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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: Bjork, Barbra Streisand and more

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Sunday, May 6, 2007

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Björk, “Volta” (Atlantic) **

Toward the end of her sixth solo album, Icelandic auteur Björk Gudmundsdottir urges her listeners to “declare independence ... wave your own flag.” That’s certainly what she’s done over the years, in the bands KUKL and the Sugarcubes and, since 1993, on her own. “Volta” is another idiosyncratic turn in a career that’s defined the word, following 2004’s “Medulla” and its wall of vocals with 10 songs that combine, often incongruously, sweet melodies with harsh, jagged instrumental arrangements emphasizing brass and beats. At times gratuitously inaccessible, the stir of sounds nevertheless makes for an ambitious sonic journey, one that starts with the marching feet of “Earth Intruders” and finishes with the car door slam at the conclusion of “My Juvenile.” Pop and rap hitmaker Timbaland provides beats for the former as well as “Declare Independence,” while Antony of Antony & the Johnsons duets with Björk on “The Dull Flame of Desire” (which, unfortunately, realizes its title) and provides vocal backing on other tracks. “Innocence” marries a Britney Spears-worthy pop melody to spare, avant instrumentation, while Björk leans in a jazzy direction on “Hope.” Tug boat horn sounds, the Chinese pipa and the Malian kora slip in and out of the mix, and an assemblage of electronic artists (LFO’s Mark Bell) and edgy percussionists (Sonic Youth collaborator Chris Corsano and Lightning Bolt’s Brian Chippendale) certainly make you aware of their presence. It’s not exactly easy listening, but when has Björk ever been? “Volta” is a charge for those who prefer aural adventure.


Barbra Streisand, “Live in Concert 2006” (Columbia):

Detroiters demonstrated some good sense last fall when not enough were willing to buy $750 tickets and caused Barbra Streisand to cancel her planned Palace of Auburn Hills date. Did we miss much? According to this two-CD set we did. Streisand v.2006 is in fine voice — backed on three songs by tour opener Il Divo — and sounds more comfortable on stage than the 1994 model that played The Palace, with a much more interesting repertoire that includes 14 songs that have never appeared on a previous live album. But staples such as “Funny Girl,” “Evergreen,” “Somewhere” and, of course, “People,” are here, too. And it’s certainly a lighter hit on the wallet than it was to see her in person.


Carl Allen and Rodney Whitaker, “Get Ready” (Mack Avenue) — The two jazz educators (bassist Whitaker is at Michigan State) and their formidable quintet blend Detroit and New York sensibilities, including some Motown covers, on this 10-track set.

Keren Ann, “Keren Ann” (Blue Note) — The ethereal French/Israeli pop singer returns with her third album in four years.

The Bad Plus, “PROG” (Heads Up) — The ambitious jazzers cover Rush, David Bowie, Tears For Fears and Burt Bacharach on their fourth album.

Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, “Strength and Loyalty” (Full Surface/Interscope) — With guests Akon, Mariah Carey, Twista and Yolanda Adams, the Cleveland rap troupe, now a trio, finally brings out its latest, which was pushed back from an April release date.

DJ Jazzy Jeff, “Return of the Magnificent” (Rapster) — The Fresh Prince’s former partner hooks up with Method Man, Jean Grae, Rhymefest and De La Soul’s Pos on his latest release.

The Exies, “Modern Way of Living With the Truth”

(Eleven Seven Music) — The Los Angeles trio leaves the major label world for its first album since 2004.

Lisa Gerrard, “Silver Tree” (High Wire Music) — After some well-received film projects, the former Dead Can Dance singer delivers her first solo album in 12 years. Dave Hole, “Rough Diamond” (Blind Pig) — The first studio album in six years from the Australian blues guitar wizard.

Jethro Tull, “The Best of Acoustic Jethro Tull”

(Capitol/EMI) — The cream of the veteran group’s unplugged output, plus two new live tracks.

Kraak & Smaak, “The Remix Sessions” (Quango) — Two CDs sporting remixes of the funky Dutch trio’s songs by Jamiroquai, Chris Joss, Sarah Bettens and others.

Jimmy LaFave, “Cimarron Manifesto” (Red House) — The Austin-based troubadour pays tribute to his native Oklahoma, with help from singers Ruthie Foster, Carrie Rodriguez and Kacy Crowley.

Master P, “Ghetto D (10th Anniversary Edition)”

(Priority) — The rapper’s landmark, triple-platinum album is expanded with four previously unavailable bonus tracks.

Travis, “Boy With No Name” (Epic) — The British group’s fifth album was named after frontman Fran Healy’s son, who went unnamed for nearly a month after his birth.

Various Artists, “New Arrivals Volume 2” (MPress Records) — World Hunger Year is the designated charity for Artists Against Hunger & Poverty’s second collection of new discoveries.

Dale Watson, “Little Darlin’ Sessions, Vol. 1” (Koch) — Americana maverick Watson pays homage to the Little Darlin’ label, covering song by Johnny Payche, “Groovey” Joe Poovey” and company founder Aubrey Mayhew.

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