Phish frontman Trey Anastasio puts notes to paper and gets orchestral in "Seis De Mayo", Blondie delivers a "Curse" and Yo-Yo Ma goes baroque in this week's new releases.
“Seis De Mayo,” Trey Anastasio
Phish frontman Trey Anastasio’s second solo album, “Seis De Mayo,” is a musical diary, sometimes unassuming and filled with charm, other times sweeping and bold.
Whichever, it’s the music Anastasio hears when he’s all alone.
It’s not rock ’n’ roll, really. Nor is it a collection of jam band anthems, the sort Phish helped foster decades ago. It’s Anastasio the composer, always favoring experiment over any structure.
Entirely instrumental with seven tracks lasting a total of 29 minutes, “Seis De Mayo” transforms Phish’s music into pure composition. Many of the songs are just snippets or three-minute melodies, some already recorded under the Phish banner.
But by putting the compositions on the sheet music stands of an orchestra, “Seis De Mayo” gives them an air musical legitimacy outside the rock spectrum.
“Guyute” is the album’s longest piece, and arguably its finest. About 12 minutes of orchestral movement, listeners can hear emotive melodies that might have been drowned out in the din of a trap set.
“The Inlaw Josie Wales” is another gem. The solo guitar piece originally recorded at the band’s Vermont recording studio has been redone for guitar and strings to create a foot-tapping, feel-good sound.
Unlike Anastasio’s previous solo effort, which dripped with post-production effects and a lounge sound that left fans wincing, pairing Anastasio with an orchestra proves to be a beautiful match.
It’s a tiny album, indeed. But little — in this case — is definitely better.— Ryan Lenz
“The Curse of Blondie,” BlondieGood news first: Deborah Harry, the golden-maned singer that many wrongly assumed was Blondie, has lost little with the years. It’s fun listening to her drift between a sexy, throaty growl and little-girl innocence. Madonna should age as well.
Her band, in a continued comeback, retains the musical adventurousness it had at its peak, opening this disc with a rap then a dance floor workout that recalls “Heart of Glass.”
That’s about it, though. The curse of Blondie, it seems, is the same one that afflicts many reformed bands — what was once effortless sounds labored, clunkiness has replaced grace. Attempts to update their sound with a tougher guitar attack only makes Blondie sound generic.
And while Harry may sound good, most of what she sings is complete crud. The chorus to “Shakedown” appears to be about hiding drugs in a body cavity. Ugh. “The Tingler” opens with this laughable couplet: “Fate points the finger, it’s a double-barreled ringer.”
The only promising direction that presents itself is riding “Good Boys” and reinventing themselves as a dance act/gay icon like Cher.
Nothing else is happening here.— David Bauder
“Neighborhood Watch,” Dilated PeoplesUnabashedly trying to climb their way out of the Los Angeles underground, Dilated Peoples made a few concessions to mainstream hip-hop.
Two compositions on the group’s new “Neighborhood Watch” get a much-needed melody boost: Devin The Dude croons about “Poisonous” women and soulful producer-rapper Kanye West lends his sing-song voice and a signature soaring chorus to “This Way.”
But the other 11 songs retain the dirtier edge and slower, atmospheric beats that have mostly kept this talented crew off the radio since their major label debut in 2000.
Rappers Evidence and Rakaa Iriscience avoid gangsta cliches and don’t sing on the hooks. Their insightful rhymes about fans, politics, and the life of musicians are instead woven together by scratched-up samples, perfectly selected by the crew’s DJ Babu and New York-based collaborator Alchemist.
The skilled Babu is spotlighted on the Gang Starr homage “DJ Babu in Deep Concentration,” and his precision scratching on “Love and War” and other songs sometimes upstages the rappers.
But overall, production on “Neighborhood Watch” ranges from subpar to mediocre, no single theme emerges, and Evidence’s monotone voice doesn’t always command attention. Dilated may have dug up a hit song with “This Way,” but their album isn’t headed way up the charts.— Ryan Pearson
“Vivaldi’s Cello,” Yo-Yo Ma
Yo-Yo Ma has gone Baroque. After albums that took him to the musical destinations of Brazil, the Silk Road and China, everybody’s favorite cellist has returned home to the traditional repertoire.
His new album on Sony, “Vivaldi’s Cello,” features a range of works by the Italian Baroque composer, including a transcription of the “Winter” Largo movement from “The Four Seasons,” originally written for violin, and the concerto for two cellos.
Ma is such a dexterous technician that one could almost imagine him doing the impossible — playing both cello parts at the same time. However, British cellist Jonathan Manson plays the second solo part, and quite well.
The album, with Ton Koopman leading the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra, also has two other cello concertos and works originally for voice arranged by the conductor.
Ma and the other musicians play the fast movements with the joyfulness of an 18th century city dweller arriving at a lush country estate for a summer vacation. In the slow movements, Ma opens up his soul as he plays on his 1712 “Davidoff” Stradivarius.
For Koopman, who conducts from the harpsichord and organ keyboards, the album is a reunion with Ma. They collaborated on two “Simply Baroque” CDs.
Welcome home Yo-Yo!— Martin Steinberg