"The Private Press"
With his stunning second album, DJ Shadow has created a true shadow world. On the long-awaited follow-up to his groundbreaking 1996 debut, "Endtroducing," the Bay Area DJ hasn't merely assembled sounds. He's pieced together bits of lives--or lives' ghosts--that he found on vinyl recordings, ranging from a melancholy 1951 audio letter to obscure artifacts from pop's legion of no-hit wonders. In his hands, these are echoes of peoples' hopes and dreams, woven into a work as emotionally evocative as it is sonically arresting.
Closer to the sophisticated experiments of found-sound manipulators the Tape-Beatles or People Like Us than to Moby or Fatboy Slim, Shadow nonetheless shares the latter pair's dance music and hip-hop grounding and populist leanings. The only piece with real song structure is "Six Days," marrying a colorful relationship-as-war lyric by obscure '70s Liverpool band Colonel Bagshot with oddball psychedelia from just-as-unknown U.S. '60s artist Dennis Olivieri.
But this is hardly a difficult album. "Fixed Income," with electro-funk pulse, a harpsichord passage and barely audible spoken lines, rivals David Holmes' darkly breezy soundtrack work. "Un Autre Introduction," "Monosylabik" and "Mashin' on the Motorway" offer audio chop-shop whimsy. "Walkie Talkie" simultaneously honors and mocks hip-hop swagger. But tying it all together is an underlying sense of sadness and celebration as Shadow (who headlines L.A.'s Mayan Theatre on Wednesday) gives new life to these spectral mementos.
"Divine Secrets of the
Ya-Ya Sisterhood" soundtrack
"O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack producer T Bone Burnett proved himself a musical archeologist and synthesist extraordinaire, and he reaffirms that in "Ya-Ya Sisterhood."
The film covers a span of some 60 years and territory from urban New York to rural Louisiana. That yields an invigorating and diverse batch of songs with a wider stylistic range than "O Brother," while reflecting the same passion for American music sources.
Even though six decades separate the ancient-sounding track by Cajun musician Blind Uncle Gaspard and a new number Bob Dylan wrote for this album, "Waitin' for You," they're linked by the traditional Cajun waltz form as well as the unadulterated emotions they stir.
Tracks bounce across the decades with ease, from World War II-style big-band swing (Macy Gray's delightful take on "I Want to Be Your Mother's Son-In-Law") to '70s British folk-rock (Richard and Linda Thompson's achingly lovely "Dimming of the Day") and '90s cabaret electronica (Vincent & Mr. Green's ominous "Drug State").
Just as Harry Smith did a half century ago with his revolutionary "American Folk Music Anthology," Burnett shows up musical boundaries for the meaningless marketing constructs they are.
"Hecho a Mano"
Silva Screen/Times Square
This Cuban singer-songwriter was once the glamour girl of Miami's high-powered Latin music machine, produced by Emilio Estefan for Sony, tailored by Armani, coiffed and packaged as a South Beach showcase. Those days ended in 1999 when she and the company parted ways after her disappointing sales.
Albita's career crash evokes the old Spanish folk saying, No hay mal que por bien no venga. Indeed, good things can come from bad, and we have this new album to prove it.
The title captures the state of her art: Made by Hand. This is a finely crafted work, burnished rather than glossed. The songs, all written and arranged by Albita, are warm, intimate and soulful. Without the pressure of courting radio play, they feel organic, taking unexpected turns and lasting as long as they need to. Some are stunning, such as "Son Sin Concepto" (Son Without a Concept), with its arresting, enigmatic monologue, and "La Magia de Ochun," with its dark doubts and soul-wrenching, reluctant plea to Santeria, the Afro-Cuban religion.
Albita's tailored five-piece band, plus the singer on guitar, creates a spare yet sophisticated acoustic sound, evoking her Cuban country roots. Far from nostalgic, though, this album gives us Albita reborn, more natural and honest but still sophisticated.
Saadiq would rather lay back than throw down. He's got a touch of Smokey Robinson's liquid satin in his phrasing and a complete absence of grit. His voice is a supple instrument that commands your attention because it insidiously draws you close and then envelops you. That's why despite a wildly successful tenure with Tony Toni Tone and a somewhat less earth-shattering stint in Lucy Pearl, Saadiq's voice is more recognizable than his name.
Can Saadiq's politesse make it in a bump-and-grind world? This album (in stores Tuesday) is really one long, tastefully arranged quiet storm. The drums tap out gentle rhythms, guitars strum minor chords, and Saadiq sings imploringly to his lover like a man who doesn't want to ruffle any feathers.
His lyrics lean toward time-tested love cliches: "You should be here, babe/Girl, you know you drive me crazy," he sings, but the real message is to be found in the gentle funk of tracks such as "Still Ray," with its tinkling, waterfall piano trills and trombone accents, and "OPH," a casual celebration of kind herb.
"Instant Vintage" is so unassuming that it practically dissolves upon impact.
Saadiq plays the El Rey Theatre in L.A. on June 17.
*** Dirty Vegas, "Dirty Vegas," Capitol. Dirty Vegas is the band featured in that ubiquitous Mitsubishi TV commercial, and while it would be easy to begrudge the English trio its success, it would also be unfair, as the band's debut album is much more than "Days Go By." There are a number of surprises here, notably the '80s-flavored techno beats on the sonically joyful "Ghosts." Inspired as much by Pink Floyd and the late-'80s Manchester scene (Happy Mondays) as the dance world, "Dirty Vegas" is a promising debut.
*** Sierra Maestra, "Rumbero Soy," Riverboat/World Music Network. Before there was Buena Vista Social Club, there was Sierra Maestra, the seminal group that gave us Jesus Alemany of Cubanismo and Juan de Marcos Gonzalez of Afro-Cuban All Stars. After 25 years and 14 albums, the Havana ensemble remains true to its rootsy formula--tight, traditional percussion, pure and piercing trumpet and four-part vocal harmonies. This strong new effort (recorded in France and somewhat marred by muddled sound) features guest vocals by Buena Vista alumni Ibrahim Ferrer and Omara Portuondo, and unobtrusive rock embellishments by New York guitarist Marc Ribot and British producer Chris Birkett. A.G.
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.