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Classical

Ekaterina Siurina

Amore e Morte

[Opus Arte]

3 stars (Out of four)

I am emerging from the Wagner and Verdi year of 2013 very sick of Verdi. It’s not his fault. It’s that 95 percent of the celebrations revolved around Verdi. Not only does Wagner involve challenges and controversy, but Verdi wrote a million operas while Wagner wrote, what, 12? That’s why I laughed when WNED-FM began its yearlong toast to the two composers, working its way through both composers’ output with an opera every week. Guess who got the lion’s share of that?

All this actually adds up to a compliment to this album because it has a load of Verdi, and I couldn’t believe that I liked it. Ekaterina Siurina, a soprano with a most pleasant and smooth voice, is actually singing not arias but art songs, not only by Verdi but by Donizetti and Bellini. Iain Burnside accompanies her on piano. (He is really an accompanist, playing quietly and discreetly.)

The simple setting plays up the bel canto grace of the writing. You begin to hear how these composers were influenced by Mozart, and what Chopin saw in their melodies. It’s also fascinating to contrast the songs with the composers’ arias, which are much better known. Altogether, a surprising and diverting adventure. This recital is courtesy of Rosenblatt Recitals, described as “the only major operatic recital series in the world.”

– Mary Kunz Goldman

Americana

Rosanne Cash

The River & the Thread

[Blue Note]

3½ stars

Rosanne Cash hasn’t released an album of new material in eight years, but clearly, she spent that time crafting the album that may be the crowning masterpiece of her lengthy career. That’s saying something, for Cash is a member of American music’s first family, and if she never has been able to outrun the shadow of her Mount Rushmore-worthy father, she’s certainly been no slouch when it comes to carrying on the family business.

This is not the Cash who first rose to prominence a few decades back as a spunky country singer. Rather, it’s fully mature singer/songwriter fare, immaculately crafted, gorgeously arranged and beautifully played by a host of musicians that includes Cash’s husband, producer/guitarist John Leventhal, her ex-husband Rodney Crowell, guitarist supreme Derek Trucks, singer Allison Moorer, and a guest choir featuring the likes of John Prine, Kris Kristofferson and Tony Joe White.

The songs combine to serve as a paean to the music of the American south, but this is not well-polished honky-tonk music or contemporary country – rather, it comes from the soil where gospel, blues, folk and rock intermingle. That’s fitting, since lyrically, “The River & the Thread” is a spiritual travelogue through the deep South, bolstered by Cash’s well-observed character sketches and sturdily voiced narratives. Themes of transience, love and loss abound, but Cash is under-statedly literate throughout, avoiding histrionics in favor of a languid, dream-like aura. The music, like the South from which it comes and which it so ably observes, is populated by ghosts – at times somber (see the heart-rending “Etta’s Tune”) and at others stoic and fortitudinous (witness the aching “Modern Blue”) in its reportage.

The first truly outstanding albums of 2014 has arrived. This is Cash at the peak of her powers.

– Jeff Miers

Country rock

Bottle Rockets

The Brooklyn Side

[Bloodshot]

4 stars

Falling somewhere between Lynyrd Skynyrd and Merle Haggard is not a formula for popular success. But that too-rock-for-country, too-country-for-rock approach is part of the charm of the Bottle Rockets, who at their best tell sharp-witted stories of working-class life without a trace of condescension or irony.

The Missouri band was certainly at its best on its first two albums, from 1993 and 1994, back in print on this two-disc set.

The self-titled debut established singer-guitarist Brian Henneman, a former roadie for Uncle Tupelo, as a refreshingly unaffected songwriting voice that to this listener holds more appeal than Tupelo’s celebrated Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy. Is there a more plaintively devastating song than “Kerosene”? With “The Brooklyn Side,” the Bottle Rockets delivered on the promise of its predecessor, as grabbers like “Welfare Music” and “1,000 Dollar Car” highlighted a masterpiece.

Each disc comes with numerous bonus tracks, including demos, outtakes and covers.

—Nick Cristiano,

Philadelphia Inquirer

Soundtrack

Various Artists

“The Music of ‘Nashville’ Original Soundtrack, Season 2, Vol. 1”

[Big Machine]

3 stars

Midway through its second season, “Nashville,” the ABC melodrama about country stars and hopefuls continues to get the music right. That’s no surprise, since Buddy Miller, a great Americana artist himself, is in charge of it, after sharing duties in the first season with T Bone Burnett. And once again, he has top writers and players at his disposal to support the singing actors, who are no slouches themselves.

That means even the more radio-friendly material, like the swaggering country rock of “What If I Was Willing,” sung by Chris Carmack, and Hayden Panettiere’s “Trouble Is,” sound better than a lot of the stuff coming out of Music Row. Jonathan Jackson’s ballad “How You Learn to Live Alone,” is on the fey side, but everything else has plenty of rootsy character, from the sisterly harmonies of Lennon and Maisy on “A Life That’s Good” to the bluesy bite of Connie Britton and Will Chase’s “Ball and Chain” and Charles Esten’s “Playin’ Tricks.” Those and more help make this the strongest “Nashville” collection yet.

—N.C.

Rock

Various Artists

Songs For Slim: Rockin’ Here Tonight

[New West]

3½ stars

“Songs for Slim” is a benefit compilation for Bob “Slim” Dunlap, lead guitarist of the Replacements in the post-Bob Stinson years. In February 2012, he suffered a stroke and is partially paralyzed. Starting last January, a monthly series of benefit singles of covers of his songs (mainly from his two solo albums) were sold by auction to raise money for the full-time care he needs, and this set compiles 18 of those cuts plus a bonus CD of 10 additional tracks.

It features an A-list of Dunlap’s peers, including the Replacements, former Replacement Chris Mars, Tommy Keene, Soul Asylum and X’s John Doe. It also includes alt-country greats such as Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams (one of the few women on the set), Drive By Truckers’ Patterson Hood, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy and Lucero.

Dunlap wrote great songs, too: Almost everything is straight-up rock ’n’ roll, with roots in the Stones, Bo Diddley and, not surprisingly, the Replacements. This collection would be worthy even if it weren’t for a worthwhile cause.

– Steve Klinge,

Philadelphia Inquirer