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Notable CDs

Notable CDs | Five noteworthy Grammy-nominated CDs reviewed by Arsenio Orteza

Issue: "The Obama era," Feb. 14, 2009

Lay It Down

Style: A revisiting by Green at 62 of the velvety romantic Memphis soul that he perfected when he was in his 20s.

Worldview: "[I] like you / early in the morning, / smile on your face. / Late in the midnight hour, / no one can take your place" ("No One Like You").

Overall quality: At first the meticulous deliberateness of this recreation feels too obvious; a dozen plays later, the fact that it's hard to distinguish from, say, 1974's Al Green Explores Your Mind feels like a noteworthy accomplishment.

Rock n Roll Jesus

Style: Hard rock, Southern rock, just plain rock, country, rap, and various permutations thereof.

Cautions: R-rated slumming ("So Hott," "Sugar").

Worldview: "Habitual offenders, scumbag lawyers with agendas, / I'll tell you sometimes, people, I don't know what's worse, / natural disasters or these wolves-in-sheep-clothes pastors. / Now . . . I'm scared to send my children to church" ("Amen").

Overall quality: When Kid Rock hoists himself out of the gutter, the Joe-Sixpack stock he takes of his past, present, and his children's future, with the two exceptions noted above, has "red state" written all over it.

To Be Free: The Nina Simone Story

Style: Three CDs and one documentary DVD's worth of socially conscious, jazz-inflected soul, 1957-1993.

Cautions: "Mississippi God---."

Worldview: "I'll tell you what 'freedom' is to me: No fear! . . . If I could have that half of my life-no fear. . . . That's the only way I can describe it" (from the DVD).

Overall quality: Simone's overt, gospel-rooted protest songs sound more dated than they are; her covers of show tunes, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and the Beatles are too idiosyncratically re-envisioned to sound anything but fresh.

Around the Bend

Style: Introspective ­country with gospel undertones.

Worldview: "I don't have faith in politics, but I do believe in the will of the people. / I don't know much about big-time religion, but I believe in the cross on the steeple" ("Faith in You"); "There ain't an angel that can save you when you're listening to the wine, / and the demons they won't tell you, you didn't have a good time" ("You Didn't Have a Good Time").

Overall quality: A cohesive, well-chosen collection of verbally and musically economical songs.

Spotlight

One particularly noteworthy contender for the 2009 Best Choral Performance Grammy is the recording of Igor Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms sequenced between Symphony in Three Movements and Symphony in C on the album Stravinsky: Symphonies by Simon Rattle (conductor), the Berliner Philharmoniker, and the Rundfunkor Berlin (EMI Classics). Composed in 1930, the three-movement choral work was one of Stravinsky's first major compositions after his return to the Russian Orthodox Church and takes its texts from the Vulgate renditions of Psalm 39 ("Exaudi orationem meam"), 40 ("Expectans expectavi Dominum"), and 150 ("Alleluia").

The Symphony's enduring power derives in large part from its defiance of expectations ("As a design," writes the librettist Stephen Walsh, "the work has hardly anything in common with the Classical symphonic idea") and its satisfying of expectations of which the listener was previously unaware. Even without the booklet's English translations, the ominous and awesome nature of the music constitutes hearing through a glass darkly of the highest order.

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