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Noteworthy CDs

Notable CDs | Five noteworthy releases reviewed by Arsenio Orteza

Songs from a Room

Style: Stark, late-night folk melancholy.

Cautions: The back-cover photo of Cohen's immodestly dressed girlfriend.

Worldview: "Like a bird on a wire, / like a drunk in a midnight choir, / I have tried in my way / to be free."

Overall quality: Alternate versions and detailed annotation enhance this version of the most influential album by the poet-musician whom John Simon once dismissed, with only partial accuracy, as the "thinking man's Rod McKuen."

Bach: Goldberg Variations (Zenph Re-performance)

Style: A Baroque "Aria with Diverse Variations" (Bach's title) originally composed for the harpsichord but now identified (thanks primarily to Gould) with the piano.

Worldview: That there is no better way to mark the 25th anniversary of Gould's death than to use his most famous (and bestselling) recording as the basis to debut a fascinating re-creational technology.

Overall quality: A 20th-century masterpiece presented in the most mind-bogglingly pristine method imaginable.

There's a Riot Goin' On

Style: Experimental, at times murky, at times turbulent socio-political funk, circa 1971.

Worldview: That the summer of love had given way to a winter of discontent-or, to quote the liner notes, "The label lists the title track: 'There's a Riot Goin' On-0:00.' It was Sly's little joke. The riot was going on in his life."

Overall quality: The funk equivalent of the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street.


Style: Frequently (but not exclusively) melancholy singer-songwriterly folk-rock, circa 1972.

Worldview: That musical wine can result from the fermentation of real-life romantic dissolution.

Overall quality: The most consistently engaging of the five early Al Stewart albums that Collector's Choice has recently re-released (replete with bonus cuts and detailed, biographical liner notes), enabling fans of Stewart's Alan Parsons-produced Year of the Cat and Time Passages albums to track his pre-breakthrough evolution.

The Traveling Wilburys

Style: Good-naturedly rambunctious super-session rock 'n' roll.

Cautions: A few double entendres and some PG vulgarity.

Worldview: That the talented have more fun.

Overall quality: Rare tracks, videos, and (in the "limited-edition deluxe edition") a 40-page book join this legendary band's long-out-of-print two albums, the first of which was Bob Dylan's, George Harrison's, and Jeff Lynne's best record of the '80s and Roy Orbison's and Tom Petty's best record ever.


The occasion of Sony Classical's latest version of Glenn Gould's landmark 1955 recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations is the 25th anniversary of Gould's death. The gimmick is the composition's "re-performance" by a piano equipped to respond to a computer-encoded reading of Gould's original performance as overseen by the wizards at Zenph Studios. Other than its elimination of Gould's trademark humming, the artifact is not only flawlessly faithful but also metaphysically suggestive: Zenph unveiled its creation last year by inviting friends of Gould to witness an "invisible Gould" perform. Thus Zenph has enabled dead pianists to "live" again.

Should anyone but technology-obsessed musical perfectionists care? Yes (for obvious reasons) and no: There's something to be said for "moving on" and "letting go," not to mention for recoiling from the technology's being abused to resurrect the likes of Elton John. And, frankly, Gould without the humming isn't full Gould ("fool's Gould"?). As a technology-obsessed musical perfectionist himself, however, Gould would've loved it.


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