News Column

Reviews of new pop music releases

June 17, 2013


BILL FRISELL "Big Sur" (Okeh, 3 stars)

Guitarist Bill Frisell has created a sound all his own, fluid and languid at its core but capable of dissonant distortions and pointillistic precision, and he has flexible and eclectic tastes. In the last few years alone, he's released albums of John Lennon covers and abstract solo guitar improvisations; worked with folksinger Abigail Washburn, Brazilian singer Vinicius Cantuaria, and avant-garde composer John Zorn; and revived his electronic experimental project Floratone.

"Big Sur" is an outgrowth of an artist residency Frisell did in California and finds him playing with violinist Jenny Scheinman (who shares the lead on many tracks), violist Eyvind Kang, cellist Hank Roberts, and drummer Rudy Royston. The Big Sur Quintet, as the group is called, mines the wide-screen Americana styles Frisell has been exploring on and off since at least 1997's "Nashville," with touches of surf rock ("The Big One"), chamber jazz ("Hawks"), and folk balladry ("We All Love Neil Young"). The strong melodies, genre-blending, and flashes of humor are nothing radically new from Frisell, but they're still rewarding.

_Steve Klinge


BLACK SABBATH "13" (Vertigo/Republic, 3 { stars)

What made Black Sabbath menacingly epic was that there was always a sense of careening in the music. Every fat Sabbath recording, from its eerie, eponymously titled 1970 debut to 1978's awful "Never Say Die," sounded like they were lurching through a sludgy tunnel or leaping from a tower in a suicide pact with Beelzebub.

Singer Ozzy Osbourne, guitarist Tony Iommi, and bassist Geezer Butler aren't quite as possessed on this, their first album in 35 years. Yet producer Rick Rubin has done black magic with Sabbath's clammy wall of woe _ swelling guitars and murky megawatt rhythms _ as Osbourne rants about despair and devils. Rubin pumps up Sabbath's thick chords _ "Age of Reason" one scabrous, hypnotic, riff-driven monster, Iommi's signature _ and pushes the guitarist into new territory with a jazzy acoustic/electric mix on "Zeitgeist."

It's not easy hearing metal's evil king (with the wife on the chat-show circuit and a daughter working alongside Joan Rivers) trying to get it up for ghouls and gloom. Thankfully, Osbourne has a flair for the bleakly anguished turn of phrase, and sounds fantastically robust on the echoey "Damaged Soul" and "Live Forever."

_A.D. Amorosi


VARIOUS ARTISTS "Ghost Brothers of Darkland County" (Concord, 3 stars)

As you can gather from the title, the Stephen King-John Mellencamp stage musical "Ghost Brothers of Darkland County" is not exactly "The Sound of Music." And the Mellencamp-penned songs on this soundtrack, produced by T Bone Burnett and performed by a collection of stars and cult favorites, grippingly reflect the haunting, gothic nature of the show while being able to stand on their own apart from the book.

Blues and folk, elemental and evocative, underpin the music here, from Elvis Costello's oozing charm and menace as a devil figure in "That's Me" to the slide-guitar bite of Ryan Bingham and Will Dailey's "Brotherly Love," the swamp groove of "And Your Days Are Gone" with Sheryl Crow and Phil and Dave Alvin, and the gospel-flavored fervor of Taj Mahal's "Tear This Cabin Down." Neko Case offers a dose of attitude with "That's Who I Am," while Rosanne Cash betrays matriarchal melancholy on "You Don't Know Me" and Kris Kristofferson, with his seriously weathered voice, is a natural as the tortured patriarch on "How Many Days."

Mellencamp himself appears only at the end, to sum it all up with "Truth," and cap what proves to be a successful new career move.

_Nick Cristiano


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