|A Hot Mess||The Heart Ons||2:47|
|Drag Racing||The Heart Ons||2:53|
|Hiroshima Block Party||The Heart Ons||5:40|
|I Lost My Soul||The Heart Ons||4:13|
|Va Va Vanity||The Heart Ons||2:42|
|Rogue||The Heart Ons||3:49|
Bridget St. John has a small legion of fans willing to do battle for their hero, but to most she sounds like a pleasant, secondary British folk-rock artist of the early 1970s. Those impressions won't be changed by this, her third album, mixing low-key originals with covers of songs by Bob Dylan and Buddy Holly, as well as one of her most popular tracks, an interpretation of the traditional folk tune "Lazarus." Simply put, St. John doesn't come within bow-and-arrow range of Sandy Denny or Maddy Prior. She favors a low, slightly husky delivery that sometimes brings to mind what Marianne Faithfull might have sounded like in the late '70s had Faithfull's voice lowered naturally, instead of being ravaged. Reserve can be effective, but it sounds like St. John would need to be roasted over an open flame before her temperature rose.
[The album was reissued on CD in 1995, with the addition of eight bonus tracks from a live performance in 1972.]
Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone define the spaghetti western style of film and music so squarely, the competition is barely considered. It was on the backs of films such as this 1967 smash, starring a pre-Dirty Harry Clint Eastwood, that their well-known reputation rests. The CD is more than you expect. Of course, Morricone has that unique style that he and older, less Italian-influenced Western film composers made synonymous with the action from St. Louis to the Rockies, and the deserts from there to the coast. There are the clip-clop beats similar to the trot of horses, the weary harmonica trill, and the peculiar whistling, that puckered sound of aloneness that still makes one think of solitary battles against the self as much as mounted foes. But Morricone also loves rustic, romantic orchestrations that use his whole orchestra. When a trumpet hits a solo on "Theme From Fistful of Dollars," backed by chilly strings and Spanish-strummed acoustic guitars, it's one of Byronic, beautiful, spacious solitude. Cymbals crash over a piano's bass keys, amidst rumbling trumpets and trombones, and the thump of timpani. Flutes and violins dart as much as thrust and parry, and background voices "Ahhh" in that everyman way, along with whip-cracks. It's all pretty prairie, rolling hills, grasslands and cattle, wagon wheels, and unshaven men with uncertain life spans. It's so mood-setting, you expect to see cactus or bison outside your door instead of an asphalt city. It's instrumental music that's a veritable co-star in a motion picture, not a pack of pre-recorded hit songs all wedged into a film like large square pegs into tiny round holes. This is authentic film scoring, and it is as alluring and inviting as Leone's movie itself. You can see it just to hear this.
Ottawa, Canada's Souljazz Orchestra have been around since 2002, releasing three albums of Afro-beat-inspired jazz before Rising Sun, their fourth. But despite a name that's unfortunately similar to jazz-fusion and jam band favorite Soulive, the Canadian sextet manages to make music that stays relatively true and honest to its inspirations without sounding either derivative or exploitative. This is especially true of the songs that stay closer to the jazz realm, which makes sense: Souljazz's members were trained in, and started in, jazz, and they seem most comfortable here. This means even when the African and Latin influences are added in, as in "Mamaya" (the name of a Guinean dance from the '40s) or the lovely "Consecration" -- which starts with a riff off the first section of Miles Davis' version of "Concierto de Aranjuez" (albeit with saxophone instead of trumpet) before moving into something more upbeat, a swinging modal jazz piece with plenty of room for exploratory solos -- there's an understanding in the listener that the music comes from a sincere and well-kept place. It's not that the songs that move away from this direction -- the Afro-beaty "Agbara" and Mulata Astatke-inspired "Negus Negast" are the two prominent examples -- sound insincere, there's just something a little bit off, the drums in "Negus Negast" mixed just a little too loud, the background vocals in "Agbara" a little too pretty (something, that needs to be noted, contemporaries like Antibalas and Budos Band have been able to avoid), something that hints just slightly of the "world music made palatable" phenomenon. Fortunately, these moments are few and distant enough that after all is said and done, Rising Sun still feels like a victory.