Hanna: Original Motion-Picture Soundtrack
nolead begins (Back Lot ***1/2)
nolead ends When the teenage killing machine played so marvelously by Saoirse Ronan in Joe Wright's stylish action movie Hanna asks her rogue CIA agent father what music is - you see, she has been raised in the forests of northern Finland and doesn't know a reindeer from a Bieber - he consults the dictionary and tells her that "it's a combination of sounds with a view to beauty of form and expression of emotion."
That snowshoe fits the British electronic duo the Chemical Brothers as well as anyone, I suppose. And in what is surprisingly their first foray into film scoring, veteran cinematic soundscapists Ed Simons and Tom Rowlands do particularly well on the beauty-of-form front, whether mixing car-alarm intensity with let's-go-to- the-circus playfulness in "Devil Is in the Beats" or showing off their subtle keyboard and chorus moves on the delicate "Hanna's Theme." And while the music works much better in the movie than, say, Cate Blanchett's strangely cartoonish performance, the Hanna score also functions quite effectively without the visuals, particularly if you imagine yourself as a teenage assassin as you make your way through the world with the Chemical Brothers in your earbuds. (Available on vinyl, on iTunes, and streaming for free at the Chemical Brothers MySpace page.)
- Dan DeLuca
nolead begins Cornershop
& The Double 'O' Groove Of
nolead ends nolead begins (Ample Play ***)
nolead ends Cornershop has been making its intentions clear ever since its debut in the mid-'90s. On a handful of Luaka Bop label releases, English singing/songwriting guitarist Tjinder Singh and company have merged the flavorful delicacies of traditional Indian music with Brit-pop and trip-hop for a sound gently innovative and decidedly vivacious. More than a decade later, Cornershop's inventive zest remains - and the members have added a new voice to the mix (the sweet Bubbley Kaur) and dropped the glam-rock riffing that pervaded their last several albums. Along with Kaur's taste-of-honey tones, the band's mixed-bag electro (chilled Miami bass on "Double Decker Eyelashes," Kraftwerk on "Super- computed") and new reliance on folksy acoustic guitar, Cornershop relies on its Indian traditions more than usual, singing much of its new album in Punjabi. Singh, Kaur, and the ensemble jump from funk-folk ("United Provinces of India") to northern soul ("Once There Was a Wintertime") to what they call "turban" pop ("Topknot") without ever sounding like they're genre-dabbling. Instead, the mess they make now seems like part of the restless curiosity they started with.
- A.D. Amorosi
nolead ends nolead begins The Smithereens 2011
nolead ends nolead begins (Entertainment One ***1/2) nolead ends
It's the The Smithereens 2011, but it could easily be mistaken for The Smithereens 1986, which is when the New Jersey quartet began scoring unlikely hits such as "Blood and Roses" and "Only a Memory" with its British Invasion-inspired rock. And that's a compliment.
On its first album of new material in 12 years, the Smithereens works again with its old producer Don Dixon and underscores just how timeless its sound is. It's still never sunny in the world of singer Pat DiNizio, but if he's not always being defiant - "I'd like to say I'm sorry, but I won't," he declares on the standout opening track - he never comes across as a mope, either. That's because he and his bandmates still blend a Beatlesque melodic touch - complete with harmonizing vocals - with the crunchier, hard-rock edge of the Kinks or the Who. It's an approach that, even on the slower numbers on this briskly paced 13-song set, still packs quite a punch.
- Nick Cristiano
nolead begins Ray Davies
nolead ends nolead begins See My Friends nolead ends nolead begins
nolead ends A decade ago, a traditional Kinks tribute album came out with bands such as Fountains of Wayne and Yo La Tengo performing the songs of the seminal British band.
See My Friends takes the converse approach, with King Kink Ray Davies reinterpreting his songs with the help of artists from Metallica to Lucinda Williams. The result is an uneven but often inspired collection.
The first song recorded for this project was "Till the End of the Day," with Davies collaborating with a notably enthusiastic Alex Chilton. The track was made in 2009, eight months before Chilton's death.
