Violin Concerto No. 2: The American Four Seasons (Orange Mountain Music)
Glass wrote this concerto for violinist Robert McDuffie, who had encouraged the composer to write a companion piece to Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Here, each movement—or season, if you will—is preceded by a solo piece for McDuffie, and he does an excellent job navigating the breadth of the entire work. Although Glass hasn't assigned a season to each movement, it progresses from a sort of autumnal contemplation to a summery rapture that makes the most of Glass's pulsing rhythms and nicely mirrors Vivaldi's original. Conducting the London Philharmonic, the BSO's Marin Alsop summons waves of arpeggios from the string section, and McDuffie rides the swells with precision and balance. Alsop's efforts never overwhelm the soloist; instead, they complement his playing and give it buoyancy it might not otherwise have.
I Wasn't Built for a Life Like This (self-released)
Over the past few years, Stine seemed to turn up everywhere, playing large and small venues, hosting songwriter showcases, appearing in a play about Woody Guthrie, and collaborating with everyone from country standout Arty Hill to rapper Saleem. So I suspected his new disc might reflect that whirlwind of activity with stitched together guest appearances and scratch-my-back cameos. Smartly, he eschewed that type of FrankenStine approach and opted for its exact opposite. And if the title alludes to "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times"—the classic tune off The Beach Boys's lush masterpiece, Pet Sounds—the sound of that song has little in common with the stripped-down, understated elegance of these 10 pieces. With just an acoustic guitar, a graveyard shift worldview, and a lonesome drawl to match, Stine exudes a world-weary vibe infused with dogged optimism on "My Service Isn't Needed Anymore," "Doing Time in Baltimore," and the title track. And when he opts for more impressionistic lyrics on "Woman of the Mango," the result is surprisingly expansive, but no less intimate than his straight narratives, and you can sense a writer getting outside himself and taking his craft to the next level.
Last of the Tight Wiggers (self-released)
Thanks to Free and coproducer "Secret Weapon Dave" Barresi's naughty and nice rhymes, loping beats, and silly skits, this wickedly fun disc exudes a golden age vibe and evokes Prince Paul, Wu-Tang, and even Grandmaster Flash in the process. Free also wrangles cameos from local rockers Arbouretum and Wye Oak, and they add unexpected twists to "Secret Riot" and a startling cover of Wye Oak's "That I Do." Coupled with Free's roguish charm, such surprises put this disc in heavy rotation.