Inara George with Van Dyke Parks
An Invitation (Everloving)
Inara George was born in Baltimore in 1974, when her father, Little Feat's Lowell George, was in town recording Feats Don't Fail Me Now with his buddy Van Dyke Parks. Inara, who now lives in California, never knew her dad that well—he passed away when she was just five—but she's collaborating with his old friend. Parks, who's known for creating orchestral arrangements for the likes of The Beach Boys, U2, and Joanna Newsom, gives her songs a lush, symphonic sheen that would make Nat King Cole blush. Over the course of these 13 tracks, Parks pulls out all the stops, and George's coy singing occasionally gets lost amidst the swelling, swirling instrumentation. At times, it's just too much. But I'd love to hear Parks and George as a duo, without all the puffery.
Manuel Barrueco/Cuarteto Latinoamericano
Sounds of the Americas (Tonar)
The pairing of Peabody's Manuel Barrueco and Cuarteto Latinoamericano, once again, yields sublime results. Last year, the master guitarist and Mexican string quartet recorded Tango Sensations, a rousing set of Astor Piazzolla compositions that was the most evocative and satisfying interpretation of the tango master's material I'd ever heard. This time around, they tackle pieces by four other composers: Michael Daugherty, Gabriela Lena Frank, Aaron Jay Kernis, and Roberto Sierra. The disc opens with Daugherty's "Bay of Pigs," an elegy for Cuba. Its three movements reflect Cuba's turbulent vitality, especially the first piece, "Havana Dreams." In it, Barrueco uses a snippet of Jimi Hendrix's "The Wind Cries Mary" to foreshadow the cascading, roiling, and swirling passages he plays over the urgent, almost violent, strings. Considering the U.S.'s tangled and tortuous history with Cuba, Daugherty's bittersweet reference to Hendrix borders on genius. Of the remaining material—which all comes highly recommended—Kernis's "100 Greatest Dance Hits" stands out as a piece that, on paper, seems disastrous. According to the composer, its influences include rock's African roots, salsa, and easy listening music, with "a final movement steeped in 70s disco and gentle funk." Sounds suspect, doesn't it? But amazingly, those disparate elements add up to a focused, engaging, and spirited composition. And it makes me wonder what these guys will do next.
Where the Script Ends (self-released)
Grasonville's Glenn Shiring crafts an unlikely Black Keys/Portishead hybrid over the course of 14 tunes that meander around the periphery of psychedelic blues. The vibe is heavy, the playing nimble, as Shiring weds unfettered creativity to a blues genre that could use more of this sort of experimentation.