This Week’s Hit Parade



James Blake. “James Blake.” (Universal Republic, 2011): I am absolutely captivated by “The Wilhelm Scream,” at once abstract and majestic. I’ve listened to it over and over for the past month or so, and I’m still not tired of it. Oh, if only the rest of the album lived up to that song. Alas, it does not.


Levon Helm. “Ramble at the Ryman.” (2011, Vanguard): Not quite as intimate as one of Levon’s Midnight Rambles at his own Woodstock home, but still this live concert recording from September 17, 2008 at the hallowed Ryman Auditorium in Nashville is a gem. Even with an abundance of special guests – Buddy Miller, Sam Bush, Sheryl Crow, Billy Bob Thornton and John Hiatt – nobody steals Helm’s thunder. Also available as a DVD.

Neil Diamond. “The Bang Years 1966-1968.” (Columbia/Legacy, 2011): It’s been so long that I’d completely forgotten that there was a time when I really liked Neil Diamond. No foolin’…

Ben Folds/Nick Hornby. “Lonely Avenue.” (2010, Nonesuch): Clever fiction writer meets smart songsmith. Add the always cinematic, sweeping string arrangements of Paul Buckmaster, and the results are simply glorious. Included are musical profiles of poet Saskia Hamilton, songwriter Doc Pomus and instant celebrity Levi Johnston. Such smart, sweet, sad pop songs.

Rebekka Bakken & Wolfgang Muthspiel. “Beloved.” (2002, Material): She sings. He plays guitar. Together they make beautiful, haunting, meditative music that most often comes closest to spare, minimalist jazz, but also embraces, elements of pop, electronic experimentation, folk and more. I had never heard of the Norwegian jazz singer before this, but I was indeed intrigued and needed to find out more. Imagine my surprise when I discovered on her website that she’s been recording her next album just down the road in Kingston, NY, with Malcolm Burn producing. Thanks to Steve Nover for the tip…

Tom Rush. “The Circle Game.” (1968, Elektra): The classic album in which Rush helped usher in the golden age of singer-songwriters (Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Jackson Browne), his marvelously low-key vocals wrapped up in Paul Harris arrangements and Arthur Gorson’s production. Nothing tops Rush’s own pairing of “Rockport Sunday” with “No Regrets,” which rounds out the disc. One of my all-time favorite albums.

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