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A & E
Recordings, 8/5/2001

Sunday, August 05, 2001

Records are rated on a scale of one (poor) to four (excellent) stars:

Country

"Mountain Soul,"
Patty Loveless.

Sony.

This is easily the best album so far this year in country music. And I do mean country. There's no rock or pop dilution here; rather, this acoustic CD is pure bluegrass and old-time country at their best.

The 14-song collection marks Patty Loveless' return to her roots as a coal miner's daughter from eastern Kentucky. Like her cousin Loretta Lynn, Loveless, 44, is best on sad songs and traditional country ballads. Lynn stuck to those, but Loveless kept afloat with some albums of pop and rock country. Occasionally, she'd show how really great she could sing by tossing in a sad, traditional song.

The masterpiece of the current album is the old Porter Wagoner-Dolly Parton duet "Just Someone I Used to Know." Loveless' duet partner is Lorrie Morgan's former husband, Jon Randall, and their version is equal to if not better than the Wagoner-Parton original.

Throughout the album, instrumental backup is strong -- fiddle, guitar, five-string banjo, dobro, dulcimer and mandolin.

Travis Tritt joins Loveless for a mighty fine version of the Reno and Smiley number "I Know You Are Married, But I Love You Still" and Melba Montgomery's "Out of Control Raging Fire."

"The Boys Are Back In Town" is foot-stompin', frolicking bluegrass. And "You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive," with an excellent banjo intro by writer Darrell Scott, is Loveless at her best -- sad, sweet and sensational.

-- Jerry Sharpe

"Part II,"
Brad Paisley.
Arista.

Two years ago with his debut album, Brad Paisley, 28, emerged as a great young hope for traditional country music. Now, with this disc, the young man from Glen Dale, near Wheeling, W.Va., polishes that image.

In fact, Paisley, who doesn't hide his sentiments, said he named this album "Part II" because "any good movie usually has a Part II."

In keeping with his love for traditional music, Paisley includes "Too Country?," which asks the question, "Is honest and true just not in demand?" Traditionalists Buck Owens, George Jones and Bill Anderson lend their vocals to the track, which Anderson also highlighted at the Grand Ole Opry.

On "Munster Rag," Paisley shows off his considerable guitar skills. On the haunting "You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive," his love of traditional country is again on display.

He even keeps in step with the old-time country radio programs by including the gospel favorite "The Old Rugged Cross."

-- Jerry Sharpe

Classical

"A Sense of Time: Music of Efrain Amaya,"
various artists.
Elan.

Carnegie Mellon instructor, conductor and composer Efrain Amaya has called on the help of the university for his first CD. Carnegie Mellon Wind Ensemble, Cuarteto Latinoamericano and faculty members Alberto Almarza (flute) and Luz Manriquez (piano) are among the collaborators for this collection of his works.

The compositional aesthetic of Amaya, who was born in Venezuela, is cosmopolitan and diverse and not without flair. True originality is hard to find on this album, but the music is well-crafted and by no means merely derivative. Certainly the past emphasis on composers reinventing the wheel for their output has grown tiresome by now. Amaya's String Quartet No. 1 has shades of Villa-Lobos in its electricity, sonority and flavor, but it sings with its own voice. Cuarteto Latinoamericano gives it a passionate reading. In many works, Amaya's use of mode is sophisticated, especially in his willingness not to let it limit him. Dissonance frequently shows up in a modal context with splendid results.

Three early wind pieces, Brass Quintet (1982), "Ikarus" (1982) and "Polaris" (1987), are expressive in a more academic sense, though the latter contains an interesting ground bass. Amaya's later works incorporate more post-minimalist traits and also exhibit more compositional confidence.

"Pajaros de tres alas" from 1996 is an atmospheric work performed well by the Wind Ensemble. Also more recent are "Duo Ami," a compelling work for flute and piano played by Almarza and Manriquez that winds around itself in exquisite fashion, and "Flashbacks" for piano and percussion, a lighthearted and ironic remembrance of '70s glam pop and Latin beats. At least it had better be ironic; it's a bit corny in its overdone flourishes.

All in all, a good debut effort for Amaya.

-- Andrew Druckenbrod

"Classical French Horn Works Played by Dennis Brain."
Various composers
BBC Legends.

Though dead for 44 years, the 20th century's pre-eminent French horn virtuoso, Dennis Brain, has two new CDs on the market. Until now, enthusiasts were left with few records to treasure after the Englishman was cut down in his prime during a 1957 auto accident. Sure, we had Brain's ethereal surveys of Mozart's horn concertos, but where was the artist's take on Brahms' trio incorporating the instrument? Yes, we had his muscular version of Hindemith's concerto written especially for the soloist, but where was his essay on Haydn's affecting concerto?

Well, search no longer. Brain is featured both as soloist and part of various small ensembles in these landmark reissues. The recordings, stemming from 1953 to just a week before his death, all come from broadcasts on BBC Radio 3. They not only are unique historical documents but also provide even further testament to the player's ability to imitate the human voice. In his hands, even the most somber phrases of classical repose become mini-arias full of intimate emotion.

The 20-bit digital remastering brings these performances into sharp focus, losing little of the subtlety of the original source. These discs represent yet another triumph in a series that has been characterized by such successes.

Scouring the BBC vaults, our British cousins have quenched many an audiophile's thirst for seemingly nonexistent recordings. Another great example is the continuing series of CDs featuring conductor Sir Thomas Beecham. A two-disc set of Sibelius works not only confirms the conductor's position as one of the masters of the repertoire, but also goes a long way to disproving some critics' claims that the Finish composer is as cold as his country's climate. Even more staggering is a set of works conducted by Nadia Boulanger, including pieces written by her sister Lili.

With such marvels already unearthed, we only can wait impatiently for future offerings.

-- Steven Singer

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