Gnarls Barkley, "The Odd Couple" (Downtown/Atlantic)
What began as a side project for rapper/singer Cee-Lo Green and DJ Danger Mouse has become, following the unexpected, unrepeatable success of the song "Crazy" and their debut album, "St. Elsewhere," something like a career. Instead of trying to replicate that hit single on their follow-up, again titled after a TV show, the duo cranks out a more cohesive and consistently inventive album that mashes up dark, burbling funk with bright psych-rock samples to create soul music that's simultaneously retro and futuristic.
Again, Green exposes his inner demons on songs such as "Surprise" and "Whatever," which could be another Violent Femmes cover, but the album is much darker than its predecessor, to the point of apocalyptic. "Either you run right now," he sings on "Run," "or you best get ready to die." This couple really isn't so odd. Despite Danger Mouse's many collaborations, his ultimate muse is still Green, who in turn has never sounded livelier or more beautifully weird than he does in Mouse's production. HHHHI -- Stephen Deusner
Kathy Mattea, "Coal" (Captain Potato/Thirty Tigers)
With discouraging news about the rising costs of oil, the scarcity of natural resources and the need for alternative fuels, Kathy Mattea's new collection of mining songs, simply titled "Coal," possesses a stark, unexpected relevance. On these 11 covers by Jean Ritchie, Hazel Dickens, Merle Travis and Billy Edd Wheeler Mattea recounts the high human costs of mining the materials that have sustained our country.
Ritchie's bleak "The L&N Don't Stop Here Anymore" opens the album on a solemn note, as Mattea, a West Virginia native who dedicates the album to her two miner grandfathers, reimagines the personal devastation the industry wrought on previous generations. Mattea's voice has grown more commanding with age, and this Appalachian setting suits her better than Nashville did. Thanks to a freewheeling bluegrass band, not every song is dark as a dungeon, but she instills each number with urgency and gravity, ending with a powerful a cappella performance of Hazel Dickens' sobering "Black Lung/Coal." HHHHI S.D.
George W. Bush, "Bushspeak Volume 2: Fore More Years" (Shout Factory)
It seems painfully redundant to remind ourselves that George W. Bush is likely the worst president of all time, especially now that even some Republicans have jumped ship on him. But considering the comedic careers launched and sustained over his presidency (does anybody remember Jon Stewart pre-Dubya?), it's worth listening to more of his greatest hits compiled in this second volume.
It's all here: the first-grade level sentence construction, the dyslexic redneck pronunciation and, threading it all, the alarming twin towers of arrogance and ignorance. The disc is broken into six revealing themes: On the rules: "See, in my line of work, you gotta keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in to kinda catapult the propaganda." Or gems such as: "If I wanted to break the law, why was I briefin' Congress?" and "One has a stronger hand when there's more people playin' your same cards." On the people: "I know how tough it is. I talk to the families who die." On himself: "In Crawford we kinda shortcut it nobody's accusin' me of bein' Shakes-speare" and "One of the things I've used on the Google is to pull up maps. I like to look at the ranch, kinda remind me of where I wanna be sometimes."
In a sane world, Bush's unique skill set would have made him a fine peanut hawker at major-league baseball games, or perhaps more realistically, a permanent poolside bar fixture at a whites-only country club. What this brief disc could really use, though, is musical relief to break up the laughs (there's a fine collage on the Internet of Dubya performing "Sunday Bloody Sunday" that would've fit well, if it weren't so likely that U2 would sue).
DVDCarl Nielsen, "Maskarade" (Dacapo)
Every Dane knows "Maskarade," the comic opera by Denmark's greatest composer, Carl Nielsen, based on a story by the Norwegian-Danish poet and playwright Ludvig Holberg. But this tale of youthful rebellion against parental authority and uptight social norms rarely travels outside its Scandinavian homeland.
This video serves as a worldwide introduction to one of the best-kept secrets in musical theater a rollicking, richly tuneful showcase for big voices and sophisticated ensemble singing, couched in broad comedy and garnished with spectacular theatricality. (The acrobatic clowns alone are worth the price of admission.) As a work of musical theater, "Maskarade" is sometimes likened to Wagner's "Die Meistersinger" and Verdi's "Falstaff," grand-opera comedies that Nielsen encountered as a young musician. This production, however, more often brings to mind "The Marriage of Figaro," both the anti-authoritarian satire of Beaumarchais and the intricate play of voices and instruments in Mozart's opera. Nielsen's music is more muscular, though think Mozart on steroids.
In this staging, produced by the Danish National Theatre and Danish Broadcasting Corporation in 2006 for the 100th anniversary of the opera's premiere, "Maskarade" is updated from its original 18th-century setting to semi-retro modern times. Director Kasper Bech Holten flips the old convention of donning a mask to live out your fantasies; here, the mask is the emblem of conformity and repressed spirits.
You won't recognize any international stars in this production, but the male leads Stephen Milling as the grim father Jeronimus, Niels Jorgen Riis as his love-struck son, Leander, and Johan Reuter as the wily, Figaro-like servant Henrik could hold their own in any of the brand-name tenor, baritone and bass roles of opera. Conductor Michael Schonwandt and the Royal Danish Orchestra, who know Nielsen better than any other living musicians, project the opera's boisterously eventful, sometimes explosive score with a collective ear for the grand gesture and unerring comic timing. Clarke Bustard