Vic Chesnutt: The Salesman and Bernadette (Capricorn)Vic Chesnutt's sixth and most ambitious LP is pervaded by absence, searching and a load of instrumentation. Backed by 13 members of the Nashville combo Lambchop (Lambchop leader Kurt Wagner co-produced), Chesnutt croons his haunted melodies over guitars, horns, vibes, accordions and miscellaneous sound effects. Despite all the musicians (and an abundance of vocal tracks-including a duet with Emmylou Harris), the whole is by no means cluttered-restrained playing and delicate arrangements actually give the CD a spare quality. Sessions took place over five weekends at a variety of Nashville studios and included a lot of live tracking. Lambchop are a sensitive and powerful crew, and their crisp surety creates an excellent setting for Chesnutt's gravelly-sweet voice and moody lyrics, which suggest (rather than tell) a poignant story. Chesnutt makes idiosyncratic folk-rock, tinged, at turns, by country, blues and soul, and he's never sounded better.
Producers: Vic Chesnutt and Kurt Wagner. Engineer & mixer: Mark Nevers. Additional engineering: Dennis Cronin. Studios: Treasure Isle, Quad, The Castle, Wedgetone (overdubs and mixing), all in Nashville. Mastering: Tommy Dorsey, Masterfonics (Nashville). -Adam Beyda
Louis Armstrong: An American Icon (Hip-O/Universal)There have been a number of fine collections of Satchmo's seminal recordings from the '20s and '30s, but to my knowledge this is the most extensive package to chronicle his work from the end of WWII through the '60s. With four hours of music spread over three chronologically arranged discs, this set shows Armstrong's genius as a trumpet player and as one of the great interpretive jazz/blues/pop singers of all time. Listening to this collection is like taking a tour through 20th century American songwriting, with selections from W.C. Handy, James P. Johnson, Fats Waller, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Earl Hines, Brecht & Weill, Hoagy Carmichael, Mitchell Parish, the Gershwin brothers, Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, Kander & Ebb and others. There are both large and small band configurations, and a few exceptional duets with the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Bing Crosby. A remarkable collection, with informative liner notes by George Avakian, who produced a number of Armstrong's finest recordings.
Collection producers: George Avakian and Andy McKaie. Original producers, engineers and studios not listed. Digital remastering: Erick Labson/MCA Music Media Studios (No. Hollywood, CA). -Blair Jackson
American History X: Original Film Score by Anne Dudley (Angel Records)Though he was denied final cut on the film, American History X director Tony Kaye is well-served by this score from composer Anne Dudley (an Oscar-winner for The Full Monty). Kaye had asked for "big and elegaic," and Dudley's 17 relatively brief orchestral themes ring all the emotional bells: hope, despair, triumph, fear, tension, anguish, faith, redemption, reconciliation, etc. Uncluttered by novel textures, the traditional arrangements make full use of the disciplined power of a sizable orchestra and choir, and the stirring, if not overly memorable, themes are rendered con brio . Beautifully recorded in a detailed, if somewhat artificial soundscape, the score is both listenable and undemanding, a sort of Classical Music Lite. A recommended addition to the Music You Can't Dance To section of any well-regulated collection.
Producer: Anne Dudley. Engineers: Paul Hulme and Roger Dudley. Mixer: Roger Dudley. Studio: Whitfield Street Studios (London); additional recording at AIR Lyndhurst (London). -Chris Michie
Strunz & Farah: Wild Muse (Selva)L.A.-based acoustic guitar wizards Jorge Strunz and Ardeshir Farah have carved a successful niche for themselves with their exciting and technically impressive fusion of flamenco, Brazilian and Middle Eastern styles. At this point, their writing and playing styles are developed to the point where there aren't many surprises from one disc to the next, but the fluidity of their guitar work never ceases to amaze me, and they continue to find sympathetic musicians to augment their basic guitars-and-percussion attack-a few tracks here feature violin, bouzouki and horns. The final tune, "Manos Del Tiempo" even features Spanish vocals. All in all an invigorating world music stew.
Producers/engineers: Jorge Strunz and Ardeshir Farah, with Kathlyn Powell. Studio: Queen's Stables (Santa Monica, CA). Mastering: Tom Baker/Oasis Mastering. -Blair Jackson
King Curtis: King Curtis Plays The Great Memphis Hits/King Size Soul (Koch Records)This reissue puts two of the tenor sax legend's best albums back in circulation, effectively doubling the meager catalog of quality King Curtis CDs. (Remarkably, 1994's 23-song Instant Soul compilation on Razor & Tie is the only other thoughtful King Curtis CD retrospective.) The first of two albums recorded for Atco Records in 1967, Plays The Great Memphis Hits features the hit-making Muscle Shoals rhythm section, and was recorded by Tom Dowd and Arif Mardin, with Jerry Wexler producing. The material is well-chosen; standout tracks include "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby," "I've Been Loving You Too Long" and "You Don't Miss Your Water," all in versions that compare well with more familiar renditions. King Size Soul, recorded six months later in Memphis, offers brilliant instrumental covers of "Ode to Billy Joe," "A Whiter Shade of Pale," "I Was Made To Love Her" and the original studio recording of "Memphis Soul Stew," which made the R&B Top Ten. In fact, the ten-song album spawned three chart hits and was Curtis' best seller for Atco until 1971's Live at Fillmore West. Liner notes are comprehensive and include original cover art. Koch is to be congratulated for tackling the long-anticipated King Curtis CD reissue program with style-more, please.
Producers: Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd and Tommy Cogbill. Engineers: Tom Dowd, Arif Mardin, Chips Moman and Darryl Carter. Studios: Atlantic (New York) and Stax-Volt (Memphis). Reissue producer: David Nives. -Chris Michie