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Folk Music of China, Vol. 3: Folk Songs of Yunnan by Various artists: Apparently, the excerpts constituting most of this series’ first two installments were meant to condition listeners for the full-length performances by the Wa, the De-ang, and the Blang peoples herein. Or maybe Volumes 1 and 2 were simply meant to tantalize. Either way, the 11 minutes over which this volume’s “A De’ang Duet Love Song” droningly unfolds feel as intense as they do epic, with the layering of Sansuo and Yuxi Li’s vocals signaling the series’ concession to technological enhancement. Instruments make their first appearance too: The 48-second instrumental “Gu Gan” features an anonymous soloist playing the 10-centimeter, grain-stalk carved gugan di flute. Still, it’s the voices—piercing, unerring, mostly a cappella—that do the enthralling.
Resurrection by Kinky Friedman: Friedman’s no more a singer now than he was 45 years ago, when he was making uniquely American folk art out of being politically correct before being politically incorrect was cool. And, in terms of lyrics, there’s no more art among these songs than there was among those on last year’s Circus of Life. Even by the standards of sentimental liberalism, “Mandela’s Blues” and “Carryin’ the Torch” (about the Statue of Liberty) are predictable. There is, however, an increasingly ingratiating devil-may-care quality to his brand of C&W, one that not only grows with repeated listenings but also extends to the musicians, who, under the supervision of the Americana maestro Larry Campbell, are clearly having a good time.
Love Letters: The Allen Toussaint Sessions by Aaron Neville: Most of these recordings—each written or produced by Allen Toussaint and cut by Aaron Neville between 1968 and 1977 for Bell, Mercury, and other labels with whom Toussaint’s Sansu Enterprises had struck mutually beneficial deals—have long been available on other compilations (Rounder’s The Classic Aaron Neville: My Greatest Gift, Music Avenue’s Mojo Soul, Charly’s Make Me Strong and Hercules, a couple on Hip-O’s Ultimate Collection). But never before have so many of them appeared in one place. And never again, except intermittently (with his brothers, with Linda Ronstadt), would Neville consistently find, or have found for him, material so well suited to his singular voice. Even the misbegotten “Tell It Like It Is” remake isn’t all that bad.
Who (Deluxe Edition) by The Who: Who is credited to “the Who” and not just to the more accurate “Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey” because it reflects Townshend and Daltrey’s genuine desire to make another (although “one last” is probably more like it) album worthy of the musical legacy that they created with Keith Moon and John Entwistle between 1965 and 1978. To that end, there are power chords, vocals, and synthesizers that echo past glories, and changes of pace beyond the reach of any Who tribute band. Chief among them: a Simon Townshend–penned folky shuffle (“Break the News”), a Pete Townshend Stevie Wonder impersonation (on harmonica, “I’ll Be Back”), and an anachronistic bonus track whose title, “Got Nothing to Prove,” is truer now than ever.
There’s more as well as less to Voices (BMG), the new album by the longtime Brian Wilson and Beach Boys collaborator Jeffrey Foskett, than its bittersweet backstory might at first suggest. The less is that while the toll taken on his voice by his treatments for anaplastic thyroid cancer has imbued Voices with the significance of a last will and testament and therefore given it thematic unity, it’s not Foskett’s most consistent solo long-player. That honor would go to Stars in the Sand or one of his other best-ofs if not to California Project, the 1985 Papa Doo Run Run Beach Boys tribute to which Foskett contributed voluminous ghost vocals, lead and otherwise. Assembled mainly from previously unreleased, pre-cancer-treatment recordings and containing renditions of songs written by Bob Dylan, Jimmy Webb, and Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Voices feels, unsurprisingly, like a hodgepodge.
The more is that Voices includes three of Foskett’s highest career highlights: his takes on the Association’s “Everything That Touches You,” Neil Sedaka’s “Laughter in the Rain” (in a “fantasia” arrangement), and nine seconds of the Mamas & the Papas’ “Twelve Thirty”—each a shimmering a cappella showcase for Foskett’s pure, soaring tenor at its lustrously overdubbed finest. You know that those performances are special when you keep finding yourself skipping past the spot-on Beach Boys covers (“Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “Warmth of the Sun,” “Good Vibrations”) and the tender Buddy Holly covers (“Heartbeat,” “True Love Ways”) just to hear Foskett’s unaccompanied “voices” one more time.