KID ROCK "Rock N Roll Jesus" (Atlantic, 3 ½ stars)
The heartland never sounded so darned voluptuous as in the capably crusty hands of Kid Rock. Beyond the rocky hillbilly-hop and Southern-fried hiccup of previous Kid collections, this release takes on the American outback - its women, politics, women, gods, wars and ... women - with a white-trash swagger his heroes Bob Seger, Warren Zevon and Lynyrd Skynyrd could only dream of.
Even when borrowing from the above-mentioned exemplars (in one fell swoop!) on "All Summer Long," Kid makes that dusty roar his own.
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With his wily voice, he takes on metal harangues, cool country licks, and gospel soul suites. Rock approaches everything from tender romance ("Blue Jeans and a Rosary") to the wrath of Iraq's dead ("Amen") with equal passion. But don't think Rock's not having some rabid fun, too. "Half Your Age" toys with his new gal-pal at the expense of his old (emphasis on old) one Pam Anderson to the strains of funk-kicking C&W. Yeeha!
NEIL YOUNG "Chrome Dreams II" (Warner Bros., 3 stars)
Neil Young maintains his mercurial ways with "Chrome Dreams II," a sequel to a 1970s album that doesn't exist - or at least was never released, though it was the original home of "Powderfinger" and "Like a Hurricane." Nothing here is quite that masterfully majestic, though both "Ordinary People," which was originally recorded for 1988's horn-happy "This Note's For You" (thus the Lee Iacocca reference) and the brand-new into-the-mystic jam "Hidden Path" stretch to more than 14 minutes. But Young hasn't gone entirely epic in scale - the set also mixes in gently becalmed love songs like "Beautiful Bluebird," goofy garage-rock workouts like "Dirty Old Man," and sweet children's chorus singalongs such as "The Way." More thoughtfully conceived than last year's political salvo, "Living With War," and decidedly more raucous than 2005's ready-for-the-rocking-chair "Prairie Wind," "CD II" gathers together the many faces of Neil in one inspired, inscrutable and inconsistent place.
CHUCK PROPHET "Soap and Water" (Yep Roc, 3 ½ stars)
The album called "Soap and Water" opens dirty, with a shambling, Stones-like riff-rocker called "Freckle Song." The lecherous come-on segues right into the atmospheric, tenderly open-hearted balladry of "Would You Love Me?"
That's Chuck Prophet, who has forged a particularly rich and hard-to-pin-down solo career since his days with Green on Red, the great American indie-rock band of the `80s. On these songs about love and the lack of it - to paraphrase the John Cassavetes quote in the liner notes - Prophet is sardonic and hopeful, moody and soulful. Given the mesmerizing blend of warmth and chill - he even uses a children's chorus to subtle but still-audacious effect on some of these very adult songs - it's no wonder that the "Happy Ending" that concludes the album is anything but simple.
BLACK DICE "Load Blown" (Paw Tracks, 3 stars)
Irritation is something of a virtue for Brooklyn experimental group Black Dice, whose records - like the avant-garde movements they seem inspired by - aren't meant to be enjoyed as much as they're meant to be studied. Noises turn themselves on and off, spiral out of control, loop ad nauseam. (One memorable track in the band's catalog, "Wasteder," features what sounds like a dying fax machine scanning page upon page of information.) The title of Black Dice's fourth album, "Load Blown," implies the best days are over. But the music - hardly the right word - reaches another conclusion. This is some of the most rhythmic and hypnotic fidgeting Black Dice has yet to produce. Still creepy and irritating, yes, but now with unexpected turns that give new dimension to song-pieces such as "Drool" and "Cowboy Soundcheck." An oddly good starting point for a band not known for smooth introductions.
"Sowing the Seeds: The 10th Anniversary" (Appleseed, 3 ½ stars)
"Give Us Your Poor" (Appleseed, 3 ½ stars)
Appleseed Recordings of West Chester, Pa., is a label that weds roots music and social activism, but it is not about agitprop. It looks to forge connections between the past and present, and more often than not creates music that's built to last - and not just the folkie variety. That's evident on "Sowing the Seeds," a two-disc compilation celebrating the label's 10th anniversary.
Disc 1 contains the more politically oriented material, including a stirring new Bruce Springsteen-Pete Seeger duet on "The Ghost of Tom Joad." That's among other new tracks by Seeger, Ani DiFranco and Donovan that are mixed with contributions from a cast that includes Tom Paxton, Eric Andersen with Wyclef Jean, and Jackson Browne with Joan Baez.
Disc 2 is musically diverse, too, while broader in its themes, ranging from Seeger and Tommy Sands' soothing "Music of Healing" to the ringing pop of the Kennedys' "Namaste" and the country blues of David Bromberg's "Try Me One More Time."
