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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

war child heroes

From NY Times

Good causes can make for strange bedfellows, but as “Heroes” (Astralwerks) proves, it can also lead to smart alliances. This compilation benefit album — a batch of 16 smartly chosen covers — was organized by War Child, which provides aid to children in conflict-stricken regions. Its premise is shrewdly intergenerational: the songs are by legendary bands or artists, each of whom had a say in choosing their interpreters.

Paul McCartney, a longtime supporter of War Child, got the ball rolling, along with David Bowie. (Their proxies are Duffy, singing “Live and Let Die,” and TV on the Radio, acing the title track.) Other pairings followed, some wickedly on the mark: Franz Ferdinand muscling through Blondie’s “Call Me”; Beck in fabulist-cynic mode on Bob Dylan’s “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat”; Hot Chip coolly handling “Transmission,” by Joy Division; Peaches bringing her own menace to Iggy Pop’s “Search and Destroy.”

A few other choices suggest the facilitating hands of Lisa Zbitnew and Ben Knowles, the music-industry insiders who coordinated the effort. (Does it really make sense otherwise to have the Kooks playing the Kinks? O.K., maybe.) All told, the success ratio is high, and even the odd misfire has its heart demonstrably in the right place.

Shemekia Copeland

For much of her roughly decade-long career Shemekia Copeland has unleashed her brass-girded singing voice on full-dress electric blues records. “Never Going Back” (Telarc) is something different, a partial study in twang produced by the guitarist Oliver Wood, of the roots-rocking Wood Brothers. It’s not a big departure for Ms. Copeland, but it does open up a new way to hear her, backed by musicians like Mr. Wood, the keyboardist John Medeski and the guitarist Marc Ribot.

The songs, half of them partly written by Mr. Wood, are different too. On “Broken World,” a gospel-tinged ballad, and “Never Going Back to Memphis,” a simmering stomp, Ms. Copeland reins in her power; on “Circumstances,” by her father, Johnny Copeland, she adopts a back-porch vibe. And on ”The Truth Is the Light” and “Big Brand New Religion,” she sounds deliciously at ease with her authority, as if she had nothing whatsoever to prove.


This bruisingly intense Italian trio — Luca T. Mai on baritone saxophone, Massimo Pupillo on electric bass and Jacopo Battaglia on drums — has been making records for the last decade. “Carboniferous” is its first for Ipecac, an American label run by the diabolical vocalist Mike Patton, who gurgles and growls on two of the album’s tracks. (King Buzzo of the Melvins, who works alongside Mr. Patton in the underground metal band Fantômas, pitches in on yet another track.)

With or without guests “Carboniferous” would confirm that Zu is a band given to spasmodic action but governed by a kind of golden mean, so that even its maniacal tangents seem to belong to a larger design. And it’s a band committed to the brutality of its sound, as a physical idea. The molten riffs and pummeling fills heard here in such abundance aren’t just tokens of style. They’re part of a persistent push for self-definition.

Sin Fang Bous

To the extent that Sindri Mar Sigfusson is known to American audiences, he’s known as the engine behind Seabear, an indie-folk band from Reykjavik. “Clangour” (Morr) is his new solo effort, released under the name Sin Fang Bous, and it reflects an enduring fondness for fanciful but meticulous detail. There’s actually nothing clangorous about the album, which shimmers with gentle flourishes both acoustic and electronic.

Like so many singer-songwriters enthralled by Brian Wilson, Mr. Sigfusson often multiplies his voice, or thickens it with reverb. His obvious whimsy softens certain lyrical indulgences. “I will be the lumberjack and you will be the tree,” he sings in “Clangour and Flutes,” and it works even though it’s hard to picture him lifting an axe.

Dr. Lonnie Smith

The Hammond B-3 organist Dr. Lonnie Smith is a reliable captain of soul, and when he has the right sidemen, he can make almost any groove feel deep and inevitable. On “Rise Up!” (Palmetto) he digs in with a regular partner, the guitarist Peter Bernstein, and a pair of New Orleans sons, the alto saxophonist Donald Harrison and the drummer Herlin Riley. (The same group will appear at the Jazz Standard from March 4 to 8.)

Along with a handful of simple but effective originals, the album features songs made famous by the Stylistics, the Beatles and Eurythmics, as well as the B-3 organ hero Larry Young. Through it all Dr. Smith sounds particularly inspired both by Mr. Riley, who enlivens the beat with cowbells and tambourines, and by Mr. Harrison, who combines sweetness, precision and bite. An emblematic group effort comes on “Tyrone,” the tune by Mr. Young: it’s a post-bop waltz reborn as a second-line strut.