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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    Post-Holiday Famine – and Feast

    As the Christmas season winds down, and we have already begun to defile the earnest resolutions we made just weeks ago, I’m always reminded of misplaced ambition. We want to do the right thing – stop smoking, drink less, hook up better – but alas, our reach exceeds our grasp. We try, we fail. How human.

    And this season we have plenty of company. Two of my favorite artists have released disappointing albums recently.

    Sting: Songs from the Labyrinth (Deutsche Grammophon)

    Sting’s always been musically ambitious. Remember that the first songs with the Police married pop lyrics to reggae-infused rhythms. He’s been a musical vagabond, much like Paul Simon, happily picking up dozens of influences and mixing his soothingly aching vocals with many of the world’s premier musicians.

    On this album, Sting reaches back historically – all the way back. Sort of his version of ‘Roots.’ John Dowland was a major player in Elizabethan courtly musical world, penning beautifully melodic love poems that one can imagine filling in the intermissions of Shakespeare’s plays.

    But here Sting’s reach exceeds his grasp. Joined by master flutist Edin Karamazov, Sting’s lyrical settings for Dowland’s poems seem strained, and his vocals make one yearn for those pre-pubescent high male tenors of 15th century song. Those kids could hit the high notes!

    Joan Osborne: Pretty Little Stranger (Vanguard)

    Joan Osborne burst on the scene a decade ago with one of the more immediately arresting blues-inflected voices I’d ever heard. Her debut album, with its Grammy-winning cleverly agnostic single, ‘One of Us,’ was a modest masterpiece.

    But Osborne has floundered lately, releasing an album of cover songs, early material, and now this mainstream Nashville country and western-inspired album. Make no mistake: Osborne’s voice is flawless, the countrified arrangement is tight; this is one excellent new-Nashville country pop album. (Being joined on some cuts by the likes of Rodney Crowell, Vince Gill and Alison Kraus doesn’t exactly hurt, either.)

    But Osborne is capable of so much more than being just another Nashville country singer. Her choice of genre, not songs, holds her back from the sort of emotional risk taking that defined her first album (a languid ode to a suicidal friend, a gutsy blues-filled regret about a one-night stand). She takes few risks here, and we’re the poorer for it. If Sting’s reach exceeds his grasp, Joan Osborne doesn’t quite reach far enough.

    Shawn Colvin: These Four Walls (Nonesuch)

    Compare these two disappointments with Shawn Colvin’s newest release. In the past decade, Colvin has made a dramatic comeback, and her choice of material, delivery and arrangements all reflect a musical maturity and artistic contentment that is deceptively arresting.

    There are just enough searing guitars to make the grownup feel like they’re still rockers, and just enough thoughtful folk-inspired lyrics to make the teenager feel like a grownup. Imagine: a multi-generational album.

    Several songs are hauntingly hummable, and one or two make you hit the replay button instantly. ‘Tuff Kid,’ a gutsy angry memoir recalls Colvin’s earlier ‘Get Out of this House.’

    Her voice is thinner and reedier than Osborne’s throaty resonance, but Colvin isn’t interested in sounding like something she’s not. She’s content, instead, to sound like herself. Perhaps that’s what being a grownup is all about.

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