René Marie "This Is (Not) a Protest Song"(self-released)
René Marie's new single is a near-perfect combination of art and idealism. It's independently produced, packaged and distributed by Marie, and she's donating every penny of the proceeds to charities for the homeless. It would be a worthy purchase no matter how good the song was, and the song is very good indeed. It's a moving, highly personal statement that has been a showstopper in her recent performances, including appearances at Lincoln Center and last summer's concert in Dogwood Dell. It's more country than jazz, a lilting melodic delineation of descent, of shattered lives being scratched out on the street. The stories are all true, drawn from Marie's own family, and its fall through insanity, alcohol and abuse are delivered with matter-of-fact grace. She's not interested in judgment or explanations, just practical compassion. It's a simple message: "These people need help. Help them." ****
Rene Marie's music is available at Plan 9 Music and at www.renemarie.com.
Stephen Vitiello "Listening to Donald Judd"(Sub Rosa)
An assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, Stephen Vitiello is a globe-trotting, avant-garde sound artist. His work is, among other things, about transformation: figuring out how, with the aid of technology, to turn things you'd normally see or touch into sound. His early 2001 record, "Bright and Dusty Things," for example, converted measurements of light taken at the top of New York's then-standing World Trade Center into gurgling, groaning drones.
For this record he journeyed to Marfa, Texas, to capture sound in and around the compound founded there by the late visual artist and noted minimalist Donald Judd. Vitiello recorded trains going by, put contact microphones directly on Judd's sculptures, and allowed a field of crickets to serve as a Greek chorus. He then brought the raw materials back to Richmond and mixed them with the help of Bryan Hoffa at Sound of Music.
It's a subtle album, to be sure, sometimes barely there. With its long stretches of silence and indistinct electronic pings and rumbles, you're often not sure if what you're hearing is coming from the speakers or from outside your apartment. But over time, the structure begins to congeal and "Listening to Donald Judd" becomes alternately soothing and disturbing, transforming your living room into a wind-swept desert at twilight. *** Mark Richardson