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  Listen Up! 2/27/03 Listen Up!

Friday, Feb. 27

Tim Easton, “Break Your Mother’s Heart,” New West Records. Easton has made a record that sounds terrific, that has great musicians – Jim Keltner, Mike Campbell, Greg Leisz, for example – but that doesn’t knock me out. I wish the melodies were stronger. He’s got a lot of emotions invested in these songs, and the arrangements make great use of dynamics, but there’s not really anything to hook me. Perhaps they’re just subtle, and if I give it another chance, this album will snag me. There’s certainly enough good here to make me want to like it more.

The Stanley Brothers, “The Early Starday King Years 1958-1961,” Highland Music. Here’s a box set of bluegrass at its liveliest, if not exactly its apex. I’m an Earl Scruggs man when it comes to the banjo, but Ralph Stanley does all right. The thing about bluegrass from the fifties that has been missing for 30 years at least is that there is never a sense that this is the final form. It’s not mired in tradition, it’s a means to express yourself. Sure, there are conventions, but they get played with, get shaped into whatever personal ideas Carter and Ralph Stanley had towards the tunes. Ralph has never seemed to lose his conviction that songs are worth exploring, but the bluegrass community would rather stick to the familiar paths.

Stefon Harris, “The Grand Unification Theory,” Blue Note Records. Ambitious orchestral jazz from the vibrophone player of the moment, this record would probably be better served with me sitting on my couch than with me in a busy office. That said, there’s a lot to like. I’m not familiar with any names of the musicians on here besides Harris and trombonist Steve Turre, but they can all play. The ensemble passages are exquisite, detailed, and intriguing. The solos seem controlled, as if something is being held back, but that could just be a matter of me not paying close enough attention. At any rate, this is a jazz record that doesn’t sound like any other I’ve heard.

--Steve Pick

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