sanchez, piano; Willie Cintron, contrabass; Benito Gomez, timbales; Israel "Sabu" Martinez, bongos; Gene Golden, congas, percussion; Miguel Quintana, lead vocal; Justo Betancourt, Adalberto Santiago, chorus
Vaya/Fania FANI 7731301242 (CD). 1972/2006. Willie Colón, prod.; Jon Fausty, eng. AAD? TT: 38:49

Ernie's Conspiracy rises before you're ready, launching you into the face of Ernie Agosto's burning, rollicking trumpet solo, all brass and jazz and infectious swing. Playful piano and precise percussion lock hands, twist, and twirl. The groove is irrepressible; the momentum must be maintained lest all hell break loose. Miguel Quintana strides in with such confidence, such subtle swagger, his gravelly voice evoking some marvelous combination of composure and ferocity—you'll want to sing along, even if you don't understand the words.

The adventurous arrangements were constructed by bandleader Agosto and pianist Nelson Sanchez, with production credit going to the revolutionary Willie Colón. Together they seamlessly fuse elements of rumba, samba, salsa, and soul to create an unpredictable, timeless whole. Engineer Jon Fausty does an exceptional job of preserving the integrity of the individual instruments, providing a realistic sense of scale and space. The remastering has been done lovingly, and the new packaging recalls a time when albums were meant to be caressed. Single songs can't be called out; the entire work is an absolute killer determined to inspire spontaneous, unbridled celebration.

FRED MILLS


THE SIDEWINDERS: Witchdoctor
Mammoth 9663-2-R (CD). 1989. Rich Hopkins, Dave Slutes, prods.; Eric Westfall, Steve English, engs. AAD. TT: 48:59

With American guitar bands on the wane and grunge in ascent, Tucson's Sidewinders (later: Sand Rubies) were probably doomed, commercially speaking. Artistically, though, their second album still blazes as brightly as the bad, crazy desert sun that spawned it, from jangly, R.E.M.-esque ballads to slow-burn Crazy Horse-y raveups to a memorable cover of Neil Diamond's "Solitary Man." Long a staple of powerpop collectors, it's also long out of print—sorta. In 2002, guitarist Rich Hopkins assembled a 10-CD Sidewinders/Sand Rubies box comprising live cuts and demos. Included was a bonus disc, stealthily titled El Cuarandero: in effect, Witchdoctor bootlegged by its own creator.

YOUNG MARBLE GIANTS: Colossal Youth
Domino DNO 135 (3 CDs). 1980/2007. Young Marble Giants, prods.; Dave Anderson, prod., eng. AAD. TT: 111:37

Released by Rough Trade in February 1980, the debut from Young Marble Giants—winsome, airy chanteuse Alison Statton plus brothers Stuart and Phil Moxham—was deeply seductive in its melodic, jazz-tinged minimalism, and, powered by skittery guitars and the occasional keyboard drone, but no drums, it was right in step with the anything-goes climate of post-punk Britain. Last year Domino reissued it as a 3-CD set to include sundry singles (not to miss: the 1:39 nuclear fantasy "Final Day") and posthumous material, plus a 1980 John Peel session. It's a sharp career summation, but the original LP alone is worth its weight in pop gold.

DAN OUELLETTE


THE BAD PLUS: These Are the Vistas
Ethan Iverson, piano; Reid Anderson, bass; David King, drums
Columbia CK 87040 (CD). 2003. Tchad Blake, prod., eng.; The Bad Plus, prods.; Bob Ludwig, eng. DDD. TT: 52:35

In an unassuming manner, the Bad Plus fully arrived on the scene in 2003 with their crunch-to-swing debut Columbia CD, These Are the Vistas, produced by Tchad Blake, and set off the most vigorous jazz debate in recent memory. Everyone, it seemed, held a strong opinion on the power trio that improvises while undergirding its tunes with a rock-solid beat. Detractors called them poseurs: three white Midwestern rockers in their 30s pretending to play jazz. The naysayers didn't know what they were missing: a grace-to-thunder exuberant jazz excursion of quirkily titled originals and compelling deconstructions of contemporary pop tunes, including Blondie's "Heart of Glass," Aphex Twins' "Flim," and Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit." (XXVI-10)

JONI MITCHELL: Shine
Hear Music/Concord HMCD 30457 (CD). 2007. Joni Mitchell, prod.; Dan Marnien, eng. ADD? TT: 46:58

Joni Mitchell's first album of new material in nine years, Shine is a superb collection of 10 songs that are at once compelling and poignant, exquisite and soulful, sublime and haunting. With the exception of the final track, "If," adapted from Rudyard Kipling's poem of that title, Mitchell wrote all the tunes. The instrumentation is sparse, with Mitchell on piano and guitar, and coloring the melodies with organic synthesized tones. While the title suggests the upbeat, Shine is a reflective album ripe with critiques of the desecration of the earth, musings on the state of heartlessness, lamentations on the loss of the holy, sober estimations of rampant greed, and a rumination on the "worshipping [of] our ego" that ultimately leads to the "shock and awe" of war.

WES PHILLIPS


BOBBIE GENTRY: Chickasaw County Child: The Artistry of Bobbie Gentry
Shout! DK32278 (CD). 1968–74/2004. Gary Stewart, prod.; Dave McEowen, remastering. AAD? TT: 70:32

"Ode to Billie Joe" may be Bobbie Gentry's chief claim to fame, but Chickasaw County Child amply illustrates that she was far from a one-hit wonder—indeed, there's not a single song of the 23 collected here that I'd forgo. Some days I prefer swamp-country ravers like "Mississippi Delta" and "Okolona River Bottom Band," other times I go for the unrestrained sentimentalism of "I Saw an Angel Die" or "Marigolds and Tangerines." The revelation of this collection is that Gentry and her collaborators created sonic worlds that sound like the Beatles but speak like Flannery O'Connor.

MANU KATCHé: Neighbourhood
Manu Katché, drums; Jan Garbarek, tenor saxophone; Tomasz Stanko, trumpet; Marcin Wasilewski, piano; Slawomir Kurkiewicz, double bass
ECM 1896 (CD). 2005. Manfred Eicher, prod.; Jan Erik Kongshaug, eng. DDD. TT: 55:07

Manu Katché wrote all 10 of Neighbourhood's spare, muscular compositions, in addition to driving the band with his spare, muscular drumming. The melodies are dreamy, yet imbued with a physicality not always present in ECM jazz sessions—partially due to Garbarek's choice of tenor rather than his astringent alto saxophone. Kongshaug's engineering gives all six players lots of space, and the disc an uncompressed dynamic range that's startling in its intensity.

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