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Rising Light

By Mike Hotter

Kaki King

. . . until we felt red (Velour)

Moving out from the solo-acoustic-guitar pigeonhole, Kaki King’s third full-length album is an impressively eclectic affair that ranges from wintry mood music to stomping shoegazer anthems and Frisell-like jazz flights. Exploring electric guitar and her own singing voice for the first time on record, King shows she is much more than a flavor of the moment. Her vocals have a charming sing-songiness that leavens the dark textures of her music. The eight-minute “You Don’t Have to Be Afraid” builds from an acoustic miniature to a chugging rocker. “Goby” shares a kinship with the Latin-tinged folktronica of Juana Molina, while “Jessica” brings back fond memories of dream-pop band Lush.

An opening stint for Robert Randolph inspired King to try out the lap steel, and on the tour de force title track, King’s unique take on the instrument evokes the atmospheric wooziness of the Dirty Three as well as the fret- busting firepower of Sonny Sharrock.

Throughout, King plays with a maturity and force that belie her age. Produced with a stunning clarity by John McEntire (whose ace drumming is also a highlight), . . . until we felt red is a great installment in what should prove to be an enthralling musical journey.

Solomon Burke

Nashville (Shout! Factory)

Solomon Burke’s second Shout! Factory effort is a far cry from Make Do With What You Got, its Don Was-produced, rock-tailored 2004 predecessor. Produced by Buddy Miller, Nashville is largely a duets disc, and it finds Burke in good company with the likes of Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Patty Loveless. That Miller was able to gather such firepower to help Burke write yet another chapter in his long history attests to Burke’s power, on easy and full display here.

In making his first overtly country record, Burke has finally found the right producer; Was helped him make a well-crafted but predictable record, and Joe Henry, who produced his 2002 “comeback,” the Grammy Award-winning Don’t Give Up on Me, may have been a bit sparse. This album is strikingly full-bodied; at the same time, it’s clear and layered.

The tunes span the sturdy (Tom T. Hall’s “That’s How I Got to Memphis”), the devotional (“Valley of Tears,” a duet with Gillian Welch), the respectful (Don Williams’ “Atta Way to Go”), traditional country (Kevin Welch’s “Millionaire”), the humorous (Julie and Buddy Miller’s “Does My Ring Burn Your Finger?”) and the amazing. That description applies to the hottest track, a cover of Springsteen’s “Ain’t Got You.” It may be the hardest-rocking groove Burke has ever laid down. Culled from Springsteen’s underrated Tunnel of Love, the 1987 chronicle of his divorce from Julianne Phillips, “Ain’t” spits in the face of despair. Burke sings it so hot, and the band plays so breathlessly, you expect it to run out of steam. Instead, you wish it had gone on far longer.

A vocalist of great strength and conviction, Burke hasn’t sound so in tune with his material since his legendary days in the ’60s with Atlantic. Now if he’d only tour with a big country band . . .

—Carlo Wolff

Don Byron and Bang on a Can

A Ballad for Many (Cantaloupe Music)

As a tick-tock motif sounds insistently, percussive streams of plangent tones pick up melodic elements. A crescendo of intensity brings the short track to a peak, and it drops to a quiet close. It’s an arresting piece of music on its own that takes on an extra dimension when heard alongside the vintage TV program it was written to accompany: a remarkable Ernie Kovacs segment from the early 1960s titled Eugene and performed without dialogue. It opens with Ernie, wearing a straw boater and sporting an amusingly phony nose, trapped in a shrinking, doorless hallway. The tick-tock imperative makes sense, and, as that motif carries into the next segment, it becomes amusingly ironic underscoring.

The six tracks correspond to the program’s segments, including a goofy, silent Dutch Masters commercial. One of the final segments plays on a tilted set filmed to look as if it’s normal; there’s a parallel off- kilteredness about the music that leaps the 40 years and nicely connects them.

“The Red-Tailed Angels” is a suite written last year for the soundtrack to a documentary on the Tuskegee Airmen, the World War II group who comprised the first African-American fighter pilots. Two other extended pieces are “Basquiat,” a ballad named for the painter that grows in intensity over a repeated ground, and “Show Him Some Lub,” the seven-minute album-closer that incorporates a recitation of names and places that provide clues to the performers’ identities—a shrewd and moving work.

Byron, who just finished a stint as an artist-in-residence at UAlbany, is a restless, eclectic composer and performer whose work ranges from innovative jazz sessions to a tribute album to Spike Jones alumnus (and cut-up in his own right) Mickey Katz. Joining forces with Bang on a Can is one of those combinations that makes a whole lot of sense, as BOAC are a similarly restless, classically tinged ensemble always seeking to stretch the boundaries of formal compositions.

The six performers are talented (and therefore busy) players—some time ago I wrote glowingly about pianist Lisa Moore’s recording of Frederic Rzewski’s music, and she’s equally effective as part of this ensemble, which also includes Evan Ziporyn on reeds, cellist Wendy Sutter, Mark Stewart on guitars, bassist Robert Black and drummer David Cossin. Byron joins them on a few cuts as well, including a track titled “Silver Wings” in “Red-Tailed Angels,” itself an arrangement of “He Wears a Pair of Silver Wings,” and scored very effectively for two clarinets and cello.

Back before the massive record-industry mergers, you’d find BOAC recordings on a major label; they seem much more happily ensconced on their own Cataloupe Music label, and brought in renowned audio engineer (and longtime Byron collaborator) Tom Lazarus for this recording. It sounds great, which is good: You’ll want to listen to it repeatedly in order to coax some of the hidden treasures that only familiarity can bring.

—B.A. Nilsson

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