Sorrow and Snakes (self-released)
I first heard The Wayfarers at an Elks Lodge on the Eastern Shore, which is probably the best way to experience a band that plays Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Gram Parsons, and a bunch of similarly spirited originals. Throw in some cheap beer and an audience that can profoundly relate to the lyrics of "Lost Highway," and it's guaranteed to be a memorable evening. But if you can't check out The Wayfarers under such ideal conditions, this CD will suffice. Its 12 songs—most written by guitarist/vocalist Brad Dunnells—resonate with a poetic twang that informs the best country music. With singer Laura Malkus in the mix, "Some Women," "No Lies," and "Saturday Night Shirt" succeed mightily as honky-tonk hymns for fallen angels. Such tunes should be in heavy rotation at Elks Lodges, honky-tonks, truck stops, Waffle Houses, and corner bars everywhere.
History, Mystery (Nonesuch)
It's hard keeping up with Frisell, arguably the most prolific guitarist on the contemporary jazz scene. In fact, I'd pretty much resolved to not write about this project, because Frisell cranks out CDs at such a brisk pace, and his connection to Baltimore—born here, moved away as a youngster—wasn't particularly strong. But wouldn't you know, I'm checking out History, Mystery and spot a tune called "Waltz for Baltimore," which turns out to be the best song on this ambitious, two-disc set. It starts with Frisell picking sparse, dreamy, elegant notes that are soon bolstered by viola and cello. As the sound thickens, Jenny Scheinman's looping violin signals a mood change, which Greg Tardy's rambunctious tenor sax confirms. As Tardy struts and shouts with blues-like fervor, the band's skewed waltz tilts and twists but never collapses, thanks to Frisell's imaginative playing. As homage, it's entirely appropriate for a city that tilts, twists, and shouts with a fervor all its own.
Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Dvorak: Symphony No. 9
"From the New World," Symphonic Variations (Naxos)
On her latest recording with the BSO, Alsop tackles the familiar "New World Symphony" with gratifying results. Under her guidance, the orchestra buoys the melodies and anchors the rhythms with a precision that underscores the piece's overall sense of wonder and discovery. To everyone's credit, this interpretation also explores a wider emotional range and hints at a yearning for the "old world." It's the sort of recording that makes an excellent first impression and provides the BSO—which barely recorded at all during the Temirkanov era—with a long overdue presence in the commercial marketplace.