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The Mass Media

What’s New in Music Racks

What’s new in music racks

Knight Ridder Newspapers

(KRT) BRIGHT EYES “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning” (Saddle Creek) 4 stars

BRIGHT EYES “Digital Ash in a Digital Urn” (Saddle Creek) 4 stars

The leader of indie-rock band Bright Eyes is a searingly intense and seriously talented 24-year old Omaha, Neb., native by the name of Conor Oberst. His cult-hero status will likely be replaced by widespread fame after these two simultaneously released albums, both filled with deeply personal songs destined to burrow their way into your heart.

“I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning,” which is folk-oriented, and “Digital Ash in a Digital Urn,” which is more electric, are filled with brash energy and neurotic anxiety, Oberst’s trademarks since he began recording at the tender age of 13. What amazes is how smart and complex the tunes are, especially for an artist so young. Oberst may do his share of navel-gazing about doomed relationships and the pain of being alive and alone, but by matching his powerful tales of wounded innocence with instantly hummable pop hooks, he rarely fails to grab the listener. He also has a knack for tempering some of his misery with humor_and even a silver-lining sentiment or two, smoothing out the rougher edges of his less-than-sunny worldview.

Oberst’s naive, tremulous, occasionally hysterical vocal style can take a bit of getting used to _ he sounds somewhat like an over-caffeinated cross between Marc Bolan of T. Rex and Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy. What wins you over is the unfailing sincerity and first-take freshness of his singing, as on “Lua” from “I’m Wide Awake,” his intimate, you-are-there account of dating, drinking and drugging in New York, his home since `02. The song has a wise, embittered romantic stance (“what is simple in the moonlight by the morning never is”) that brings to mind some of Lou Reed’s finest work with the Velvet Undergound. The incomparable Emmylou Harris contributes vocals to three songs on “I’m Wide Awake,” including “We Are Nowhere and It’s Now,” a lovely, sad waltz with haunting touches of mandolin.

As on his many previous releases, Oberst employs a large, rotating cast of musicians who play everything from the standard bass-drums-guitar to trumpet to strings to theremin.

“Digital Ash in a Digital Urn” has edgier instrumentation and production values, such as on the drum-driven “Arc of Time,” a paradoxically toe-tappin’ tune about the cheery subject of death. “I Believe in Symmetry” is another strong rumination about time passing, filled with pithy observations devoid of self-pity.

Sure, it’s natural to be suspicious of a musician who gets a major New York Times Magazine feature while he’s still in his early 20s while being dubbed “rock’s boy genius” and “the next Bob Dylan.” But one solid listen to these two albums will quickly endear you to the sensitive singer with the quaky voice and a pocketful of heavenly songs. Both albums will be in stores Jan. 25.

_Martin Bandyke

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THE LINCOLN CENTER JAZZ ORCHESTRA WITH WYNTON MARSALIS “A Love Supreme” (Palmetto) 2 stars

BRANFORD MARSALIS “A Love Supreme Live in Amsterdam” DVD and CD (Marsalis Music) 4 stars

In a twist of fate, both Wynton and Branford Marsalis have issued interpretations of John Coltrane’s iconic post-bop masterpiece, “A Love Supreme” (1964), a talisman of such profound formal and spiritual imagination that you have to be awfully brave (or foolish) to record your own version. Bottom line: Wynton’s ambitious big-band setting leaves much to be desired; Branford’s quartet performance is one of his finest recordings.

Wynton’s arrangement, which relies heavily on orchestrations of Coltrane’s solo lines handed off between sections or individuals like a relay baton, rarely transcends the pedantic gloss of a history lesson. The trombones sound especially lumbering, and the rhythm section’s tight grooves, which swing in a pre-1965 beboppish way, are all wrong. The original’s expansiveness, its sense of an endless spiritual quest, is absent. The only soloist who doesn’t sound overwhelmed by the setting is Wynton, who plays with fire and poise.

Branford’s DVD (an audio-only CD is also included) treats the music respectfully but not so reverentially that the quartet _ with Joey Calderazzo, Eric Revis and Jeff Watts _ sacrifices its identity. Calderazzo’s piano voicings establish the opening “Acknowledgement” with surprisingly sunlit tonalities. Later, Branford’s dark tone and freely conceived phrasing and harmonic sideslipping put a personal stamp on the hair-raising adventure of “Resolution” and “Pursuance.” The prayerful “Psalm” pulsates with a sense of the infinite.

The quartet has been performing the piece for a while, and you can tell by the unforced collective intensity the group achieves and the interactive freedom: The music sounds as if it could go anywhere, and frequently it does. The DVD bonus interviews are revealing and insightful.

_Mark Stryker

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VARIOUS ARTISTS _ “The Only Doo Wop Collection You’ll Ever Need” (Shout!) 4 stars

Doo-wop devotees who have sprung for Rhino’s two box sets of harmonizing will probably take umbrage at the title, but it’s pretty hard to argue with this value-priced distillation . Its 37 cuts hit just about every notable street corner from Harlem to the Bronx, with side trips to Chicago and L.A. All one really needs to hear here is the titles: “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” (t he Teenagers featuring Frankie Lymon); “I Wonder Why” and “A Teenager in Love” (Dion and the Belmonts); “Since I Don’t Have You” (the Skyliners); “There’s a Moon Out Tonight” (the Capris), and a good selection of non-oldies radio brilliance, like The El Dorados’ “At My Front Door” and The Turbans’ “When You Dance.” I’m sure there’s a more direct expression of superficial female appreciation than the Fiestas’ “So Fine,” but I’d be hard-pressed to imagine it when this is playing.

_Terry Lawson

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LENA HORNE _ “Love Songs” (RCA/Legacy) 3 stars

So here it is: The merger of Columbia and the various labels under the BMG umbrella means that Columbia’s Legacy imprint, which has successfully repackaged Valentine’s Day-pegged ballad collections from everyone from Miles Davis to Loverboy, can now mine the consolidated catalogs of performers like Horne.

Considering the spottiness of the Horne catalog, this is one of the more considered collections, with sultry and beautifully phrased, if occasionally overly dramatic versions of standards like “I’m Through with Love,” “You’re My Thrill ” and the gorgeous “You’re the One.” Also benefiting from cupidity consolidation are Harry Belafonte, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Nina Simone, Neil Sedaka and Dionne Warwick, who knows what you get when you fall in love: enough germs to cause pneumonia and more royalties.

_Terry Lawson

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(c) 2005, Detroit Free Press.

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