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Notable CDs

Notable CDs | Four noteworthy new or recent releases reviewed by Arsenio Orteza

Issue: "The Haiti quake," Feb. 13, 2010

Floodplain

Because the Kronos Quartet has seldom met a concept it doesn't like, it's tempting to accuse it of, and then to dismiss it for, pursuing eclecticism for its own sake. It's also unfair, as anyone who has ever had an epiphany when immersed in the juxtaposition of the strange and the stranger at which Kronos excels. This Middle Eastern-flavored collection takes exoticism both to new heights and to new depths-maybe even new breadths. Deepest and widest of all: the Eastern Orthodox Good Friday hymn "Wa Habibi."

Live at Reading

Looking at the track listing of this 1992 concert, one notices not only the predominance of one-word titles but also their rawness. "Aneuryism," "Dumb," "Lithium," "Tourette's," "Breed," they read like Generation-X haiku, the ills of an age compressed to their essence. As those familiar with Kurt Cobain's life know, he knew whereof he sang, and seldom did he sing (or his band mates play) with greater ferocity than on this English stage. It's the sound of the runaway bus from Speed, minus, alas, that film's relatively happy ending.

Living Room

This time last year, Troast was preparing to embark on his most ambitious "living-room tour" yet. Now, for those not on his itinerary or negligent in keeping up via his website, he delivers this collection of songs composed on or inspired by the road. The mood for the first seven numbers is whimsically domestic, as one might expect from a singer-songwriter accustomed to sleeping on the couches of his fans. The last three turn serious, as one might expect from a Christian for whom pilgrimage is progress.

Tonight

Sprezzatura is an Italian term meaning a style and grace that makes the accomplishing of even the hardest tasks look easy, and at 45 the DC Talk alumnus Kevin McKeehan has it now more than ever. The skill with which he blends at least a half-dozen post-hip-hop genres make his fourth solo album feel like a one-man Now That's What I Call Music! The difference: There's spiritual warfare in the lyrics, and the music is greater than the sum of its cameos (e.g., TruDog10, John Cooper, Israel Houghton).

Spotlight

At its most lackluster, the pop-vocalist era was a period during which singers whom people really would pay to hear sing the phonebook often got away with phoning their performances in. And, as four CDs just reissued by Collectors' Choice Music prove, B.J. Thomas was no exception. Besides a handful of bonus tracks, each contains two original LPs, most of which barely charted or failed to altogether, and listening to Thomas' almost comically uneven early output (1966-1969), it's not hard to understand why.

But in late 1969 Thomas found himself giving the performance of his life on Burt Bacharach and Hal David's "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" (after Ray Stevens and Bob Dylan had passed on it), and the momentum it provided eventually generated two excellent albums: Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head (1969) and Everybody's Out of Town (1970). The Collectors' Choice twofer that pairs them is the one to get if you're going to get just one.

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