The London Symphony Orchestra
Paul McCartney's Standing Stone
Our nation's classical-music critics have gone after this disc like a great white shark at a blood drive, which makes perfect sense: McCartney, who reportedly spent four years completing the piece, cheerfully admits that he can't read music and acknowledges receiving a great deal of help in arranging and structuring the score from composers David Matthews and John Harle, among others. Still, Paulie's dilettantism, which consumers have rewarded by pushing Standing Stone to the top of the classical charts, wouldn't be worth reviling if the platter exhibited the energy and cleverness of his best work. But, I'm sad to report, it does not: McCartney's 75-minute fantasia about Celtic man musing on (his words) "the origins of life and the mystery of human existence" is a shallow, bland muddle that makes John Williams seem like Johann Sebastian Bach by comparison. Dull? You'd have to include several Broadway show tunes to make it interesting enough to be considered dull. But don't take my word for it: Go ahead and buy the damn thing, listen to it once, then forget about it for the rest of your life. I mean, it's not my money.
Don't Check Me With No Lightweight Stuff (1972-1975)
(Blood & Fire)
In the late Sixties, when he was pinching the underside of thirty years old, Roy Reid, aka I-Roy, gave up his job as an accountant for the Jamaican government in order to enter the country's burgeoning DJ scene. It was a good move: By the time he recorded the first singles on this inspired compilation, he had already begun to exhibit a control and consistency that almost matched that of the early-Seventies James Brown. I-Roy's sound during this period was as spare as Brown's, too: His blunt, good-natured toasting forged ahead over one loud, forceful rhythm section after another. Later he softened up: Presenting I-Roy/Hell and Sorrow, a two-CD set on the Trojan label, collects finely wrought pop replete with horns and guitar hooks that are all but inaudible here. In contrast, No Lightweight Stuff delivers I-Roy's essence with a physical force that's appropriate to a man busting out of bureaucracy.
Chris Duarte Group
Three years ago, the Texas-based Duarte's debut album, Texas Sugar Strat Magik, brought the impeccable talents of this unique, Coltrane-loving guitar wizard to the attention of blues lovers and musicians everywhere. However, he was largely snubbed by critics at elite jazz-and-blues publications, possibly because some saw him as nothing more than a pretty boy. (Thanks to his constant touring, he has attracted a large fan base of women who love his thick, flowing hair, his tattoos and his smart-but-brutish good looks.) Headwhack probably won't land Duarte any features in Down Beat, either, and that's unfortunate, because this album is even better than its predecessor. Whereas Magik included a number of cuts that led to the usual next-Stevie-Ray talk, Duarte's latest largely steers away from such a sound. There are a few gut-punching house rockers present, but most of them sport a funk-hop beat that's seldom heard in this genre. Moreover, the sound as a whole is softer, more confident, more diverse. Emblematic is his version of B.B. King's signature tune, "The Thrill Is Gone." By covering this number, Duarte is making a ballsy statement about his abilities as an interpreter and an improviser, and had he faltered, the result would have been extremely embarrassing. But he more than justifies the risk: His "Thrill," complete with a hypnotic, trance-like rhythm, is not a mournful cry but an ominous warning. Of course, those listeners who don't understand that Duarte is a jazz man at heart may be left wondering where on earth he's taking his blues. But it's likely that even they will eventually follow him to his next destination. It should be a colorful and adventurous journey.
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One Day It'll All Make Sense
Common, formerly Common Sense, has been on a path to consciousness; During the mid-Nineties, when most of his peers were engaged in pissing contests, he made an album called Resurrection that featured "Pop's Rap," a number in which his father, Denver's Lonnie Lynn, talked about uncool topics such as love and family. (See "Father and Son Reunion," February 22, 1995.) One Day, Common's latest, is an ambitious attempt to ascend to the next level, and much of it is impressive. An example is "Retrospect for Life," a rich, complex tale about an unexpected pregnancy that comes down in favor of taking responsibility for one's actions (a bold statement in these blame-everyone-but-yourself times) and sports some of modern hip-hop's most fervent and heartfelt tributes to strong black women. The words at the heart of "Invocation," "Hungry" and most of the other tracks on hand are equally impressive, and Common delivers them with passion and sensitivity. Guest stars such as the Fugees' Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, Cee-Lo, Chantay Savage, Black Thought and Native Tongues figureheads De La Soul and Q-Tip also make strong contributions, as does the senior Lynn, who wraps up the proceedings with "Pop's Rap Part 2/Fatherhood." So what's the problem? Simply put, Common focuses on his words to the detriment of the music. With only a handful of exceptions, like "Gettin' Down at the Amphitheater" and "Making a Name for Ourselves," there aren't a lot of cuts here that will get you moving, and several are stone drags: Witness "My City," an ode to Chicago that is built atop tepid saxophone noodling, and the equally sleepy "G.O.D. (Gaining One's Definition)." The result is a mixed bag that nonetheless offers great promise for the future. The younger Lynn is a tremendous talent whose heart is in the right place, but he needs to learn that he can deliver wisdom and get on the good foot at the same time.