Music Review

ANNIVERSARIES: Isaac Albéniz Born 150 Years Ago

Isaac_AlbenizAlicia de Larrocha Isaac Albéniz: Iberia; Navarra; Suite Española; etc. (EMI Classics) Isaac Albéniz led one of the most exciting and unusual lives of any composer. Born May 29, 1860 in Camprodón, Spain, he was precocious in the extreme, making his public debut as a pianist when just four years old. (His sister Clementine was also a piano prodigy.) Already composing by age seven, when he became a pupil of Antoine-Francois Marmontel (who also taught Bizet, Debussy, and d'Indy) in Paris, the handsome and virtuosic Albéniz was a popular attraction even at that age and was booked for concert tours by his parents, for which he was dressed in a French musketeer's uniform complete with sword.

Soul Vet Betty LaVette Conquers Foreign Territory

Betty_LaVette_InterpretationsBetty LaVette: Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook (Anti) Uh-oh: concept album. Could the wonderful Indian Summer of Ms. LaVette finally be winding down? Before even listening, two obvious, opposed answers suggest themselves. On the one hand, how could she sound bad singing anything with that voice? She's got a jagged but full-bodied rasp that makes Marianne Faithfull sound mellifluous in comparison, and she wields it with all the hard-won experience of the five-decade soul veteran that she is.

Steve's Spring Rock and Soul Review Roundup


Goldfrapp: Head First (Mute)

I just learned recently that I've been listening to Allison Goldfrapp for longer than I realized: She's on Tricky's 1995 classic Maxinquaye, five years before the debut of her duo with Will Gregory. For a long time they were a reliable source of dancefloor anthems, but last time out found them taking a folkier, less beat-driven tack. Head First finds them back doing what they do best, dance music, but with their most poppy, tuneful batch of songs yet. My friend Mitch Friedland (Springhouse) came in one day when I was listening to this and joked "What is this, the new Olivia Newton John?" It's funny because it's true, but it's also true that this is a better album than ONJ ever made, the strong Italo-disco influence and high-gloss production pleasing the club crowd while the solid songwriting makes it fine home listening as well.

Flying Lotus Reaches New Heights on Cosmogramma

CosmogrammaFlying Lotus: Cosmogramma (Warp) Steven Ellison, the artist known as Flying Lotus, was already widely praised for his 2008 album Los Angeles, but Cosmogramma is a jaw-droppingly awesome leap forward in imagination and creativity. In a year that's already gifted us with many fine and surprising electronica albums, in my non-specialist opinion this is the main contender for best of 2010.

The Last Exquisite's Gasp

robert-campbell-cdRobert Campbell Living in the Shadows of a Downtown Movie Show (Decca) A dandy from the wonder world of finer things, shot through by moments of rarefied charm, the 1977 LP Living in the Shadows of a Downtown Movie Show is probably the last orchestral gasp of Glam at its most mannered and sublime. Robert Campbell represents the poise and attention to detail that punk would ruthlessly eclipse in a chorus of sneers, a shower of spit, and an avalanche of noise. He seems to have quietly slipped into the shadows mentioned in the album's title.

A Life of Improbable Facts

lady-walton-obitLADY SUSANA WALTON 1926-2010 Some lives read as improbable fictions. Too far-fetched to be viable in a novel, their tribulations tax all credulity. For an individual to live through such calamitous moments, betrays a strength of spirit, and a well of emotional resources most souls could never call upon. One such passage from the cradle to the grave was the life of Susana Valeria Rosa Maria Gil. Passo. Her ability to adapt to a world she could never never envisaged as a good Catholic girl in Buenos Aires, was an amazing feat of endurance. And to have survived it and thrived, is even more remarkable. That world was to be London's high society just after World War Two, where she proved herself as a perfect wife to a talented but far from perfect man.

The Primitives Comeback Reaches U.S.

Primitives-liveThe Primitives / Frankie & the Outs / Palomar The Bell House, May 8 The Primitives formed in Coventry, England in 1985 and in the two following years released some singles on their label Lazy that John Peel playlisted, prompting RCA to acquire Lazy. The time was right for a jangly guitar pop band fronted by a blonde bombshell, and in 1988 the Primitives became one of the most popular British bands on the strength of the hit single "Crash" (#5 on the English singles chart, #3 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart in the U.S.), the lead-off track on their debut LP Lovely, and a follow-up single, "Way Behind Me" (#8). Their 1989 sophomore LP Pure, was not quite as popular but still yielded a few more Modern Rock Tracks charters ("Sick of It" at #9, "Secrets" at #12).

David Grisman's Acoustic Oasis Beckons!

david-grismanAnd now a message from our friend, Mr. David Grisman... Dear Acoustic Music Lover, I'm very pleased and excited to announce the arrival of my new website,, featuring new and previously unreleased projects that are now available to you as high-quality digital downloads, exclusively through this site. All projects include downloadable graphics (CD covers, tray cards and labels) and cost is less than most other download sites.

ANNIVERSARIES: Earl Hooker Died 40 Years Ago

2-bugs-roachrEarl Hooker: Two Bugs and a Roach (Arhoolie) Earl Hooker ought to be more famous than he is, but between shyness about his vocal abilities and dying at just 41 years of age, this guitar whiz's public profile remained low. His fellow musicians knew how good a player he was, though; Hooker played on records by Muddy Waters (whose "You Shook Me" was overdubbed atop Hooker's instrumental "Blue Guitar") and Junior Wells, among others. He was especially admired for his slide playing, but using standard tuning, he was able to easily switch from slide to picking.