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Notable CDs

Notable CDs | Five new pop-rock releases reviewed by Arsenio Orteza

Issue: "Orphaned no more," July 30, 2011

Panic of Girls

The music that Debbie Harry, Chris Stein, and Clem Burke are making at an average age of 61 sounds just enough unlike the music of their heyday that it really deserves a separate label (old New Wave?). Beat-driven songs evocative of nocturnal intrigue still rotate with reggae-driven songs evocative of the need to mix things up a little, but whether it's the world-weariness increasingly audible in Harry's voice or simply her and her bandmates' desire for vignettes they can perform live without disgracing themselves, the music becomes them.

Heaven and Earth

The 2009 death of John Martyn has not been felt as deeply in America as in England mainly because during his 40-plus-year career he was a bigger deal in England. Also, he was idiosyncratically unclassifiable, a quality that this posthumously released final album of his unabashedly captures. Martyn sang these funky and soulful songs in a voice that was equal parts Joe Cocker, Tom Waits, and Cookie Monster, knowing full well they might be his last. That they were is what puts them over.

The Majestic Silver Strings

There are two Miller compositions on this album, but one belongs to that old "king of the road" Roger and the other to Buddy's wife Julie, songwriters whose dissimilar subject-matter preferences map out this music's corny-deep parameters. The corn: "Cattle Call" and "Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie." The depth: Marc Ribot's depression-prescribing "Meds" and Canray Fontenot's depression-accepting "Barres de la Prison." But the bifurcation isn't tidy. In fact, between Miller's guitar and his guest-singer cast, it's nearly impossible to tell the corn and the depth apart.

Live in Las Vegas, August 26, 1969 Dinner Show

This installment in Sony's Follow That Dream series captures Presley at a peak. Riding the momentum of his 1968 comeback, he was resuming live performing for the first time in years and clearly having fun. He had good reason: a crack band, a house orchestra, the backup-singing Imperials and Sweet Inspirations, an appreciative audience, and, of course, great songs. He was also off-the-cuff charming, telling rambling jokes between songs and kissing audience members during them. Mostly, he sounds happy-to have survived Hollywood and to be alive.

Spotlight

When the pop singer Phoebe Snow passed away last April at the age of 60, fans and friends flooded the Twittersphere with tributes to a woman who had become as well-respected for putting her career on the back burner to care for her disabled daughter as she had for her career itself. And it was quite a career. Despite never matching the success of her first hit, 1975's "Poetry Man," she maintained a high level of productivity, applying her downy-soft, jazzy voice to ad jingles, TV-show theme songs, and other musicians' projects.

It was on one such project, the smooth-jazz pianist Dave Grusin's 1983 album Night-Lines (GRP), that Snow turned in one of her strongest performances, "Somewhere Between Old and New York." A third-person tribute to an old-time New York Yankees fan for whom past and present have begun to blur, the song universalizes the particular so movingly that even fans of the Boston Red Sox might feel moved.

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