Record Report (#2): August 10, 2006

Billy Bang: Vietnam: Reflections (Justin Time): The jazz violin great moves on from the astonishing Vietnam: The Aftermath, reflecting the bitter horror of his service in the war, to face the land and lore he once shot at. Here he works with two Vietnamese expatriates, bringing folk melodies into the Butch Morris conduction -- a conducted improvisation that keeps the unruly avant-jazz mostly in sync. Now Bang plans to round out the trilogy by recording the next one in Vietnam, a personal reconciliation that should be a public celebration. A- [jazz]

Hayes Carll: Little Rock (Highway 87 Music): Low-keyed country singer-songwriter, shares credits with Guy Clark and Ray Wylie Hubbard, with Bob Dylan and Steve Earle as broader influences. Still, he drapes "Good Friends" in jazz licks, wondering then recounting where they've all gone in a slice of life that takes some aging to settle down. A- [country]

Elvis Costello Live With the Metropole Orkest: My Flame Burns Blue (Deutsche Grammophone): The fancy Orkest is game enough to juice up Costello's old songbook even as the singer reverts to his father's career as a crooner -- something he has a real talent for. But the bonus "Il Sogno Suite," performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, is ordinary Euroclassical fare, an indulgence if not pretension. We used to think that Joe Jackson was the phony rocker, but Elvis has trumped him once again. B [pop vocals, classical]

Everybody's Talkin': The Very Best of Harry Nilsson (1966-77, RCA/Legacy): At 14 cuts, 44:57, this doesn't push its luck, keeping only the most undeniable hits without trying to find a matrix they might fit. Nilsson flattered and befriended multiple Beatles, but he was more symptomatic of their break-up: like them gone solo, he pursued every whim, but was closer to Lennon than McCartney, personally and sometimes in his achievements. A- [rock]

Public Enemy: Rebirth of a Nation (Guerrilla Funk): Public citizens, a hip-hop nation formed in reaction to a Reagan-Bush era that offered them nothing but reason to sharpen their attitudes and their beats. By contrast, the best they could do during the Clinton years was He Got Game. But the advent of this "son of a Bush" has fired them back up again. Even more than the analysis, which is sharp enough, it's the anger here that satisfies my own. A [rap]

Amy Rigby: Little Fugitive (Signature Sounds): First song finds a metaphor for repeatedly bouncing back from heartbreak in the virtually unkillable Rasputin. Second puzzles over her new husband's ex-wife treating her so nice. Third offers a night on the town with Joey Ramone. Fourth is a baroque lullaby about when her man loves her best. Fifth is psychedelic pop about her slutty past. Sixth bemoans needy men with a mocking chorus to rub it in. Six more follow, each with its own distinctive shape and lyrics. She's run up five straight A-list records, and this is her best ever. A [rock]

Miguel Zenón: Jíbaro (Marsalis Music/Rounder): This starts out as the music of Puerto Rico's countryside, a thick stew of Arabic and African roots, its seasoning crossed with elements from Cuba and points south. But Zenón isn't tempted by folk instruments nor does he stick to traditional melodies. He maps extraordinarily complex rhythms onto standard jazz piano-bass-drums, then improvises fast, jaunty alto sax lines in lieu of the usual vocalist. A- [jazz, world]