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Timeless Passages

Pete Yorn
Day I Forgot (Columbia)

Pete Yorn’s 2001 debut, Musicforthemorningafter, found the New Jersey-via-California musician playing DJ at his own house party, with some very obvious nods to his heroes (Smiths, Springsteen, Pavement). While a solid debut, Music felt bloated, and suffered from a lack of focus, resulting in a difficult front-to-back listen (not to mention the two “bonus” tracks tacked on after the initial 14—doesn’t anybody edit themself anymore?).

On Yorn’s latest, Day I Forgot, track 13 is left blank. Seems he’s a little superstitious about trying to avoid the ol’ sophomore slump in the wake of all the hype surrounding the first record. Good news: He does. Day I Forgot is a more refined and satisfying collection than Music, buoyed by a wealth of strong tunes and R Walt Vincent’s no-frills (relatively few, at least) production. Yorn again plays most of the instruments, with help from a few high-profile bit players (Peter Buck, Josh Freese). His crackly baritone—think J Mascis and Lou Barlow melted into an indie-rock fondue—is an inviting instrument, and it’s surrounded by layers of guitars and vocal harmonies for a thick, but not claustrophobic, sound. The results are sonically similar to Music with much of the self-indulgent fat trimmed away.

The only missteps on Day I Forgot occur when Yorn tries to break out of his comfort zone. The stellar chorus of “Burrito” seems surgically attached to its lackluster verse—it sounds like two wholly different songs, and probably should have been. “Carlos” travels a similar path, riding a cut-rate Zep groove down the short road to monotony. Either (or both) of these tracks could have been omitted to the record’s benefit—and would have saved Yorn the trouble of dealing with that pesky 13th track.

However, the hero worship is kept to a minimum here, rather emphasizing Yorn’s propensity for penning strummy, midtempo pop-rockers and contemplative ballads (see lead single “Come Back Home” for an example of the former, “Turn of the Century” for the latter). In fact, he acknowledges his past role-playing on the brief intro that opens the album: “I could have been somebody else, but now I’m me this time.” Throughout Day I Forgot, pensive and deeply personal lyrics are wrapped around simple melodies to great effect, as on the father-son rumination “All at Once” (“the old man in the kitchen, I think he’s part of me”), and every last song has a hook to die for.

Ultimately, Day I Forgot is a consistent and largely rewarding album. If Yorn continues to hone his craft, album number three could propel him to “great songwriter” status. In the meantime, he’s made himself another pretty darn good record.

—John Brodeur

Geoff Muldaur
Beautiful Isle of Somewhere (Tradition & Moderne)

Recorded live in BremEn, Germany, in 1999, the live Beautiful Isle of Somewhere captures Geoff Muldaur a couple years into his return to active performing and recording. While Muldaur’s shows are normally interspersed with colorful introductions to the material, offering context and personal anecdote along the way, he skipped the approach in Bremen, owing to the language divide. Sticking to just the songs, the album’s a robust 65 minutes that include many of the numbers that have become a part of his core repertoire. From the title song to Blind Willie Johnson’s “Trouble Soon Be Over,” Muldaur freely mingles genres and eras for a rich blend that flows like one man’s vision. Accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, he plays with the flair and dramatics of the arranger that he also is. Muldaur’s voice, which has been a marvel of an instrument since first committed to tape in the ’60s, is at a peak. As he glides in and out of falsetto on “The Wild Ox Moan,” it calls in every goose bump within a hundred miles.

—David Greenberger

Love You Just the Same (Misra)

Centro-matic make a joyous noise that’s all indie—guitar grumble, lightly twinkled piano (like notes falling down a staircase), Will Johnson’s emotive whine and a drummer who vacillates between the powerful certainty of John Bonham and the soulful funk of Levon Helm. Sometimes it all comes off like the Pavement of “Summer Babe,” feeding a jones for Crazy Horse. However, that comparison, while perhaps capturing the group’s essence, never quite gets across their originality or earnest beauty. (Though, like early-’90s Pavement, the less consciously clever Centro-matic are ripe for discovery, whether it’s by the indie-rock hipsterati or a lucky few.)

This is actually the seventh full-length album from the Denton, Texas, underground heroes. Leader Johnson is intimidatingly prolific: He’s recorded 200 songs since 1996 (with Centro-matic and various outside projects). But don’t feel like you missed the boat; there’s some strict quality control, and the compelling, rough-hewn beauty of Love You Just the Same is vintage Centro-matic.

“Flashes and Cables” works itself up from a plaintively quiet opening to a grand landscape of tumbling, pretty piano notes, cascading drums, expansive cymbal splashes and steady guitar grind. Johnson hovers above it all with his euphoric “Ba-Ba-Da-Da-Dum”’s. And that’s the thing with this group: No matter the starting point, there’s usually a breathtakingly melodic plunge. It’s a gorgeous sleight of hand.

—Erik Hage

Ezra Weiss
The Five A.M. Strut (Umoja)

Ezra Weiss, a 24-year-old pianist from Phoenix with a bachelor’s degree in composition from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, has released a solid, swinging debut album any seasoned jazz artist would be proud of. The uniformly memorable tunes span the harmonically inventive, propulsive “Symmetrics”; the goofy, Kurt Weill-influenced “The Clown Feature”; and “I Regret,” an elegiac ballad.

Weiss, who lives and works in Portland, Ore., studied composition with Wendell Logan (the bouncy, boppish “One for Wendell” suggests an unusually warm relationship) and piano with Neal Creque and Dan Wall at Oberlin. Weiss’ prowess on both easily explains how he could put together so expert a group. Also signaling his achievement: Weiss won the 2002 ASCAP Young Jazz Composer Award.

Antonio Hart plays gorgeous alto sax, Kelly Roberge biting tenor. Drummer Billy Hart’s grooves span New Orleans second line and early Horace Silver, underlining the taut bass of Leon Lee Dorsey. Michael Philip Mossman, one of the tarter young trumpeters, gives Weiss’ surprisingly distinctive tunes their modern edge.

Weiss has absorbed the lessons of bop: attention to form, interesting and well-placed vamps, subordination of ego to composition. “One for Wendell” and the shapely “For the Youngins,” which Weiss wrote for his own students, are the most traditional and bluesy tracks here, and they’re by no means slavish.

It’s hard to pin down what makes Weiss’ music so distinctive. Perhaps it’s that even in the ballads, the tone is upbeat, the outlook positive. The way Weiss writes—passionately, wittily and with respect for his fellow musicians—attests to his talent and appetite for creativity, and suggests a long, enjoyable career.

—Carlo Wolff

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