Record Roundup

Record Roundup
Neil Young with Crazy Horse

Broken Arrow

Reprise

           SOMETIMES CD TITLES are more revealing than originally intended. So it is with Broken Arrow, a collection of aimless tunes by a stalwart artist whose warrior spirit appears to be temporarily fragmented. That's the positive way to spin it anyway: It could be that Young simply turned in a half-assed effort to fulfill a contractual obligation. Either way, one of rock's most adventurous characters seems ensnared in a sort of virtual ennui, a lack of nerve over changing relationships, either with a woman or within his middle-aged self. "Talkin' 'bout the enemy/Living inside of me/Talkin' 'bout that youthful foundation," he sings on "Big Time," one the record's two best tracks. The other is "Music Arcade," a beautifully vulnerable solo cut about the bittersweet pleasure of hangin' out lonely.

           The rest, frankly, is dreck. Acoustically, all of Young's outings with Crazy Horse move through the briar patch, but this one is especially fuzzy. There's "Loose Change," a long, wandering jam that takes more than nine minutes to peter out. There are throwaway ditties like "Changing Highways," which sounds like an outtake from Hawks and Doves, and "This Town," a dreadfully slight number better left in the vaults until that posthumous for-completists-only boxed set. And there's a surprisingly tepid, eight-minute live version of Jimmy Reed's durable classic, "Baby What You Want Me To Do," that has the poor sound quality of a mediocre bootleg. In more ways than one, I sincerely hope Neil Young gets better soon. (Britt Robson)

Hayden

Everything I Long For

Outpost

           MOST OF THE songs on Hayden's debut album were written and recorded late at night in his bedroom on a 4-track mini-studio. Though he's not the first schmo to embrace low-fi as a means of low-rent self-expression, Hayden's music--perhaps more than that of any other home-taping homebody--is completely the product of where it was created. Hayden, a fairly normal twenty-nothing from Toronto, is pure folk poet: a troubadour of the suburbs; a kitchen-raiding, late-night-cable-TV-watching, oversleeping product of middle-class North America. To record him any other way would be like taking bacteria out of a petri dish.

           Over an acoustic guitar that skronks with the metallic reverberation of strumming too hard, Hayden sings of everyday minutiae with a deep, raspy monotone of perpetual ennui. On the beautifully lumbering "Bad As They Seem," the singer pines for a neighborhood girl as someone "to share with me my midnight snack," only to conclude, "I got to get out some more." The storytelling is even more cleverly focused on "We Don't Mind," where a couple plays hooky from work ("We find a phone booth with room for two/I call your boss and I don't speak the truth").

           But, Hayden knows, even the most mundane scenes can have tragic undersides. Hence, "Skates" starts off about an old department store job, but ends up about the interminable grief of a customer. And in a story ripped from the news, a child in "When This Is Over" wonders about cleaning his room and brushing his teeth while he and his baby brother are drowned in a car by their mother. The music, which mixes in electric guitars, pianos, and other random noises, is more coarse than most singer/songwriter fare, but often a lot more penetrating as well. (Roni Sarig)

various artists

The Music of Vietnam

Celestial Harmonies

           GIVEN THE UNITED States' history with Vietnam, approaching The Music of Vietnam without some sort of bias would be asking a lot--that is, if it weren't so easy to be charmed, entranced, and won over by the exquisitely played, bewitching traditional music in these three volumes. Recorded and produced by David Parsons with an impeccable touch, they come with exhaustive notes to help set them in their proper context. But the pleasure is in the hearing.

           The first two CDs document a surprisingly diverse mix of the country's most commonly heard folk music, recorded in Hanoi by premier traditional musicians using a curious assortment of Vietnamese lutes, zithers, fiddles, flutes, and percussion devices. There are songs associated with theater and religious ceremonies, folk songs from the Hmong and Ede minority cultures, love songs, dances, marches, pastoral elegies, and lullabies. Many show Indian and especially Chinese influences, but Western musical structures lurk about too, with odd hints of blues, jazzy improvisations, and even funk. Among the most striking stuff: a beautiful landscape etched by an ensemble including an ethereal one-hole bamboo flute called sao mot lo; a raucous, joyous dance featuring a birdsong played on a whistle called a sol; "A Harvesting Story," featuring interesting shifts in melody, rhythm, and texture; the bluesy sounding "Beggar's Song" with moaning fiddle and vocals and syncopated percussion; and extraordinary temple music for exorcists featuring anguished vocals, a frenetically strummed lute, and driving rhythms.

           The third CD focuses on imperial court music from the ancient capital of Hue, played by the Hue Traditional Art Troupe. It's generally more stately and majestic, often featuring highly embellished group vocals over intricate ensemble work. Occasionally solemn, it also includes lilting dance music and some whimsical stuff invoking sacred animals. Vietnam's music and culture are exotic, complex, and little known in the West. This box opens a crack to an artistic tradition that's too often been obscured by politics. (Rick Mason)

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