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Notable CDs

Notable CDs | Four overlooked releases of 2009 reviewed by Arsenio Orteza

Issue: "2009 Daniel of the Year," Dec. 19, 2009

Under the Sun

Gordon Gano rose to semi-fame as the lead singer and main songwriter of the Violent Femmes, a stripped-down punk trio known for its catchy but often outré juxtaposing of the sacred and the profane, sometimes in the same song. He maintains the pattern on Under the Sun, adding a pinch of maturity and complexity that listeners only familiar with his younger days may find surprising. What they won't find surprising is "Oholah Oholibah," an almost comically faithful acoustic punk adaptation of Ezekiel 23, scabrous imagery and all.

Fireflies and Songs

Except for the somewhat too-cute "Setting Up the Pins" and the somewhat too-obvious "Joy Is in Our Hearts," this album could make even the most determined Sarah McLachlan non-fan reconsider his aversion to "sensitive" first-person lyrics sung by a gossamer-voiced woman in keys that sound minor even when they're not. Groves' secret lies in her fidelity to detail: She gets the marital argument in "It's Me" as right as she does the way she felt hearing "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" as a girl in the title cut.

'Cause I Sez So

One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This, the Dolls' 2006 return to recording after a 32-year hiatus, benefited as much from the gratitude they felt at being able to make it at all as from the sense that it might be their last. This disc feels like the work of a band that, having suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, has simply decided to be rather than not to be. One day it will probably please them to remember even it as well.

Long Live Père Ubu!

There's method in the madness: Why shouldn't a band named after a character in Alfred Jarry's seminally absurd 19th-century play Ubu Roi write and record songs based on a new adaptation of that play? There's also just plain madness. "Brutal, lacking charm, and without redeeming values, this is an album for our times," says Ubu leader David Thomas on the band's website. "It is, in fact, the only punk record that's been made in the last 30 years." Hold on now. What were the Ramones-chopped liver?

Spotlight

There are Bach aficionados who can't get enough of the Goldberg Variations and Bach aficionados who can. The acclaimed American pianist Ronald Hawkins is, as his seventh album, Johann Sebastian Bach: The Goldberg Variations, BWV 988 (MSR) makes obvious, one of the former. Less obvious is what Hawkins has to add to the increasing number of Goldbergs, as what's unique about his emerges only gradually: an awestruck softness of touch appropriate to someone who calls the piece both "holy" and "magical" in his liner notes.

Jason Vieaux's Bach Vol. I: Works for Lute (Azica), on the other hand, proceeds less delicately, perhaps because Vieaux is not a lutenist but a guitarist and therefore less in awe of (i.e., more willing to adapt and interpret) Bach's compositions (BWV 995-998). Ironically, and in contrast to Hawkins, Vieaux's vigor keeps the listener's attention fixed on the music itself and not on how holy or magical Vieaux may feel it to be.

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