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Szikra

Amsterdam Klezmer Band & Söndörgő

The Amsterdam Klezmer Band exists to entertain folk-music fans who lack the Eastern European heritage to enjoy older-school klezmer music instinctively. The Hungarian tamburitza quintet Söndörgő has a similar agenda vis-à-vis Balkan folk. Together, they somehow achieve a sound that’s as sinuous, danceable, and light as what they achieve alone despite being twice as full. It’s more adventurous too. They also understand pacing, going out on an eight-minute climax called “Powerbeat” toward which everything else in retrospect turns out to have been building.

Cool Like You 

Blossoms

In the same way that a lot of catchy ’80s rock emerged from bands inspired by ’60s prototypes, these Mancunians make catchy 21st-century rock inspired by ’80s and ’90s sounds. The surging “I Just Imagined You” in particular packs a powerful retro sugar rush. Two of the Blossoms play guitar, but—not counting the vocals—bass, drums, and synthesizers are all that come through. It’s just as well. The acoustic-guitar-foregrounding unplugged versions that comprise the second half of this sophomore effort’s deluxe edition sound wimpy.

One More Song

Ashley Cleveland

The three songs that Cleveland wrote herself continue the confessional transparency of her 2013 memoir Little Black Sheep. (One of them, the motherhood-themed “Lily Grown Wild,” rocks feistily enough for Cougar-era Mellencamp.) Most of the songs, however, subsume or forgo autobiographical specifics altogether. And whether she co-wrote them (“Crooked Heart,” “Ezekiel 2”) or discovered them via the public domain (“Down by the Riverside,” “Walk in Jerusalem”) or via Washington Phillips (“Born to Preach the Gospel”), their transcendent gospel-blues properties come through loud and clear.

Roxy: Tonight’s the Night Live

Neil Young

Years before Geffen sued Young for submitting what the label deemed deliberately uncommercial recordings, he ran afoul of Reprise with these needle-and-the-damage-done songs, causing their studio versions to go unreleased for two years. Sure, they were dark, but they also focused Young’s attention more than just about any other subject before or since. These live club renditions, interspersed with jokes both verbal and musical, take some of the edge off. (The crowd certainly doesn’t seem bummed out.) The edge that’s left still cuts plenty.

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Richard Drew/AP

Frank’s way

Sinatra collection is a time capsule from a different culture

Three years past the centennial of his birth, Ol’ Blue Eyes is back, this time with a three-disc collection titled Standing Room Only (Capitol/UMe). Compiling three previously unreleased concerts, it’s less a study in masterly showmanship, although it’s that too, than proof of how radically the culture that Frank Sinatra bestrode like a colossus has changed.

When he performed these shows—at the Sands in Las Vegas in 1966 and at Philadelphia and Dallas arenas in 1974 and 1987 respectively—his decades’ worth of hit records, acting credits, and headline-making off-stage controversies had cemented his status as a legend. No sooner would he book a Vegas run or announce a tour than the shows would sell out, sometimes literally overnight.

His brand of entertainment hadn’t been au courant since Elvis and the Beatles. But, popularitywise, Sinatra was in a class by himself.

How strange, therefore, to listen to him now and to realize that, were he still around, his jocular ’tween-song patter alone would have social-justice warriors demanding his scalp (or at least his toupee).

Patterwise, the Standing Room Only shows are relatively tame. By the time of the ’74 Philadelphia show, for instance, his nemesis, the gossip columnist Rona Barrett, was between gigs, depriving him, as he put it, of “10 minutes’ worth of material.” And you’d certainly never glean from his comments during the 1987 show that Kitty Kelley’s meticulously researched but unauthorized biography His Way had gotten so far under his skin that he’d sued to block its publication.

At the 1966 show, however, he was five months from the release of Assault on a Queen (in which he starred), six months from marrying Mia Farrow, and in a very good mood. Backed by Quincy Jones and the Count Basie Orchestra, Sinatra introduced his white pianist Bill Miller as someone whom he’d only “brought along to break up the color scheme,” facetiously announced plans to date the DeCastro Sisters to see whether they were really “three FBI guys,” and told jokes with punch lines that included racially loaded terms such as “Nava-Jew” and “Wop-aho.”

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New or recent releases

Johnny Cash: Forever Words

Various artists

Just when the exploitation of the Johnny Cash brand seemed to have run its course, here comes this masterpiece by committee, in which 16 mostly famous acts take poems and lyrics that Cash never set to music and not only give them melodies but also arrange and record them with posterity—theirs and Cash’s—in mind. From performers who knew and/or were related to the man, such triumphs might seem inevitable, but even the outliers (Jewel, Elvis Costello, I’m with Her, Robert Glasper, Ro James) make good.

Believe

Lilian Dinma

Dinma testifies to her Christian faith in Nigerian Pidgin atop Afro-pop so bubbly that it may as well be carbonated. But she has a less-fizzy register too. “Sing Praises” is a Jesus song as simple as it is sweet, with “Na You Be the One” not far behind. There is, however, an elephant in the room. “If chocolate fudge cake could sing,” someone once quipped, “it would sound like Barry White.” Well, if a tube of aluminum foil could sing, it would sound like Auto-Tune.

I’ll Be Ready When the Great Day Comes

John Johanna

Meet John Johanna, a young singer-songwriter whose curiosity encompasses Eastern and Western folk musics (particularly those hospitable to waltz tempi) and who isn’t afraid to mention that he’s an Eastern Orthodox Christian. Not that he needs to—anyone who would write a 2½-minute rocker whose only lyric is “Maranatha” (iambically pronounced), assay arrangements of “Rock My Soul” and Charles Wesley’s “And Am I Born to Die?” and then drench the results in otherworldly lo-fi has obviously spent time pondering ancient verities.

Providence 

Phil Madeira

The basis for the Randy Newman comparisons greeting this engaging and overtly autobiographical album is the whiff of Dixieland coming off the Deep South melodies of “A Rhode Island Yankee on Jefferson Davis Court,” “Back in the Ocean State,” “Native Son,” and “Gothenburg.” The basis for the Mose Allison comparisons is the bluesy, piano-centric lope of “Rich Man’s Town,” “Crescent Park,” and “Wide Eyed Dream.” As history has shown, Newman’s and Allison’s approaches lend themselves well to the universalizing of particulars. Madeira’s lyrics are full of ’em.

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