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Lucinda Williams
West
(Lost Highway)

A new Lucinda Williams album is always cause for celebration—that is if your kind of party involves bourbon and moonlight. Williams has been candid about the fact she wrote the songs for this album surrounding a time of personal loss: the death of her mother, and the end of a troubled romantic relationship. But she and co-producer Hal Willner have built all that sorrow into a work of beauty. Even among the dark tones and the blue mood of verses like “He can’t fix you/From tears that always leave their mark/And fears that stay inside the dark/He can’t fix you,” this album is still full of wonder. With her golden voice and literary sensibility, Williams seemingly can’t help but transform her sadness into poetry. She imagines her next love “grinning, radiant and warm/Drinking whiskey ’til he’s had his fill/Inspired by a summer storm.” Williams’ voice and acoustic guitar are still at the core of her sound, but Willner has added dimension and subtlety with touches such as strings arranged by musician Jenny Scheinman and some unintrusive sampling, to give these songs the entire complex world they deserve. The presence of avant-garde guitar genius Bill Frisell is also most probably Willner’s brainstorm. In the end, as the album title suggests with its nuance of hope and discovery, Williams leaves her listener with the feeling that her world is worth exploring, despite the risk: “Who knows what the future holds/Or where the cards may fall/But if you don’t come out west and see/You’ll never know at all.”

Must play: “Unsuffer Me”

Producers: Lucinda Williams, Hal Willner. Engineer: Eric Liljestrand. Additional recording: Michael Dumas, Matt Brown. Studios: The Village (West L.A.), Radio Recorders (Hollywood), the Track Shack (Seattle). Mastering: Gavin Lurssen/The Mastering Lab (Hollywood).—Barbara Schultz

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Starr Parodi
Common Places: Piano Improvisations
(SonicDoppler Records)

It’s easy to lose yourself in the latest release from composer/pianist Starr Parodi. Common Places: Piano Improvisations offers a deeply imaginative and mesmerizing set of solo piano improvisations. The entire album was recorded and mixed in Parodi and producer/husband Jeff Fair’s home studio in Los Angeles, where Fair miked Parodi’s 1928 Steinway Model B piano with vintage AKG C12s and beautifully captured the instrument’s dynamic range and character. Parodi notes that the title track was a spontaneous chordal improvisation that she played while viewing the sycamore trees in the canyon outside of her studio window, and that she developed the remaining compositions in a similar manner. All begin with themes—either conceptual or previously composed. What’s more, after tracking the piano, Parodi and Fair enriched, altered or accentuated certain passages by judiciously applying filters and other effects—sometimes very subtly, and sometimes overtly. Parodi’s interpretation of “For What It’s Worth” begins with a pulsating filter effect comprised of piano chord fragments and segues into a soulful, Gospel-tinged reading of the Stephen Stills classic. Parodi’s other rich musical influences emerge throughout: She performs the Baroque composition “Albinoni Adagio;” “Kenya” is Parodi’s haunting but hopeful piece laced with jazz and blues-based inflections; and she offers an intriguing, heavy version of the “James Bond” theme that’s underpinned with subtle effects. Overall, Common Places is an inspired, engaging work with a singular vision that demonstrates the depth and breadth of Parodi’s influences, and clearly conveys her artistic voice, her insights and her virtuosity.

Must play: “Common Places”

Produced, recorded, mixed and mastered by Jeff Fair and Starr Parodi at Universe of the Soul Studios (Los Angeles).—Matt Gallagher