"Give Us Your Poor" benefits the fight against homelessness, and several of the cuts mix well-known names with artists who were once homeless themselves. Among the highlights are Jon Bon Jovi and Mighty Sam McClain's soul workout "Show Me the Way," Keb' Mo' and Eagle Park Slim's country blues "Baby Don't Let Me Go Homeless," and Bonnie Raitt and Weepin' Willie Robinson's funky "Walking the Dog." Jewel - a star who for a time lived in a car - offers the achingly intimate "1,000 Miles Away," and there's another Springsteen-Seeger collaboration, "Hobo's Lullaby."
JOHN SCOFIELD "This Meets That"? (Emarcy, 3 ½ stars)
Guitarist John Scofield cuts a wide swath through various genres, as the CD title implies. He pulls from country, funk and rock `n' roll, and it still sounds more like Scofield than anything else.
The opener, "The Low Road," is a funky growler with four horns. "Heck of a Job" - a likely reference to the president's famous line supporting former FEMA director Michael Brown: "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job" - is a stark barnburner in the New Orleans style.
A wide-open, country vibe courses through the set with the handsome "Down D" and even more so with a stately take of Charlie Rich's "Behind Closed Doors."
Scofield resurrects a trio he has recorded with in recent years - bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Bill Stewart - and they deliver an arty feel with the ability to rock the house. Fellow guitar guru Bill Frisell steps up with some tremolo on the old Animals hit "House of the Rising Sun," which showcases some spirited soloing.
Occasionally the set is stiff, as on "Strangeness in the Night," though at least the song's jazzy solo leaves a sweet taste. Mostly, though, this is a serious boogying record with a high-stepping take of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" supplying just that.
THE DAVID JOEL QUARTET "Spiral Sky" (www.davidjoel.net, 3 stars)
Guitarist David Joel assembles a surprisingly nuanced outing for his first CD. The Philly-based Joel is a 1986 graduate of Boston's Berklee College of Music and holds a masters degree from the New England Conservatory of Music.
His quartet with keyboardist John Stenger, bassist Paul Gehman, and drummer Dan Monaghan can tend toward the nonthreatening, derivative, pop end of jazz. Yet that doesn't describe his whole range or even make him unlikable to many people.
Joel's compositions and the quartet's playing consistently conjure up unexpected sounds that stretch a listener's concepts without head-butting them. "The Star Spangled Gospel" is a soulful, Hendrix-like treatment, and the title track is big-toned and Metheny-esque.
"Western Lies" comes with an impressive cascade of sounds and some requisite guitar frenzy, while "Eastern Sounds" has these kung fu-like sound effects that thankfully give way to some serious playing.
MOZART Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, Symphony No. 40 in G minor, Masonic Funeral Music, and "Amen" from the Requiem Robert Levin, piano; New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, Nicholas McGegan conducting. (NZSO Live, 4 stars)
Though the Philadelphia Orchestra's popular guest conductor Nicholas McGegan is hardly underrepresented in the recording market, his discography is almost all from the baroque period. But as his Haydn program this week at the Kimmel Center is likely to show, there's much more to him than that. This live Mozart recording from New Zealand definitely has the marks of a live performance with slight ensemble lapses, but how long has it been since you've heard a Mozart performance that truly cooked?
Given McGegan's orientation toward historically informed performance, the Symphony No. 40 emerges with a trim silhouette and a low-fat sonority, plus this conductor's trademark rhythmic spring - and the firm pulse that goes along with that. Few recordings have brought out the marvelous antiphonal effects that come with Mozart's fugal writing. All these things taken together make the music feel as if it was written yesterday - even more so in the concerto, with pianist Robert Levin improvising provocative, always musical ornaments. Available at www.nzso.co.nz.
-David Patrick Stearns
"Byrdland" Lawrence Zazzo, countertenor; Paragon Saxophone Quartet. (Landor, 4 stars)
"Pergolesi's Stabat Mater, Salve Regina and four cantatas" Lawrence Zazzo, countertenor; Angharad Gruffydd Jones, soprano; Alessandra Rossi De Simone, soprano; Ensemble Concerto, Roberto Gini conducting. (Brilliant, 3 stars)
When countertenor Lawrence Zazzo, who is from Cherry Hill and made his Metropolitan Opera debut in the spring, revealed that he had recording 17th-century English songs by William Byrd, Orlando Gibbons and Henry Purcell with saxophone quartet, you were sure it was a crossover nightmare. Once the disc hits your ears, though, it makes perfect sense. The saxophone arrangements are beautifully restrained, with the close-knit, subtly shifting harmonies of a viol consort, but with the kind of robustness that's endemic to wind instruments. Such accompaniment is probably more appropriate to a countertenor voice with as much sonic plumage as Zazzo's. His readings of the songs are thoughtful, with a strong emotional presence and a dignified sensitivity to the language.
Less notable is the two-disc set of Pergolesi vocal works. Though his contribution in the oft-recorded Stabat Mater is thoroughly respectable, his soprano counterpart, Angharad Gruffydd Jones, sounds emotionally inhibited and vocally tentative. The second disc has good performances of four Pergolesi cantatas sung by the engaging Alessandra Rossi De Simone, but they aren't the composer's more substantial works.