'HERE COME THE CHOPPERS'
Loudon Wainwright III
Sovereign Artists, sss
Zoe, ss 1/2
After ransacking his own family for material for decades, Loudon Wainwright III gets his on daughter Martha's self-titled debut in a song that he inspired. We'll refer to it as 'B.M.F.A.,' as its title contains two words unprintable in the newspaper.
But the father of Rufus and ex of Kate McGarrigle is not deterred: "Here Come the Choppers" is a predictable LW3 affair, in a good way -- it's full of sharply observed songs both wry and unstinting, backed by an excellent band that includes guitarist Bill Frisell and multi- instrumentalist Greg Leisz.
There are touching remembrances of his grandparents, an analysis of his motive in winning his daughter's love ('Make Your Mother Mad'), and a hard-eyed look at the fallout of divorce in 'When You Leave' ('The skin you save is growing slack /Those you left don't want you back').
Martha inherits the family frankness. Her album is rife with songs such as 'Ball and Chain' that brandish raw wounds, but Rufus' younger sister's batting average in mining her battered psyche for affecting art is only about .500. And though she has a lovely voice, musically speaking, Martha is more her father's daughter than her brother's sister: Her folk-based songs need to get over on lyrical content, and don't succeed as a result of outlandish operatic ambition.
Still, 'Martha Wainwright' is a promising start, and might seem even more impressive were it not faced with such formidable competition from within her own bloodline.
'SONGS FOR SILVERMAN'
Epic, ss 1/2
Maybe it was his smirking over-ebullience. Or perhaps it's because at his worst, he came off like a third-rate Billy Joel. Anyway, to me, Ben Folds used to sound like a jerk.
Then Ben got married, had kids, went solo. But his voice is still geeky, and his ornate piano stylings still dance like Richard Clayderman on Ritalin. Yet subtle differences in the mature Folds allow for a burnished pop experience.
His melancholy lyrics can be affecting, as in the detailed meditation on lost comrade Elliott Smith that is 'Late' and the charming portrait of mother-and-childhood that is 'Gracie.' When Folds takes a quirky look at a tattooed boy's youth on 'You to Thank,' he backs it up with pastoral jazz. And his previous stabs at gospel are brought to fruition here, most prominently through the harmonies of 'Jesusland.'
So either Folds isn't a jerk anymore, or I am.
Geffen, ss 1/2
The third release from this pop trio is another ballad-heavy collection with some keepers ('Come Back Down,' 'You and Me,' 'Blind') and a lot of pleasant filler.
Front man Jason Wade writes songs perfectly suited to his cottony, sad voice. The style once again suggests a more lugubrious version of the Goo Goo Dolls. With Lifehouse, you can hear the cellos even when they're not playing.
'SONGS ABOUT ME'
Trace Adkins has such a resonant baritone that, when he matches it with the right songs, he can't help but exude a classic country aura. On "Songs About Me," that's what happens with such finely wrought ballads as "Arlington," "My Heaven" and "Metropolis."
The title song is a decent country anthem, although like many of the tracks on the album, it employs the now-tiresome formula of subdued verses and close-to-bombastic choruses. But Adkins really squanders that voice on 'I Learned How to Love From You' -- he sounds thoroughly out of his element on this piano-and-strings pop mush -- and cheesy numbers that strain for steaminess as they play up his hunkiness. These include 'Baby I'm Home' and, to cap off the set on a low note, the inane rocker 'Honky Tonk Badonkadonk.'
Criss Cross, sss 1/2
Pianist Orrin Evans made this recording to honor his father, the playwright and professor Donald T. Evans, who died in October 2003.
The pianist's take of Horace's Silver's "Song for My Father" shows the depth of feeling here. Joining tenor saxophonist J.D. Allen, Evans skips the usual Latin treatment of this standard for an exquisitely slow and plaintive reading, making this one of the most personal versions ever.
Evans, a longtime sideman of saxophonist Bobby Watson and an emerging leader, is continuing to expand his lyrical side while sharpening his modernist chops. This session is poised between communicative moments and forward-looking frenzy. It holds many free-jazz possibilities, yet scores shots to the gut with earthy riffs, making for an intriguing and confounding experience.
Most of this set features Evans' quartet, including the Canadian-born alto and soprano saxophonist Ralph Bowen, who teaches improvisation at Rutgers and Princeton. Alternating members include bassists Mike Boone and Eric Revis and drummers Byron Landham and Rodney Green, all worthy foils for the leader's evolving vision.
'HAYDN'S QUARTET OPUS 64 NO. 5, OPUS 76 NO. 2, OPUS 77 NO. 1'
Harmonia Mundi, ssss
'SHOSTAKOVICH QUARTETS NO. 1 (OP. 49), NO. 4 (OP. 83), NO. 9 (OP. 117)'
Harmonia Mundi, sss
The Jerusalem Quartet looks like a bunch of teenagers but plays like middle-aged masters in these two recent recordings. In existence since 1993, the quartet delivers some of the hottest Haydn on record. They bring to it a revolutionary fervor one associates more with Beethoven's mid-period quartets, as the musicians, swept up in the impulse of the moment, occasionally rush slightly ahead of one another. Amid this display of ardor, however, the progression of the music's thematic development couldn't be more coolly or clearly delineated.
The Shostakovich disc is beautifully played, with the group's glistening sound on good display. However, the ensemble often fails to walk the fine lines of ambiguity that are essential in these works -- and richly apparent in the classic recordings by the Borodin Quartet.