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  Listen Up! 10/25/02 Listen Up!

Friday, Oct. 25

Johnny Cash, “American IV: The Man Comes Around,” American Recordings. The fourth album since Johnny Cash hooked up with Rick Rubin is more of a mixed bag than the previous ones. The album has a tone of severity, a heavy gravitas that is thicker than anything Cash has done before. Sometimes, this fits perfectly. Frankly, the songs Cash has written himself sound as if they’ve got the exact right treatment. But, some of the covers don’t work quite right. “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is a song that can’t be done any more seriously than Paul Simon has traditionally done it. It can be used as part of virtually any metaphor you want to make it work, but Cash (aided by Fiona Apple) just wants to let it carry a weight without giving it a shore to reach on the other side. “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” sounds weary and painful, a strange fate for a song so inherently beautiful. “Personal Jesus” really works great, though, stripping the irony from the Depeche Mode original. Oh, well, I will spend more time with this record, because it’s Johnny Cash, and he deserves all the attention I can give him.

Rod Stewart, “It Had To Be You,” J Records. It’s so pretentious to imagine that singing these great songs as if you were desperate for attention rather than because you love them is going to prove to anybody that you have good taste. And, besides, as Charlie Tuna never really learned, we’re really looking for music that tastes good.

Bellini, “Norma: Highlights,” Callas, Corelli, Ludwig, Zaccaria, Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala di Milano, EMI Classics. There are moments of sublime beauty, where the spectacular vocals deliver exquisite melodies of grace and warmth. There are moments of over-the-top opera theatrics. There are formal conventions followed and personalities revealed. There are very few things I know about opera, so I can’t really say much more.

--Steve Pick



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