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Notable CDs

Notable CDs | Four noteworthy Grammy nominees reviewed by Arsenio Orteza

Issue: "Pro-baby," Jan. 30, 2010

A Stranger Here

Given the presence of the word blues in six of its 10 song titles, it's probably inevitable that this album by someone who until now has been considered the quintessential folk singer would end up nominated for "Best Traditional Blues Album." But to categorize it that narrowly is to miss the extent to which it functions as a soundtrack to a pilgrimage that at 78 Elliott has good reason to believe is no mere metaphor. And "Soul of a Man" deserves a Grammy category all its own.


The reference in "Love Etc." to a "boy [who] needs a girl" and the declaration that "All Over the World" is "about boys and girls" would seem to leave open the possibility that the "perfect home [with] perfect kids" imagined in "Beautiful People" is one headed by a man and a woman. The reduction of the homosexual experience in "Building a Wall" to "Protection! Prevention! Detection! Detention!" would seem to close the possibility down. Standing in the gap: hooks, dance beats, and lovers' quarrels.

Back from the Dead

What does it say about heavy metal that the older it gets the more this parody seems like the genuine article? Like their real-life exemplars, merely being 25 years older than they were when they made their debut is no reason for these comedians-turned-musicians (or vice versa) not to revisit their catalog or to start making like adults. And those put off by the occasionally distasteful material should ask themselves whether Jonathan Swift, who knew something about illustrating absurdity with absurdity, might not himself have been a fan.

Bernstein: Mass

Unlikely though it may seem, this latest presentation of Leonard Bernstein's entry into the Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell sweepstakes comes off even more chaotic now than it did upon its debut in 1971. At least then the zeitgeist was at its back; now the Jewish bisexual composer's transformation of the Roman Catholic liturgy into a dithyrambic expression of the Woodstock generation's crisis of faith has to stand on its own-without anything as catchy as "I Don't Know How to Love Him" or "Day by Day."


"It's a Hollywood movie," observed Johnny Cash's daughter Rosanne about the biopic Walk the Line, "very complex lives reduced to two hours-so how can it possibly show the depths of truth?" Hence Rosanne's willingness to be one of the dozen-plus interviewees featured in Johnny Cash's America (Columbia/Legacy), a full-length documentary nominated for a "Best Long Form Video" Grammy that illustrates the "depths of truth" of her father's remarkable life surprisingly well.

A fairer and more balanced presentation one won't easily find. Not only does Lamar Alexander get as much face time as Al Gore (amazing how sincere he sounds when not raving about melting icebergs), but Snoop Doggy Dogg has insights as interesting as those of Merle Haggard or Steve Earle. Perhaps the deepest truth comes courtesy of Cash's son, John: "My dad . . . had a light side and a dark side. Both were plainly evident, and he didn't try to hide either. They were both very real."


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