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Notable CDs

Notable CDs | Five new releases reviewed by Arsenio Orteza

Take Us Alive: Boston 2009

Long before he thanked R.C. Sproul in the liner notes to the only Van Halen album he sang on, Gary Cherone paraphrased enough Bible passages in the lyrics he wrote to put him and Extreme's bruising funk-metal on the radar of Christian-rock fans. Even this live album's sole explicit-lyrics song, "It('s a Monster)," is about original sin. What put Extreme on the radio, however, was the ballad "More Than Words," stretched out of shape on this otherwise tight and loud career-spanning set into an audience sing-along.

Halcyon Times

Jason Ringenberg once said he feared that the departure of the Scorchers' drummer Perry Baggs would spell kaput for the band. Apparently, he was wrong. Powered by Pontus Snibb, the Scorchers, like the protagonists in this album's "Mother of Greed," have "set out to make history," if only by raising Cain as if the '90s had never put a damper on their incendiary country-punk. Or, as Ringenberg sings in "Mona Lee," "It doesn't matter what we thought in 1993. / Everything has got to change, including you and me."


It's a shame that the first stanza Petty sings on his best album since 1989 accuses Thomas Jefferson of not only fathering Sally Hemmings' children but also, apparently, of hiding one "under the bed . . . in a burlap sack." On the other hand, what better way to draw attention to the miscegenated blues-rock that characterizes most of these songs (and to which the album title elliptically refers)? If pinpointing a high point is hard, so is pinpointing a low one. At 65 minutes, it's almost not too long.

Revolutions: The Very Best of Steve Winwood

Winwood has reached the place where his compilations nearly equal his other albums, but at least this single-disc excerpt from his recent boxed set spans most of his career-half his Spencer Davis Group, Traffic, and Blind Faith years and half his hit-filled '80s. The use of radio edits ("While You See a Chance," "Roll With It") doesn't hurt. But even cut down to 11:32, "The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys" hogs too many bytes, and the numerous stylistic shifts remain jarring after all these years.


As she makes clear in the DVD accompanying her new album Homeland (Nonesuch), Laurie Anderson is no conservative. She relishes John McCain's calling Rush Limbaugh a "clown"; she felt she'd lost her country upon hearing of Bush administration "torture" (not 9/11?). But she is an artist, and if Homeland isn't her best album, which it may be, it's certainly the one that coheres the best as music. Her whispery vocals float smoke-like between singing and speech while instruments like the igil, marxophone, orchestron, and her own electronically modified violin generate sounds both futuristic and primordial.

And on the standout track, "Only an Expert," she is fair and balanced, going after not only Bush but also Al Gore: "When an expert says it's a problem and makes a movie about the problem / And wins an Oscar about the problem / And gets the Pulitzer Prize about the problem / Then all the other experts have to agree it is most likely a problem."


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