Reviews of new pop, country, jazz and classical releases from the Philadelphia Inquirer.
NEIL YOUNG WITH CRAZY HORSE “Psychedelic Pill”
Neil Young has often found ways to push forward while looking back, whether writing nostalgic songs as a young man (“Helpless”), exploring American history (“Pocahontas”), or periodically reconnecting with his longtime pals in Crazy Horse, as he does on “Psychedelic Pill.” He’s been playing with guitarist Poncho Sampedro, bassist Billy Talbot, and drummer Frank Molina since 1975, and they’re still a lumbering, powerful, intuitive force, as they proved earlier this year on “Americana,” their rewardingly idiosyncratic take on old folk songs.
Even more than that album, “Psychedelic Pill” is a Crazy Horse-lovers dream, a two-disc set that alternates three-to-four-minute garage stomps with four epic tracks that stretch from eight to nearly 28 minutes and allow plenty of time for Young to dig deeply into his distortion- and feedback-drenched guitar solos. It’s a companion piece, in a way, to “Waging Heavy Peace,” Young’s new autobiography, with first-person songs about channeling his rage (including his frustrations with recording technology), about his admiration for Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead, about being “Born in Ontario,” about the failed (or foiled) dreams of the ‘60s.
TIM MAIA “Nobody Can Live Forever: The Existential Soul of Tim Maia”
The eccentric, heavyset Brazilian soul iconoclast born Sebastiao Rodrigues Maia lived only 55 years - enough to leave behind a wealth of timelessly fresh, vibrantly funky music. Coinciding with what would have been his 70th birthday, Luaka Bop recently released this enthralling set of prime ‘70s Maia material, his gruff yet elastic Portuguese and English vocals heard on 15 original songs proving him an estimable era contemporary of Sly and the Family Stone or Curtis Mayfield. It caps the label’s decade-plus efforts to compile a worthy showcase for the hard-living artist, still under-recognized outside his native country. (Tellingly, the album is the latest in the World Psychedelic Classics series that the imprint launched with its revelatory “Os Mutantes” compilation in 1999.)
Liner notes detail Maia’s colorful rise from Rio de Janeiro poverty to youthful sojourn in New York to cult membership back home in Brazil. The tunes make him unforgettable, from thoughtful, slow-burn jams such as the title track to the guitar-flash-fortified “Que Beleza,” reminiscent of the Isley Brothers, to the easy-swangin’ early disco-funk version of Maia’s irresistible hometown homage “Do Leme Ao Pontal” - which, truly, one might want to go on forever, but of course.
-David R. Stampone
WAYLON JENNINGS “Goin’ Down Rockin’: The Last Recordings”
A few years before his death in 2002, when poor health started to overtake him, Waylon Jennings recorded these dozen songs, accompanied by just his acoustic guitar and the bass of Robby Turner. Now Turner, who had played steel guitar in Jennings’ last group, the Waymore Blues Band, has fleshed out the tracks with fellow Waymore alumni such as guitarist Reggie Young and other simpatico players, creating a new last chapter that reaffirms Jennings’ greatness.
Echoes of the defiant Outlaw who helped shake up country music in the ‘70s can be heard on the rocking “Never Say Die” and “If My Harley Was Runnin’,” as well as the Tony Joe White title song, an appropriately swampy duet with the Swamp Fox himself. Strip away the bravado, on numbers such as “Belle of the Ball” (originally a 1974 B-side), “The Ways of the World,” and “Wastin’ Time,” and Jennings remains a remarkably straight shooter, with performances that are among the most intimate and deeply personal of his life.
DENISE DONATELLI “Soul Shadows”
Singer Denise Donatelli takes a pleasant and personal approach to standards and beyond. The Allentown, Pa., native, whose piano teacher, Ralph Kemmerer, also taught mega jazzman Keith Jarrett, is a sensitive interpreter and a clean technician.
Now L.A.-based, she teams here with big-time pianist Geoffrey Keezer, who gives this session real heft on standards (“All or Nothing at All”) along with the ability to venture widely.
Together, they take on the challenging Wayne Shorter tune “A Promise.” Joe Sample’s “Soul Shadow” gets treated as a bossa nova, which Keezer says came to him in a dream, while the vibe is dreamier on Christian McBride’s R&B-tinged “When I looked Again,” with lyrics by Sting.
Donatelli can go in many directions and make you glad for going there.
VIVIAN FUNG “Dreamscapes” Kristin Lee, violin; Conor Hanick, piano; Metropolis Ensemble, Andrew Cyr conducting
Born in Canada and based in New York City, the 37-year-old Vivian Fung emerges as a fully evolved compositional voice in this recording dominated by her Balinese-flavored 2011 Violin Concerto, but also in the Asian-flavored Glimpses for prepared piano (2006) that was expanded into her 2009 Piano Concerto (“Dreamscapes”).
Her Violin Concerto initially feels like a descendant of William Walton, with its tough, flinty harmonies and rhythmic drive. Soon, though, Fung is in her own more intimate, often pensive, but frequently playful sound world, which indeed lives up to the album’s title. Soloist Kristin Lee, locally heard in concerts presented by Astral Artists, outdoes herself with refined quality of sound and precision of expression.
Though the instrument- doctoring that goes into prepared piano often inspires contemplative, abstract music, Glimpses is tuneful and fun - a quality not lost in the music’s repurposing in the later Piano Concerto. At every point in the disc, Fung has a strong sense of thematic control and structural overview that suggests more great things to come.