David Atherton made a fine reputation for himself as a contemporary music conductor back in his salad days with the London Sinfonietta, nowhere more so than in his three-disc (now two-CD) set of music by Kurt Weill. He certainly hasn’t lost his magic touch in the intervening years. These performances of the two symphonies sweep the (not very full) board. Swift, lean, incisive, and always exciting, Atherton reveals all of this music’s anger, irony, and bittersweet lyricism without a trace of histrionics or self-indulgence. Indeed, a certain coolness is part of the point too. And so in the marvelous Second Symphony, Atherton catches the neo-classical temper of its outer movements with impeccable wit and grace, making the passionate intensity of the magnificent central slow movement all the more shocking as a result.
By the time David Lindley made his move to a solo career, he was already a legend. Having toured and recorded with such names as Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, and Crosby & Nash, his reputation as a multi-instrumentalist (on almost any stringed instrument) was awesome. Lindley scored a contract with Elektra Records and put together an excellent band that was able to keep up with his eclectic vision. Combining blues, rock & roll, Cajun, Zydeco, Middle Eastern music, and other elements, his debut album is an absolute joy.
Following up their excellent debut and a season of intense touring, David Lindley and his crack band (now named El Rayo-X) recorded their second Elektra album. It turns out that they actually bettered the near perfection of the first. Opening with an excellent version of Etta James classic "Something's Got a Hold on Me," this track proves how tight the band had became. Lindley's slide guitar work is impressive as always. As an added bonus, the band's vocal harmonies are extremely tight and a welcome addition.
David Byrne, like fellow New York transplant David Bowie, has reached a well-deserved apex in his career. After eight post-Talking Heads solo outings, the eccentric composer, songwriter, artist, and world music entrepreneur has transcended the inconsistencies of his previous efforts and created a genuinely moving and wickedly fun record. Like Bowie's Heathen and Reality, Grown Backwards is a mature work by an icon who has come to terms with his past, present, and future, and there's a joy in the simple act of creativity here that gives even the heaviest of subject matter an effervescent charm…
The final El Rayo-X record, while lovely, does not exactly contain the power and fury of the first two. On Very Greasy, David Lindley and his cohorts explore a myriad of lighter, more Caribbean rhythms and textures, rendering a very pleasing album. Some great covers such as "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" and "Do You Wanna Dance" are pleasant enough, but the fact that hard rock Warrior drummer Ian Wallace – who was such a big part of the power of their second CD, Win This Record – is missing results in a weaker record. All in all, a very nice, eclectic slice, but not what this fine band was really about.