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Records are rated on a scale of one (awful) to four (classic) stars:
POP
Fleet Foxes
'Helplessness Blues'

(SubPop)


3 stars = Good
Ratings explained

The beardy harmonizing in vogue in indie rock is epitomized by Fleet Foxes, the suburban Seattle quintet that froze listeners in their tracks with "White Winter Hymnal," the reverb-drenched, bucolic Beach Boys highlight of the band's 2008 self-titled debut. With "Helplessness Blues," the Robin Pecknold-led band makes music that's staggeringly pretty. Check out the swooning "Lorelai," and just try to resist.

It's almost entirely without anything resembling an edge, unless you count the skronky free-jazz sax solo that takes the eight-minute "The Shrine An Argument" by surprise.

The "Smile"-era Brian Wilson reference points still apply, but the more salient point of comparison is the pristine man-singing of Crosby Stills, and Nash. Nope, there's no Neil Young in sight. And though "Helplessness Blues" makes for a pleasurably becalming mood piece, there are times when the lonely nature-boy musings -- "Apples in the summer are golden sweet" -- could benefit from a cantankerous noisemaker interrupting the lulling gorgeousness.

--Dan DeLuca, The Philadelphia Inquirer


COUNTRY
Emmylou Harris

'Hard Bargain' (Nonesuch)


3 stars = Good
Ratings explained

Two of the most affecting numbers on Emmylou Harris' new album look back at relationships with late friends and collaborators. "The Road" wistfully recalls her time with Gram Parsons ("The road we shared together once will never be the same"), while "Darlin' Kate" is a poignant tribute to Kate McGarrigle.

If there's an element of nostalgia there, you won't find any in the sound of "Hard Bargain" (named after the Ron Sexsmith song that is one of two non-originals). For the most part, the music hews to the shimmeringly atmospheric and ethereal approach she has focused on during the last decade and a half, with few of the traditional country elements that marked her earlier work. But she still possesses that unmistakable voice: a pristine beauty now with hints of wear around the edges that only add to its expressiveness.

Occasionally, stately and moving give way to just ponderous, but Harris wisely offers some welcome changes of tempo and mood: the defiant rocker "New Orleans," the playfully lighthearted "Big Black Dog," and the swamp-tinged "Six White Cadillacs."

--Nick Cristiano,

The Philadelphia Inquirer


CLASSICAL
Jonas Kaufmann

Verismo Arias (Decca)

• • • •

At 41, German tenor Jonas Kaufmann is one of opera's hottest properties. Up to now he has been known more for German and French repertory than Italian, but Cavaradossi in Puccini's "Tosca" was one of his recent successes and this new CD features 17 arias from Italian verismo operas.

The essential verismo operas are Mascagni's "Cavalleria Rusticana" and Leoncavallos "Pagliacci," and the tenor hits from those operas are central here: Turiddu's drinking song and farewell to his mother ("Cavalleria") delivered with dark-hued virility and emotional wallop, Pagliaccio's "Vesti la giubba" a worthy and expressive entry in a line of great tenors that began with the legendary Enrico Caruso.

But there is much more here: an array of excerpts from less familiar works such as Boito's "Mefistofele," where Mr. Kaufmann rings out trumpet-like in "Dai campi," then scales down to some exquisite pianissimi in "Giunto sul passo." Best of all, for this listener are two thrilling arias plus the final duet (with the superb Eva-Maria Westbroek) from Giordano's "Andrea Chenier," an opera that seems tailor-made for this tenor's talents. Another gem is his highly nuanced rendition of "Cielo e mar" from Ponichielli's "La Gioconda." This is a disc that belongs in every opera lover's collection.

-- Robert Croan, Post-Gazette senior editor


ALSO NEW THIS WEEK

Beastie Boys, "Hot Sauce Committee Part 2": This marks the first new release for the rockin' hip-hoppers since 2007's "The Mix-Up." Adam Yauch battled cancer during that time, which delayed this planned September 2009 release. Highlights include "Too Many Rappers," which features Nas, and current single "Make Some Noise," which is already charting around the world.

Stevie Nicks, "In Your Dreams": It's been a long wait for new music from this member of rock 'n' roll royalty -- 10 years since we last heard new Stevie Nicks tunes, on "Trouble in Shangri-La." Ms. Nicks co-wrote seven of the new album's songs with former Eurythmics member Dave Stewart. Somewhat worryingly, she wrote "Moonlight (A Vampire's Dream)" after being inspired by a "Twilight" film.



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