Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, "Songs by Mahler, Handel and Peter Lieberson" (BBC Recording)
Hope? Passion? Despair? It depends on what song you're talking about. When it comes to mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, it seems more appropriate to rate a performance not with stars, but on the Richter scale. An explosive artist who's been likened to Maria Callas, she sings with such intensity it's as if she's with you in the room. In reality, she's singing before a live audience at Wigmore Hall Nov. 30, 1998, and only since this album has been released have people not in attendance been able to hear what they missed: a spiritual that's sung like a love song. Dynamics not dictated, but sensed. Text and music that are treated as one concept. A singer who finds the soul of whatever she's singing, the late Hunt Lieberson leaves us, in her final encore by Brahms, with "Himmlische Genüge" (heavenly satisfaction).-- Chantal Panozzo
Tegan & Sara, "The Con" (Sire/London/Rhino)
Tegan & Sara are about to learn the pitfalls of creating an indie-pop wonder like 2004's "So Jealous." Audiences now expect nothing less than greatness from these twin Canadians. Here, their crisp, sugary vocals and captivating hooks are still intact. But this sisters fall short in comparison and seem to have lost a sense of levity that resonated in prior discs. Perhaps we can blame maturity or the hand of Death Cab for Cutie's Chris Walla, who co-produced the disc, but "the something" that dropped jaws three years ago is missing.
Notwithstanding, the girls deliver an above-average disc that is rooted deeply in thoughtful words, fuzzy guitars and synth-soaked rhythms. The title track is vibrant and raw, capturing the ferocity of a garage band in their prime slightly tamed by a hint of new wave pop. "Are You Ten Years Ago" toys with digital beats and half-spoken vocals that liken the girls to a gentler, sanitized Peaches. However, despite high points on the album, Tegan and Sara are holding back this go-round. Hilary Langford
Jaylib, "Champion Sound" (Stones Throw Records)
Beyond being a respected litmus test in deciphering real hip-hop heads from prepackaged studio drug lords, the reissued Jaylib classic "Champion Sound" is an acquired taste that appeals on the strength of its production alone. The tracks have an unsettling darkness that breaks from the standard 16-bar format. This bewilders listeners accustomed to the Casio-keyboard, one-handed, nursery-rhyme-sounding melodies dominating rap songs on today's radio stations. No, this is for the more adventurous.
The collaboration of the late producer J Dilla of Slum Village and Madlib, Jaylib is replete with landscapes ranging from obscure blaxploitation comedic acts to synth-heavy, '80s-styled instrumentals. "McNasty Filth" starts it off with the moody equivalent of Jaylib (with guest rappers Frank-N-Dank) lifting a leg and marking sonic territory. "Nowadayz" is a smart, cynical take on the challenges of modern romance. Although the rhymes focus on standard themes crime, machismo, females a quirky sense of humor and the sonic daring of the tracks have the edgy feel of a late-night college radio show.
Surprisingly engaging deliveries on "Strip Club," "Survival Test" and "Starz" give clichéd scenarios a breath of fresh air. Above all, "Champion Sound" should be checked just to experience what two respected, dangerously unique producers free of pop-radio formats are capable of pulling off. William Ashanti Hobbs
DVD: "You're Gonna Miss Me: A Film About Roky Erickson" (Palm Pictures)
One of the great "lost" rock singers, Roky Erickson started strong in the '60s as the thrilling lead singer of The 13th Floor Elevators, a group many credit with starting psychedelic rock. But heavy drug use and an unfortunate stint in a maximum-security Texas mental hospital, where he received electroshock therapy, derailed his life and career for about 30 years.
This harrowing and riveting documentary examines his tragic story. Similar in many ways to the Daniel Johnston documentary, "The Devil and Daniel
Johnston," the story focuses primarily on Erickson's schizophrenia and the inner battles among his family members to save him. Although the director maintains his objectivity throughout, the human drama angle is the film's strength and greatest weakness, and those looking for more detail about Erickson's musical output may feel shortchanged.
But at least the story ends happily, with Erickson on new meds and currently enjoying a triumphant return to music after nearly wasting away, poor and alone. The DVD includes interesting extras, such as great live acoustic performances (among them "Don't Slander Me" and "Right Track Now"), as well as deleted scenes and readings from Erickson and his kooky mother. One of the great Southern rock singers of all time, his return is something to celebrate. Brent Baldwin
Ilad, "National Flags"
Richmond's own Ilad takes cues from smooth and ambient jazz, pop and a few other genres the foursome discover in their improvising. They're not above sampling the work of others, either, especially for a message. The second track, "D.O.I.," is the Declaration of Independence, as in the one written by Thomas Jefferson, set to haunting smooth rock. Most of the songs combine an ethereal mood with almost-whispered vocals by Gabe Churray, backed up by Cameron Ralston (bass) and Clifton McDaniel (guitar).
One of the standout tracks is "Looking Glass," which showcases Scott Clark's crackling, military jazz drumming, packaged within mellow, thinking man's pop. You can't get too comfortable, though, because the next track, "You Don't Need That Shit," picks up the pace and ends up wailing with some Ornette Coleman freestyle dissonance courtesy of McDaniel's guitar. Richmonders can catch Ilad every Tuesday night at Cary Street Café. Sarah Moore