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Now Hear This

Reviews of new releases by Lee Ann Womack, Dave Holland Sextet, Tom Petty and more.


Lee Ann Womack, “Call Me Crazy” (MCA Nashville)

Though she'll always be known for her treacly 2000 smash “I Hope You Dance,” Lee Ann Womack reinvented herself on 2005's retro “There's More Where That Came From,” a collection of traditional country tunes that emphasizes heartache and twang in equal measure. Three years later, she's finally making good on the promise of that title with a follow-up that straddles the line between new and old.

While it lacks its predecessor's sense of surprise, “Call Me Crazy” conveys all the conflicted heartbreak of classic country, yet feels strongly rooted in the present, thanks to Womack's tender vocals and Tony Brown's elegant production. She makes “Last Call” and “Solitary Thinkin'” sound like glorious downers, and “Everything But Quits,” her duet with George Strait, could be a countrypolitan classic.

Occasionally the songwriting succumbs to unwieldy concepts and groaning wordplay — “The Bees” is an extended metaphor about wanting a, ahem, sweeter life — but Womack's honeyed vocals can redeem even the clunkiest material. HHHII— Stephen M. Deusner

Dave Holland Sextet, “Pass It On” (Emarcy/PGD)

It's not faint praise to say that Dave Holland may be the most consistently interesting player to graduate from Miles Davis' late-'60s-early-'70s electric bands — a class stacked with the likes of John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette and Keith Jarrett. Dozens of recordings feature him playing standards as a sideman, yet he cleaves almost exclusively to driving, bracing originals on his own CDs. He's a master of uncluttered complexity, alternating between transparent multilayered ensemble sections with generous space for solos.

The long-stable Holland band has changed. Trombonist Robin Eubanks remains, but drummer Eric Harland replaces Virginia Commonwealth University alum Nate Smith. Antonio Hard also replaces saxophonist Chris Potter and trumpeter Alex Sipiagin expands the quartet to a quintet. The biggest change in the sound, however, is the addition of pianist Mulgrew Miller in the role previously played by vibraphonist Steve Nelson. With Miller, the angular compositions acquire a sound that harkens back to a gospel and blues tradition, making it a bit easier to draw a parallel between Holland and another great bassist and composer, Charles Mingus. “Pass it On” is recommended not just for its own considerable charms, but for the gateway it opens to Holland's exemplary career. HHHHI— Peter McElhinney


Taj Weekes and Adowa, “Deidem” (Jatta Records)

St. Lucia-born reggae singer Taj Weekes has a lot on his mind, from touring to running his nonprofit, They Often Cry Outreach, which aims to improve the lives of underprivileged children. So he keeps his music simple.

Not trying to push the envelope with overdone studio magic, Weekes' latest release is refreshingly honest. Staying true to the roots traditions of Marley and the Skatalites, “Deidem” commands respect with classic Caribbean percussion, funky guitar flourishes and one of the most chilling quartets of female back-up singers you'll ever hear in reggae.

Weekes sports a smoky yet serene voice, soaring high into the alto range.
“The people have the power to affect change,” Weekes sings about the effects of genocide, response to natural disasters and pre-emptive war. Even if his music isn't pioneering, the lyrics do the genre proud, as in “Propaganda War” — “tailored lies untutored scores/a truth a hiding spree/Oh how frail reality.” And songs like “We Stand” and “Hollow Display” show the profound musical dialogue Adowa has developed amongst its members. So nice to see there's still room for simplicity. HHHHI — Roberto Curtis

DVD: “Running Down a Dream: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers” (dir. Peter Bogdanovich)

One might think legendary director Peter Bogdanovich of “The Last Picture Show” fame would set his sights a little higher than a fawning, four-hour, VH1 Behind-the-Music-styled rock biography — but with this Tom Petty lovefest, he doesn't.

Never much of an innovator either, Petty has been a steady hitmaker through the past four decades with more than 50 million records sold, building a career strong on melodic instinct and snarky Southern attitude. In interviews, he comes across as a relatively honest, mellow dude who owes much to his rebellious hero, Bob Dylan.

Using archival footage and interviews — mostly with the singer and his bandmates — the film covers Petty's career from its humble beginnings in Gainesville, Fla., through gutsy legal battles with MCA Records, surviving an arsonist who burned down his house, classic inner-band squabbles, the heroin-related death of a bass player and Petty's softening into a mainstream solo artist focused on heavily produced FM hits — a trend which seemed to have begun after his friendship with producer Jeff Lynne (of ELO) and a stint in the Traveling Wilburys.

Bogdanovich offers a nice overview of the music, but never seems to get below the surface into what makes his subject tick. Petty has his own demons, which might shed some insight into his career, but they're nowhere to be found here. Nor are there many extras or live performances — a sin on a two-DVD set. To get the extras, you have to buy the four-disc box set. Don't do us like that, Petty. HHHII — Brent Baldwin

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