2007 Records To Die For Page 9


HUSSEIN EL MASRY: Between the Nile and the Ganges
Hussein El Masry, lute; Narendra Bataju, sitar; Adel Shams El-Din, Hanif Khan, percussion
Institut du Monde Arabe 321021 (CD). No prods., engs..listed. 2000. DDD. TT: 53:53

One of my favorite discs at the moment, this collaboration is a musical meeting of two of the world's great musical traditions, the Arabian and the Indian. A single work that runs the entire length of the CD takes you on a slow journey. The interplay is cautious, maybe even tentative at first, but gains confidence and pace as it develops. The perfect antidote to designed-by-number, overproduced, three-minute pop-chart trash. The sound fits the music: not too compressed, good clarity, and unexciting—in the most positive sense possible.

GODSPEED YOU BLACK EMPEROR: Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven!
Kranky Krank 043 (2 CDs), Constellation CST 012 (2 LPs). GYBE, prods. & engs. 2000. TT: 91:23

Last year I discovered a new (to me) musical genre: post-rock. The music takes part of its language from the dictionary of rock (distorted guitars, loud drums, etc.), but transcends the genre's clichés—there's a cello, for example. Each track is about 20 minutes long, builds slowly, gets louder, then ebbs away again. It's claustrophobic, paranoid, menacing, and depressed, but buried under all the angst are solace and beauty: Mahler symphonies—or Velvet Underground—for the 21st century, if I may invoke two very farfetched comparisons. On this one, too, the sound fits the music: compressed, stark, dense.


Telstar TR 051 (CD). 2006. Chris Stamey, Little Diesel, prods., engs. AAD. TT: 48:33

One of 2006's most winsome archival gems is this collection of homemade 1974 recordings by this forgotten North Carolina teen combo, which included future dB's members Peter Holsapple, Will Rigby, and Chris Stamey, and Let's Active mastermind-to-be Mitch Easter. But the appeal of these tracks extends far beyond mere historical curiosity. The participants' subsequent bands would establish a vibrant school of crafty, cerebral Southern pop, but Little Diesel were inspired newbies tapping into the spirit of punk before it had a name, drawing on the sources available to them, and substituting ingenuity and resourcefulness for technical skill. The three originals are surprisingly accomplished, but there's equal inspiration in the band's roaring covers of material by the likes of the MC5, Spirit, and Kool and the Gang.

BOBBY CHARLES: An Introduction to Bobby Charles
Fuel 2000 (CD). 2006. Tony Rounce, reissue prod. AAD. TT: 49:44

Of all of the regional music styles that flourished in rock'n'roll's early years, few are more beguiling than swamp pop, a distinctive hybrid of country and R&B that was massively popular along the Gulf Coast in the 1950s and '60s. Although he's best known for writing "See You Later Alligator" and "Walking to New Orleans," which became hits for Bill Haley and Fats Domino, respectively, Cajun singer-songwriter Bobby Charles was one of swamp pop's most prolific and distinctive practitioners, delivering a lengthy string of exuberant rockers, soulful strolls, and heart-tugging honky-tonk ballads. This 20-song collection compiles Charles' classic 1960s work for New Orleans' Jewel and Paula labels, and nearly every track's a keeper.


Arleen Augér, soprano; Dalton Baldwin, piano
Delos DE 3029 (CD). 1988. Amelia S. Haygood, Carol Rosenberger, prods.; Adam Stern, Bejun Mehta, coprods.; John M. Earle, eng.; Andrew Dawson, asst. eng. DDD. TT: 68:26

The unforgettable American soprano Arleen Augér (1939–1993) launched her career in 1967 as Mozart's Queen of the Night at the Vienna State Opera. By 1988, her incomparably iridescent high soprano had matured into a creamy, heart-tugging instrument. Recorded at her absolute peak of womanhood, five years before her death from a massive brain tumor, this disc comprises Augér's interpretations of 25 love songs, including gems by Obradors, Copland, Britten, and Loewe. They blossom with breathtaking beauty. Rarely are such absolute poise, self-assurance, and wisdom married to a voice so exquisite. Singing with an art that conceals art, Augér's slightest vocal gesture speaks volumes. (XII-6)

MAHLER: Symphony 2
Lisa Milne, soprano; Birgit Remmert, alto; Hungarian Radio Choir, Kálmán Strausz, chorusmaster; Budapest Festival Orchestra, Iván Fischer
Channel Classics CCS SA 23506 (2 SACD/CDs). 2006. Hein Dekkier, prod., eng.; C. Jared Sacks, eng. DSD. TT: 81:52

From the opening phrases of Mahler's sprawling "Resurrection" symphony, conductor Iván Fischer summons forth an arresting wealth of nuance to illuminate the composer's prototypical journey from darkest despair to heavenly transcendence. Complemented by superb engineering, the cellos, double basses, and timpani offer thunderous, often terrifying contrast to the chorus's climactic final transport from perdition to paradise. Although I wish soprano Lisa Milne didn't prematurely clip her vowels, her voice is as ideally radiant as alto Birgit Remmert's is rich. Leonard Bernstein may lead the most orgasmic burst through the pearly gates, but Fischer's profoundly colorful traversal is far better recorded (in multichannel, no less) and unquestionably less idiosyncratic.