The album leads off with Bruce Springsteen dueting with Davies on "Better Things."
The arrangement has a nice E Street jangle to it, but neither singer seems to have been in good voice for this session.
Ironically, the least showy efforts stand out, for instance Black Francis on "This is Where I Belong" and Jackson Browne on "Waterloo Sunset."
The most transformative track here is Mumford & Sons' sweet mashup of "Days" and "This Time Tomorrow."
They make these Kinks classics their own.
- David Hiltbrand
nolead begins Nightshade nolead ends
nolead begins (Black Hen ***)
As a producer, stringed-instrument virtuoso, and bandleader, Steve Dawson has done standout work for artists such as bluesman Jim Byrnes and the gospel-grounded vocal group the Sojourners. He also was the man behind the excellent, star-studded CD and DVD tributes to the Mississippi Sheiks. Along the way, he has won several Juno awards in his native Canada.
Nightshade, his fifth solo release, showcases Dawson's numerous musical talents as well as his skill as a lyric writer. The music is an aural feast built on electric and acoustic guitars, slide, steel, banjo, organ, piano, bass, and drums. "Torn and Frayed" and "Nightshade" exude an infectiously bluesy/funky vibe that mitigates the darkness of the lyrics; "Walk On" is a slice of smooth-rolling R&B accenting the album's sunniest sentiment; and a mournful slide underlines the regret behind "Have That Chance." Highlighting his inventiveness as an arranger is his take on the Sheiks' "Gulf Coast Bay," as Dawson's guitar and Chris Gestrin's organ weave through a syncopated drum pattern.
Dawson's one drawback is his rather vanilla voice. As good as all this is, we couldn't help imagining what it would sound like with a singer whose vocals had the color and character to match the music's. Somebody like Byrnes, for example.
nolead begins I Concentrate on You
nolead ends nolead begins (Dreambox Media ***)
nolead ends nolead begins Skip Wilkins
nolead ends nolead begins After nolead ends nolead begins
(Dreambox Media ***) nolead ends
Pianist Skip Wilkins has assembled two CDs, one of standards (already out) and the other of originals (due out this summer).
The current Lafayette College jazz professor, who is relocating to Europe, says he made After for his grown children who had left home. The intuitive set with drummer Jeff Hirshfield and bassist Scott Lee projects a warm, rich tone and a questing vibe at times. The title track certainly produces righteous heat.
I Concentrate on You fits nicely in the same trio's wheelhouse, although it's also more predictable. The Cole Porter title track is full of pleasant thoughts, while "Who Cares?" swings vigorously. "Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise" presents a caffeinated encounter before a gentle close.
- Karl Stark
Andreas Staier, harpsichord; Freiburger Barockorchester, Petra Mullejans conducting.
(Harmonia Mundi ***1/2)
nolead ends nolead begins Three Cello Concertos
WQ 170, 171, 172.
nolead ends nolead begins Truls Mork, cello; Les Violins du Roy, Bernard Labadie conducting. nolead ends nolead begins
(Virgin Classics ***1/2)
nolead ends Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach was arguably the most talented of J.S. Bach's children - and definitely the most original. Question is: Was he an unsung innovator? A case of creative ADD? Or did he simply lack impulse control? All three theories are possible at various points in these two new sets of Bach concertos. When not writing conservative music in the service of Frederick the Great, Bach wrote keyboard concertos that burst at the seams, sometimes sounding like Mozart that hasn't been assembled correctly. Components don't always
fit. There are abrupt stops and explosive starts. Harpsichordist Andreas Staier surely makes the most sense of this music, when there's sense to be made.
Perhaps because the cello is a linear instrument, the cello concertos tend to track more smoothly from one event to another, especially as played by the high- personality Truls Mork. And in a way, the set is more stimulating because the nature of the pieces allows you to better track the composer's logic. In places where you normally expect symmetry, Bach delivers anything but. In a way, these works have the sensibility of a cadenza - rhapsodic and even improvisatory - applied throughout the concerto. Must be heard to be believed.