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Notable CDs

Notable CDs | Five new pop releases

Issue: "2012: The Year Ahead," Jan. 14, 2012

Beautiful Morning

Yukie Nishimura is a Japanese pianist whose style Wikipedia describes as "light easy listening." And so it is. But what light easy listening! Imagine a better Carpenters album than that duo ever released stripped of vocals, and you'll have some idea of what she's able to evoke with just a little help from an occasional and sympathetic string section. As far from the amorphousness of New Age as it is from the rigors of baroque, her lightness glistens like the rain glazing William Carlos Williams' red wheelbarrow.


Being one part Roches and nine parts Andrews Sisters might make this trio an ideal foil for Michael Bublé singing "Jingle Bells," but it hardly qualifies them to turn in versions of "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" or "Moon River" that can compete with those of Marilyn Monroe (or T-Bone Burnett) or Andy Williams (or Morrissey), respectively. So consider them the Sha-Na-Na of the Great American Songbook, and save your money for their Vegas show.


Michael W. Smith has thrown himself into his second instrumental album with a gusto you don't have to like Contemporary Christian Music to love. It might help, however, if you love, or at least like, epic films and Gershwin. Smith's not quite in that league, but he's getting there. And he's not falling all that short of what he's aiming for. Besides, where he's landing is not to be sneezed at-unless you're allergic to purple mountain majesties, amber waves of grain, and The Trip to Bountiful.

American Road

Grammy laden though she is, the jazz vocalist Tierney Sutton breezes along her individualistic way as if nothing more than suggesting the flexible parameters of her Bahá'í faith and following her Wisconsin-bred (and New England-honed) instincts were at stake. She doesn't break new ground, but the old ground that she revisits she tends with an apolitical affection that's downright touching in our hyper-political times. Progressives might not blink at "Summertime" or "On Broadway." But-admit it-"Amazing Grace" and "America the Beautiful" take some nerve.


Admittedly, Brian Wilson's similar 2004 recording of the first 19 songs on the Beach Boys' The SMILE Sessions mutes the impact of Capitol Records' presentation of what for the last 44 years has been considered the "greatest unreleased album of all time." But only a little. Finally hearing the psychedelic Americana that the Beach Boys labored so long and hard over in 1966 and 1967-and what Brian labored so long and hard over with an unorthodox studio orchestra before he added the Beach Boys' voices-is still amazing.

Brian had intended SMiLE to be a superior response to the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Instead, weakened by copious amounts of drugs, he cracked, leaving only "Good Vibrations" and "Heroes and Villains" to connote What Might Have Been because he'd destroyed the tapes. Only he hadn't-as Disc Two of The SMILE Sessions two-disc edition and Discs Two through Five of the five-disc edition abundantly prove.


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