Punk, pop and a folk legend
The Polyphonic Spree”The Fragile Army”TVTThree albums in, and reviews of The Polyphonic Spree still focus first on the group as a concept. Which is understandable; there aren’t too many cult-like, 20-odd-piece choral ensembles active in pop music. But the extramusical attention is also beneficial to founder Tim DeLaughter, whose tunes still haven’t caught up with his ambition.”The Fragile Army” remains, like The Spree’s previous work, heavily orchestrated, but this time the debt to lush ’60s pop such as the Fifth Dimension is more subtle. The rhythm section frequently pushes to the fore, and the homage on several tunes seems to evoke the more baroque practitioners of glam – an impression furthered when David Bowie sideman Mike Garson shows up to add piano to the title track, one of the high points here.However, these relatively simple power-pop songs aren’t always big or memorable enough to support their grand conceits (as well as the cryptic, feel-good lyrics). The Spree needs the sort of soaring melodies written by a Jason MacIsaac (Heavy Blinkers) or a Neal Morse (ex-Spock’s Beard) to make DeLaughter’s grandiose vision fly. Until then, his “Fragile Army” will have the same recruitment challenges as the real one.
– Dan LeRoy, Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service Art Brut”It’s a Bit Complicated”DowntownSure, it’s a gimmick – some guy with a foppish British accent musing about life while a garage-rock band churns behind him – but give Art Brut credit for keeping it entertaining on the band’s second album.Art Brut’s songs are a skillful blend of humor and pathos, and singer Eddie Argos narrates his tragedies in the same bemused tone as he recounts his triumphs. Sometimes they’re mundane (he oversleeps and is late on “Blame it on the Trains”), sometimes they’re nostalgic, as on “Sound of Summer” when he fondly remembers staying up all night making mix tapes. Sometimes they’re brilliantly off-handed acts of romantic sabotage: “Is it wrong to break from your kiss to turn up a pop song?” he asks on “Pump Up the Volume.”Although Argos is the (very) distinctive voice of Art Brut, the band is just as crucial an ingredient. The other musicians frame Argos’ droll monologues in tight song structures and sweeten them with harmonies and backing vocals. The often spare chugging guitars of the first album, last year’s “Bang Bang Rock & Roll,” broaden here into careering punk-rock tunes full of sly riffs and catchy bass lines. Despite the title, it’s really not that complicated at all – it’s just good fun.- Eric R. Danton, Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service Mulgrew Miller Trio
“Live at the Kennedy Center, Vol. II”MaxJazzThere are no Miller lite servings on this intoxicating disc’s five robust rounds of hard swing and pure soul. Even when Miller brews a reflective mood, as on “Song for Darnell,” written for his son, his harmonies and melodic lines retain a resilient, fine spine, expressive but utterly free of saccharine sentiment.All five tracks sparkle with Miller’s hallmark mix of exquisite expressiveness and earthy, virtuosic swing, making his Steinway ring with orchestral colors and sing with blues-drenched passion.With backup from bassist Derrick Hodge and drummer Rodney Green – two tenacious young players – Miller is full of surprises.On “Eleventh Hour,” for example, maestro Miller opens with a slow, soulful blues theme, accented with a seductive boogie-woogie figure rolling along eight-to-the-bar. The left-hand boogie beat glides into tenths whose silken sound shifts back to boogie-woogie, which transforms into supportive rhythmic patterns for single-note lines in the treble before the tempo is suspended.After a flashy Phineas Newborn-like keyboard flourish, drums kick in and the music suddenly skyrockets into a scorching, white-hot tempo for this 16-minute tour-de-force jazz odyssey.From opening track to grand finale, Miller plays his A-game on a Steinway-B, yielding pyrotechnical results emitting fire and feeling.- Owen McNally, Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service Arlo Guthrie
“In Times Like These”Rising SonArlo Guthrie was born into legacy as the son of folk icon Woodie Guthrie, but he carved his own legend as a symbol of the counterculture and antiwar movement. On his latest, “In Times Like These,” he matches his homespun tales and folk-guitar plucking with the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra. The resultant combination fleshes out Guthrie’s delicate songs and infuses his stories with an added sense of drama.”Darkest Hour” describes a gentle and touching encounter with a lover, while “St. James’ Infirmary” starts as a jazzy, nighttime lark and explodes into a New Orleans-style funeral march. The orchestra takes a break on the title track, and Guthrie carries the tune with his reedy, sincere voice and effortlessly smooth guitar playing. In between tracks, what sounds like an enormous audience erupts in thunderous applause, shattering the illusion that we’re listening to studio material. “In Times Like These” possesses pristine, recording-studio sound without sacrificing the natural live intimacy that best serves Guthrie’s poetic tales. Guthrie’s hit “City of New Orleans” attains an extra poignancy post-Katrina – the audience can hardly wait for him to finish to show its approval.Despite Guthrie’s liner notes to the contrary, the orchestra meshes perfectly with his sound, creating a very big take on Guthrie’s small, intimate songs.- Ted AlvarezArts & Entertainment writer Ted Alvarez can be reached at 748-2939 or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado
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