Sunday, April 6, 2008

Beautiful Visions

Accelerate, R. E. M. You hear a great deal about how Accelerate is a return to their rocking form of the '80's. True enough, and also beside the point. What really matters is that they're playing like it means something, that they've found motivation in a collective response to the betrayals of the Bush Administration. Hurricane Katrina serves as both a focal point and a metaphor, never more than "Sing For The Submarine" and its chilling account of the siren song of George Bush: "The city did not collapse in a shudder/The rain it never came.../It's all in the submarine/It's all a lot less frightening/Than you would have had it be..." Don't believe your own eyes: Enter my coccoon and all will be well. Guitarist Peter Buck rarely solos, but as in the best R. E. M. material, his guitar teams with Michael Stipe's lyrics co-create each song, shaping each into a musical statement that you can rock to.

Note: You can download Accelerate on for $8.99. This includes five fun bonus tracks that serve as a light dessert to the serious business of the main course. Watch out for those red heads!

Rabo de Nube, Charles Lloyd Quartet. The master reed player and composer assembles a magnificent quartet and premieres a new set of compositions on this superb live outing. Amazingly, despite the powerful personalities of each member of the group, no one's ego takes over or even attempts to. Perhaps that's out of respect for their 70-year leader who performs with the muscularity of a man half his age and who has few peers of any age when it comes to originality of musical imagination. Whatever, the integration of their sound impresses as completely as their skill as soloists. (Lloyd's Seattle appearance reviewed here.)

Keep It Simple, Van Morrison. That his ground-breaking days are in past hasn't stopped Van Morrison from creating beautiful visions. Few of his 30+ albums are outright clunkers, and most of them stand up under repeated listenings. Van the Man's genre explorations have ranged from the inspired (pairing with The Chieftains for Irish Heartbeat) to the puzzling (Pay The Devil should have been brilliant instead of merely good); he's continued to write terrific songs like "Slow Train" and "Precious Time" and to breath new life into classics like "Lonely Avenue." Morrison long ago absorbed and integrated blues, gospel, country, folk, and R & B into his sound, and on Keep It Simple he wears them like a damn comfortable old suit. So, a simple blues keeps company with a simple ballad, a simple gospel tune, and a simple country weeper. Van Morrison has such command of the genres that he shows their interrelations with spare arrangements that you can pay close attention to or play in the background while you read a good book or eat a fine meal.

For Boston: One of the many joys of traveling is taking the time to check out local music. Last month in Boston led me to a couple of nice finds: Dennis Brennan's Engagment and Collective Psychosis Begone from Hallelujah The Hills. Brennan is a fine singer-songwriter who ought to be better known. His writes with wit and flair and leads an excellent roots band. Treat yourself and track down Engagement. Hallelujah The Hills create a unique indie/prog sound augmented by soaring zigzag keyboard and the judicious application of a soul horn section. These guys are going places.

R. I. P. Chuck Heston. Even though you went from being one of the first white celebrities to march with Martin Luther King to a senescent gun rights advocate who couldn't accept the homoerotic subtext of Ben-Hur, with that one and The Ten Commandments you made two movies that people enjoyed and quoted with glee every year. There are worse legacies. Plus, you were a memorable Long John Silver when you remade Treasure Island. Go in peace.

Note: That's 15-year old Christian Bale as Jim Hawkins.

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