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Pink Floyd
Echoes: The Best of Pink Floyd (Capitol/EMI)

Echoes, which provides a two-disc overview of Pink Floyd’s oeuvre, stands as the first collection to document all three phases of the band’s evolution: the Syd Barrett era (1965-67), the Roger Waters era (1968-83), and the David Gilmour era (1984-1994). The choice of the 26 tracks on Echoes also marks the first point of agreement between Waters and Gilmour since their acrimonious parting after 1983’s The Final Cut, although such agreement was allegedly brokered through middlemen, not by the estranged combatants themselves.

The results, though, do tend to represent what you’d expect when two people who aren’t talking to each other have to reach a creative consensus. Few provocative items from either side of the table get through on Echoes, while points of agreement tend to be those that most closely adhere to a neutral middle ground—or, in this case, represent both Waters’ and Gilmour’s interests, as in a Gilmour lead vocal on a Waters composition, or an important Gilmour guitar solo on a Waters-sung song. While Waters gets a couple of cuts (not enough, actually) off of The Final Cut (the album with the least creative input from Gilmour), and Gilmour gets a few cuts (too many, actually) off of A Momentary Lapse of Reason and The Division Bell (the two Waters-free albums), most of Echoes comprises obvious tracks taken from the crucial heart of the canon: Meddle, Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here and The Wall.

Founding member Barrett is represented on five cuts, including the sadly deranged “Jugband Blues,” recorded just before madness took him away from the band. It’s an odd choice for this “Best Of” disc, and I can’t help but think that Waters and Gilmour picked it to remind us all that Barrett wasn’t all that good, after all, now was he? It’s interesting, though, to note how the other two members of the band come across on this collection. Drummer Nick Mason (the only person to appear on every Pink Floyd disc) appears to have guaranteed his longevity by his unobtrusiveness: The most quintessentially Pink Floyd moments on this album find him silent behind his drum kit, and the most rock-oriented ones find him doing little more than adequately keeping the beat.

Keyboardist Rick Wright, however, emerges from the collection seeming more essential than he ever did during the band’s run: His sweet lead or backing vocals, evocative/spacey/haunting keyboards and (in the early days) songwriting contributions tend to define many of the best moments on Echoes. Maybe that’s what happens when two titanic talents cancel each other out, letting the contributions of those who carried them for years emerge unexpected from behind the creative rubble they left behind.

—J. Eric Smith

Amy Annelle
A School of Secret Dangers (Hush)

Portland, Ore., singer- songwriter Amy Annelle combines her lo-fi folk and country sensibilities with the lyrical snap of e.e. cummings and a smattering of found sounds. (She’s partial to not-quite-tuned-in evangelical radio broadcasts and nature sounds.) As heard on A School of Secret Dangers, the result is a kind of deconstructed rural music that—much like the work of
fellow iconoclast Richard Buckner—seems to be at once be utterly forward-thinking and channeling some ancient Americana muse.

Spurred by ominous, driving guitar picking, “Idaho” opens with “I dreamed that Idaho was on the coast but I couldn’t find the state to take its place/We stayed up all night listening to your grandpa’s 78s til the lights began to glow and shadow all the lines on your face.” The playing of the old records and the sense of geographical dislocation is fitting enough metaphor for Annelle’s muse. You can detect traces of old folk and mountain music, as well as a touch of psychedelia. There’s even a song that could be an outtake from the Velvet Underground’s self-titled “gray” album, called “Soft City.” Nevertheless, these are simply peripatetic shadows, and none hold up under interrogation.

The truth is, Annelle is daringly original, and she has put together a batch of gorgeous songs on her four-track recorder. Sometimes she hooks into a melody and sentiment so wistful and sweet you can’t shake it all day, such as on “Will Try.” Other times, she conveys her pathos with a touch of sharp wit, as on “Ugly Stray,” a reflection on a homeless man that wings wide of preaching or cliché, and that features an overlapping answer-and-call vocal between Annelle and herself.

—Erik Hage

Jon Dee Graham
Hooray for the Moon (New West)

Hooray for the Moon is the third album from erstwhile Jon Dee Graham, formerly of True Believer, the ’80s Austin band that also included Alejandro Escovedo. Its pleasures are derived not just from the high caliber of Graham’s songwriting, but also from a superlative quartet. With his regular touring drummer unable to make the sessions, Graham landed Jim Keltner to fill the seat, which is kind of like having a dry cleaner not get your suit back in time, then send Armani over to your house make you a new one. The other half of the combo are steel-dobro-guitar player Michael Hardwick and bassist Mark Andes (original Spirit and Jo Jo Gunne member, a surprise blast from the past). Hooray for the Moon is gritty and potent throughout, and the heart of this album is “Laredo (Small Dark Something).” Imagine Tom Waits fronting the Heartbreakers, after keeping them locked in his basement for a month and demanding that they play as loud as possible—but also soulfully—if they’d like a piece of cake and some sunlight. Graham even covers Waits’ “Way Down in the Hole” with suitably sharp-edged wallop.

—David Greenberger

Sara Ayers
Interiors (Dark Wood)

According to her Web site, Sara Ayers’ latest album, Interiors, “focuses on vocal soundscapes (voicescapes, as a friend calls them) evoking thought, emotion and memory.” I take from this description and the album’s title that the creation of Interiors was very much an inward-looking process—and I consider it a testament to her skill as a composer and performer that my reaction to it is almost entirely outward-looking. By definition, Ayers’ interior landscapes are going to be exterior to my own person, transporting me to places that I might not have ever imagined.

Interiors is crafted primarily around loops, drones and fugues created by processed recordings of Ayers’ voice, with occasional keyboard or guitar figures woven into the tapestries of sound that feel as if they’re wrapping around you as this disc slowly unfolds to display its hidden beauties and mysteries. The sound is similar to that created by Brian Eno in the early ’70s, but where Eno tended to just create his musical systems and let them run, Ayers ministers to her music along the way, ensuring that it gets somewhere when it’s done.

So where does the music take you? I would imagine that it’s different for different people, but I tend to take the name of Ayers record label (Dark Wood) and the title of her last album (Sylvatica) as points of departure. So I find my mind wandering in deep forests in dark places: the woods at the heart of Finland, maybe, or in Norway, where black metal practitioners such as Mortiis and Burzum make ominous ambient music that sounds very much like certain portions of this record.

Give Ayers credit for another tremendous disc—and for finding the mysterious spaces where even Eno and evil metal can meet.


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