Berlin Symphony and Helene Grimaud
Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor (Erato 3984-21633)
Anyone looking for a new recording of the Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor of Brahms cannot do better than a performance of the piece by pianist Helene Grimaud and conductor Kurt Sanderling (with the Berlin Symphony) on the Erato label.
This recording may not seem initially as exciting as some others. The tempos tend to be slow, and the artists appear to be searching to create warmth rather than raise adrenalin levels. But repeated listenings to the Grimaud-Sanderling collaboration make it seem richer and more deeply satisfying every time.
The 27-year-old pianist and the octogenarian conductor approach the concerto from different perspectives. The Frenchwoman tends to be spontaneous and direct, the German meditative and deliberate. But instead of fighting Sanderling, Grimaud - while not repressing herself - tries to appreciate the value and wisdom of what he is doing.
The result is a chamber-music-like interpretation, rather than the typical symphonic one, in which differing points of view are expressed in an unusually civilized context. This pays dividends in all three movements, but particularly in a reading of the slow movement that may be the most beautiful on disc. ****
What The Hell Was I Thinking (Fat Possum/Epitaph 80314-2)
One-man country-blues band Hasil Adkins is a true primitive - and not in a good sense. On "What The Hell Was I Thinking," Adkins plunks his way through 10 blues-and-honky-tonk originals, accompanied by his own guitar, harmonica and some kind of clattering percussion (High hat? Tambourine? A can full of nickels?). A few numbers ("Ugly Woman," "Stay With Me") have a raw, uninhibited energy despite Adkins' choked, whiny voice, which sounds a bit like Jimmie Dale Gilmore on a bad night. "Up On Mars" is a surreal, sci-fi ballad, delivered in the style of Captain Beefheart or recent Tom Waits. And "Talkin' To My Lord" is a moving, thumping devotional blues. Mostly, though, Adkins' solo act is more annoyingly amateurish than naively innocent. A street-corner act that's fun to watch for a while ... until the light changes. *1/2
Jaci Velasquez (Elektra 69311)
While its mix of pop feel and Christian tunes is as familiar as Amy Grant's '80s hits, Jaci Velasquez's self-titled new release is a refreshing pop take on traditional Christian verses and tunes. In "Show You Love" she sings, "Don't wanna get up in your face, Don't wanna put the pressure on, Don't wanna make you run away, Just wanna show you love." In a spunk-filled voice that is almost ethereal in its lightness, her determination to convey a message is strong. But with a style that is as accessible as any secular hit radio tune, Velasquez manages to share her beliefs invitingly, to believers and nonbelievers alike. ***
Grant Lee Buffalo
Jubilee (Slash 9 46879)
Grant Lee Buffalo has always made a virtue of tortured poignancy, with a rock sound as textured as an old Persian rug and as deep as the shade in a weedy backyard. The band's dark magic is still there on "Jubilee." It's just dressed up real nice. With crisp production and wasted but symbolic appearances by alterna-rock gods Michael Stipe and Robyn Hitchcock, "Jubilee" is apparently intended as breakout for the band. Many of the songs are certainly strong enough to pull it off, from the end-of-summer lament "Truly, Truly" to the soaring "8 Mile Road" and the floating "The Shallow End." But fans of the band's great "Mighty Joe Moon" release of 1994 will long for a little more murky melancholy. ***
Stand By Your Van Live (Gasoline Alley 11798)
For those who didn't see Sublime live before singer/guitarist Brad Nowell died in 1996, the experience has been packaged and released in the form of Stand By Your Van. This collection, recorded at five shows from 1994 to 1996, is a comprehensive cross-section of the group's unique blend of rock, ska, punk, hip-hop and reggae. The songs contain all the usual shortcomings of poorly recorded live music, and the perform-ances are not the band's best. Nowell's improvised lyrics on "Caress Me Down" and a decent rendition of "Badfish" are barely worth the price of admission. Sublime was a talented band. However, this disc was released as an afterthought, and it shows. **
Walking in Avalon (CMC International 86248)