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Notable CDs

Notable CDs | Four noteworthy new releases and reissues reviewed by Arsenio Orteza

The Complete Hits

Style: Twenty-one "Nashville Sound" hits by the Arkansas siblings Bonnie, Maxine, and Jim Ed Brown, circa 1956-1967.

Worldview: That, preserved in the Browns' dulcet tones, the church bells, scarlet ribbons, singing bluebirds, dreamt-on pillows, and old lamplighters of these songs take on archetypal status.

Overall quality: Like "The Three Bells (Les Trios Cloches)," the song for which the Browns became best known, this music gives off an otherworldly glow evocative more of the timelessness of The Twilight Zone (or of the Fleetwoods gone Nashville) than of nostalgia.

Gavin DeGraw

Style: Catchy, hard-edged pop like you thought they didn't make anymore now that almost no one's buying it.

Worldview: "Tell 'em, 'Say no to drugs,'/ 'Substances make you dumb.' / Then you say, 'Give 'em some.' / Are you the victim / of this experience, / child experiment, / teacher's predicament" ("Medicate the Kids").

Overall quality: DeGraw is not consistently interesting or smart, but anyone capable of writing an anti-ADHD anthem as hard-hitting and insightful as "Medicate the Kids" is worth checking out.

Stardust

Style: The 30th-anniversary reissue of Willie Nelson's quintuple-platinum collection of pop standards, plus a second disc compiling 16 similar Nelson performances from 1976 to 1989.

Worldview: "Together, [Nelson and producer Booker T. Jones] crafted an exquisite collection . . . , inspired by their mutual hero Ray Charles, who'd proven his skills in erecting a barrier-free musical tent embracing pop, jazz, rock, R&B and country" (the liner notes).

Overall quality: Song for song, a better showcase for Nelson-the-singer than the recent 100-track box One Hell of a Ride.

Two Men with the Blues

Style: Ten live songs featuring Nelson's singing, Marsalis' playing, and Marsalis' quintet's swinging; mostly blues, but also classic pop ("Stardust," "Georgia on My Mind") and country (Merle Travis' "That's All").

Worldview: That only musicians whose "bucket's got a hole in it" can get away with going to the pop-standards well as often-and as entertainingly-as Nelson and Marsalis have.

Overall quality: Nelson has sung this material before, and probably will again, but never with support this lively or a partner as euphonious as Marsalis and his trumpet.

Spotlight

Ever since 1985's Half Nelson compilation if not before, it's been a joke among country-music fans that Willie Nelson apparently intends to record at least one duet with every musician in the world before he dies. So what's surprising about Two Men with the Blues (Blue Note), a recording of Nelson's 2007 "Jazz At Lincoln Center" performances, is not that he teamed with the jazz great Wynton Marsalis but that in doing so he proved just the thing to keep Marsalis, who can come off grandiose, the right size for his britches.

The program itself is somewhat redundant; Nelson and Marsalis have mined the Great American Songbook before. But seldom have they been free enough of having to bear the spotlight alone to risk sounding as spontaneous as they do here. And, ironically, by not striving for definitive interpretations, they actually come close to a few-in large part because the five-man Marsalis combo has the blues too.

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