Schneider moves from big band to orchestra with great style
‘Winter Morning Walks’
Maria Schneider, Dawn Upshaw, et al. (ArtistShare)
Putting poetry to music is a tougher job than writing songs. But it is a task composer Maria Schneider does brilliantly in her “Winter Morning Walks.” She steps far from her big-band mastery to create a suite built around poet Ted Kooser’s work of the same name. That piece is performed by opera’s Dawn Upshaw and the Australian Chamber Orchestra. It is accompanied on the release by poems by Carlos Drummond de Andrade also done by Upshaw, this time with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. The Kooser works, which recount his post-cancer-treatment morning walks, are the most dynamic part of the album, though. Upshaw’s voice and Schneider’s arrangements create subtle movements that fit the poems admirably. They are orchestrally dominated, but also feature the rhythm section of her band and tasteful clarinet work from Scott Robinson. Schneider and Upshaw are able to transform Kooser’s touching words into another form, not an easy task.
— Bob Karlovits
Rebecca Martin (Sunnyside)
The “Twain” do meet on Rebecca Martin’s album of that name. The singer and wife of bassist Larry Grenadier, who plays on the album, has a sound that is a mix of jazz and something like country. “Beyond the Hillside” has a rhythm with a jazz-like lilt, but its melody and sensibility make that song lean a little to the rural. Her version of “Sophisticated Lady” offers the same sort of blend as Grenadier’s bass plays in a jazz manner while her voice gives the song a sound of Neil Young meets Alison Krauss. Other songs are a little bit more of a mix that is hers alone. “On a Rooftop” and the somber “A Place in the Country” move along in manners that are neither jazz nor anything else. The end result is a curious album that will be compelling to some but confusing to others.
— Bob Karlovits
The Mavericks (Valory)
The Mavericks were operating at their artistic peak when they split up in 2003. With “In Time,” they pick up right where they left off — that is, weaving a vibrant tapestry of sound that soars gloriously behind the borders of country music, where they began. Of course, it still begins with singer and songwriter Raul Malo, one of the most striking voices in pop. It’s the kind of powerful instrument you need to ride authoritatively over these juicily thick, but detailed, arrangements, which deftly incorporate horns, keyboards and strings. Malo wallows in grand, Orbisonesque melancholy on “Born to Be Blue,” evokes Johnny Mathis with the supper-club elegance of “Forgive Me,” swings with finger-snapping verve on “That’s Not My Name,” and revs up for blasts of rocking Tex-Mex on “Lies” and “All Over Again.” There’s plenty more, and it all adds up to a sound that remains unmistakably the Mavericks’ own.
— The Philadelphia Inquirer
Johnny Marr (ADA)
Johnny Marr has built up so much goodwill over the years — as the guitar genius who gave musical shape to the Smiths, as a sideman with everyone from Tom Jones to Talking Heads — that it feels a bit mean to give “The Messenger” a lukewarm review. In fact, the 49-year-old jangle-pop master’s first proper solo album is pleasant, polished and full of the clean, understated playing that’s been Marr’s hallmark for decades. But while Marr makes strides as a front man, whooping it up on the galloping “Upstarts” and telling a coming-of-age tale in “New Town Velocity,” he lacks pizzazz as a singer and lyricist. For legions of longtime fans, “The Messenger” will be a most welcome arrival. But while he’s an adequate singer, Marr’s “voice” is most clearly heard in his guitar playing, and none of the songs here leap out and grab the unconverted.
— The Philadelphia Inquirer
Son Volt (Rounder)
Son Volt’s Jay Farrar says he wanted “Honky Tonk” to reflect the sound the band had on its 1995 debut, “Trace,” one of alt-country’s pioneering albums. That’s a great plan. Though Farrar has followed his eclectic interests all over the musical map, his warm voice never sounds more at home than when it’s surrounded by pedal steel guitars and fiddles. And throughout “Honky Tonk,” Farrar sounds great, especially on the gorgeous “Angel of the Blues” when he sings of time slipping through and burdens of truth, declaring, “Sad songs keep the devil away.” The simple arrangements showcase the way Farrar can fit unconventional lyrical ideas into these tradition-steeped songs. “Honky Tonk” may seem deceptively simple and comforting in its alt-country traditions, but it harbors a whole lot of envelope-pushing ideas that only masters could make work.