The upcoming documentary co-produced by Ken Burns has at least one thing in common with the filmmaker's last major project, Jazz - great music.
Folksy and flavored by traditional American music, this wonderful instrumental and acoustic soundtrack is a delightful romp performed largely by two of Burns' long-time collaborators, musicians Jacqueline Schwab and Bobby Horton, who worked with him on Baseball, The Civil War, and Lewis & Clark.
While critics have taken a hard look at Burns' point of view in some of his films, his affection for history is hard to question and shines through again on this soundtrack. The music is charming in its simplicity yet rich in its sound. It takes listeners back in time and into the mindset of Twain's rural Missouri roots with great use of everything from piano to banjo, mandolin, and fiddle.
Folk never seemed to be so much fun, sounding so lively and contemporary, yet authentic and respectful of its era.
Also included is a brief tribute to the influential ragtime period, highlighted by Schwab's convincing interpretation of composer Scott Joplin's famous “Maple Leaf Rag.”
Mark Twain, a four-hour film produced by Burns and Dayton Duncan, is to air on PBS on Jan. 14 and 15. The soundtrack is due to be released Nov. 6.
- TOM HENRY
Stewart Copeland, drummer for the long-defunct Police, Trey Anastasio, on hiatus from deluxe jam band Phish, and Les Claypool, of funk pioneers Primus, form Oysterhead, a funky, jazzy little unit that sprawls all over the musical road map. When it works, the result sounds unlike anything else. The closest comparison might be the late model King Crimson. When it doesn't work, the songs are overly busy and just too weird. This is what it sounds like when three virtuosos get together and rock out.
- ROD LOCKWOOD
“It's All About The Stragglers” showcases the style of dance music known as 2-Step, or UK Garage. Intensely rhythmic with elements of drum & bass and ragga, and with R&B vocals, this is dance music with soul. The use of several vocalists gives it a diverse flavor, and numerous songs are standouts. They include “Woman Trouble” with Robbie Craig and Craig David, and “What Ya Gonna Do?” once again featuring David, who has made his own mark on the charts. This is 2-Step at its best, the cross-pollination of club music and R&B creating a dynamic hybrid.
- RICHARD PATON
Slide a copy of “Groovin,'” into your CD player and enjoy classy and imaginative swing arrangements. With nearly all tracks written or arranged by band members, the musicians obviously feel at home with the scores and can concentrate on heightened levels of intensity and exuberance. Particularly notable are emotive solos by trumpeter Jimmy Cook. And to break up the tracks, in the style of the big bands of the 1940s, the TJO offers singers Kelly Broadway and Lori LeFevre Johnson on “Getting to Know You,” and “The Masquerade is Over.” With efforts like this, we can be sure big-band music will continue to attract new devotees.
- LARRY ROBERTS
Adkins' shimmering baritone and some polished instrumental work make “Chrome” positively shine among a bumper crop of mediocre country releases. The dozen numbers shift from frivolity to emotional thought-provokers with a quick change of musical pace, mature lyrics, and an easy drop or rise in Adkins' powerful voice. He stretches the country envelope a bit on some numbers, with one foot sometimes firmly in pop and the other stepping in the direction of rap as he talks through part of the title track.
- KEN ROSENBAUM
We've grown comfortable with Gerald Levert. The way he works his magic. how he combines a laid-back demeanor with a burning intensity in his music. The Cleveland native doesn't disappoint on his latest album. There are no surprises with Levert, who writes, produces, and performs. His astute vocal command is his calling card as he sings of love and hope and hurt. Levert has the unique ability to make you feel what he's singing. It's a rare quality; one that separates him from ordinary R&B artists and elevates him to star status.
- JOHN HARRIS