It can’t all be politics. This is what I’ve been listening to lately.
kd lang and the Siss Boom Bang, Sing it Loud (Nonesuch): Reviews have been mixed. This guy hated it. I wonder whether people thought she would return to torch-and-twang guitar bands, after a decade as a cabaret and concert-hall crooner, and sound the way she did when she was 30. Of course she wouldn’t. These are big, broad-strokes songs, very little like the old stuff with the Reclines even if they use some of the same melodic vocabulary: guitars and electric organs, frequent Latin-tinged drum beats, and a melodic vocabulary straight out of Roy Orbison. Darker and more earnest than her early music. Never a lark. To my ears it’s gorgeous.
Paul Simon, So Beautiful or So What (Hear Music): The album it’s closest to is 2000’s often-overlooked You’re the One: intimate, essentially a basement production with friends, except in Simon’s case the friends have now for three decades often brought African guitars, koras, drums from around the world, gospel choirs, what have you. It’s odd, inevitably off-putting at first, but it’s not contrived and after a few listens it has its own logic. That’s when it becomes apparent that Simon’s gift for melody and lyrics still pays rich dividends. He brings the wisdom and worry of age (he’s 69 now) to his considerations of the everyday and the eternal. There’s a cockeyed cosmic ballad here called Love and Hard Times as radiant and heart-breaking as anything Simon ever wrote.
Little Scream, The Golden Record (Secretly Canadian): A strong return to the Montreal sound of a few years ago, moody, orchestral alternative rock. Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry produced this debut from the singer and visual artist Laurel Sprengelmeyer. A lot of Canadian groups sound a bit like this, wistful and cinematic; Sprengelmeyer’s affecting voice and ear for melody keep this from being interchangeable with those.
Truls Mork, Bernard Labadie and Les Violons du Roy, CPE Bach: Cello Concertos (Virgin/EMI): Carl Phillipp Emmanuel Bach was the second surviving son of Johann Sebastien Bach; by the 1760s he had (for the moment) surpassed Dad’s fame. His cello concertos are tuneful, sometimes dazzling, a stepping stone on the way to Haydn’s and Mozart’s more elaborate designs. Norwegian cellist Truls Mork handles it all with panache. The main attraction here is the poised and elegant Quebec City chamber orchestra Les Violons du Roy, who show why they are becoming regulars at Carnegie Hall and further afield.