Kris Kristofferson, “Closer to the Bone” (New West)
There's a point when tastefully austere albums made by aging country stars become unrelentingly grim. “Closer to the Bone” is, like Kris Kristofferson's last album, largely acoustic and down-tempo, thoughtfully written and gently performed, but it nevertheless sounds like someone who's putting his affairs in order. He makes peace with his family (“From Here to Forever,” which he introduces by saying he wrote for his kids), his woman (“Holy Woman”) and his friends (“Sister Sinead,” defending the singer during a concert event in 1992). It's a dire affair, not just addressing mortality but also obsessing over it. Kristofferson perks up a bit on “Good Morning John,” which adds a ragged rhythm section that punches up his ode to Johnny Cash, and he sounds a bit livelier on “Tell Me One More Time” and the hidden track “I Hate Your Ugly Face.” Still, walking a fine line between grave and dreary, “Closer to the Bone” too often teeters toward the latter. HHIII — Stephen M. Deusner
Avett Brothers, “I and Love and You” (Sony)
They've howled at the moon, screamed at love lost and wept by the river. If the Avett Brothers aren't busy blasting away bad memories with hard acoustics and wild screams, they're singing softly at the grave where they buried them.
The North Carolina-based band's road to success started from down-home string pickin' and punk-rock recklessness. The traditional strings persist — including Seth Avett's acoustic guitar, brother Scott's banjo and Bob Crawford's upright bass — but electric guitars, mild drumming and Joe Kwon's cello fill “I and Love and You” in a way that's calm, urbane and altogether modern. Emotions have softened as well. Once sore with grief and rage, new lyrics focus on healing old wounds. Both in pop-infused hits such as “Kick Drum Heart” and softer, sweeter melodies such as “Laundry Room,” the Avetts sing of romance and redemption like never before.
The group's more-mainstream sound, however — not to mention, a controversial West Coast “sell-out” to superstar producer Rick Rubin — hasn't sullied good, true songwriting. “There's a darkness upon me that's flooded in light,” Scott cries in one track, promising that styles may change, but old truths remain. HHHII — Ford Prior
DVD: “Anvil! The Story of Anvil” (VH1 Films)
Canadian heavy-metal band Anvil isn't Spinal Tap, as much as one might think from its circumstances. It's just a hard-rocking, goofily grinning band of throwbacks to the early '80s who could never push through to the next level — whereas successors such as Metallica, Guns N' Roses and Slayer — who all speak highly of Anvil as an influence — would reach millions.
This acclaimed documentary focuses on the tempered, lifelong friendship between the founders - vocalist and guitarist Steve "Lips" Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner - whose lives have sunken into grinding manual labor jobs but whose passion for their shared teenage dream has never diminished. The film's director, Sacha Gervasi, was a roadie for the band in his younger years and resists the temptation to lampoon Anvil as it goes on a disastrous, low-budget European tour, portraying them more realistically as thoughtful metal loyalists who refuse to see the glass half-empty, even as Lips says of his career, "it could never be worse than what it already is."
Whether you like metal or not, you find yourself rooting for the band to find any measure of success, considering that it has duly observed that old truism: Talent plus preserverance equals luck. The films's assured execution is straightforward and filled with honest laughs, but it's the tenacious story of hope in the face of overwhelming odds that makes this one of this year's must-see documentaries. As Lips says after the heartwarming closing scene in Japan: "It has nothing to do with the song ... The most expensive and most valuable thing in your life is your relationships, the people that you know, the places you've been and the experiences you've had." HHHHI - Brent Baldwin
Miramar, “Self-titled” (Locutormusic)
The mostly forgotten music championed by Miramar is a flashback to a lost romantic age;. These love songs and anti-love songs might be playing softly on a Bakelite radio in “Mad Men” — had that show been set in San Juan or Havana. Although there is much in the performance that is immediate and modern, Miramar is pinned in its specific time and place by the keyboards of leader, Marlysse ArgandoAña Simmons, especially the sinuous, compellingly cheesy electric organ that, like its '50s and '60s heyday, shimmers between the archaic and the modern.
Simmons, like Miramar singer Rei Alvarez and percussionist Giustino Riccio, is a member of Bio Ritmo, the area's premier salsa band. In many ways, Miramar is a mellow counterpart to Bio Ritmo's flash and exuberance. The songs — classic Latin-American “boleros,” often transcribed from original vinyl recordings — are mostly midtempo and meditative. Alverez's restrained, burnished vocals will be a revelation to those accustomed to his hearing his voice slice through the Bio Ritmo mix. Relative newcomer Laura Anne Singh, the female voice in these largely duo songs, has a lovely tone and texture that intertwines sensuously with Alvarez. Bassist Rusty Farmer and guitarists Keith Harding and Bryan Vargas complete the group.
While Miramar is necessarily a side project to the internationally acclaimed Bio Ritmo, members do have a regular monthly gig at the elegant Que Pasa Cantina at 25th and L streets in Church Hill. And the debut CD is definitely worth sampling, perhaps with rum, lime and the salt from a few bittersweet tears. HHHHI — Peter McElhinney