The Marshall Mathers LP 2 (Shady/Interscope)
Though he's unquestionably one of the form's giants, at 41, Eminem seems no less a hip-hop outlier today in an age of sensitive smooth talkers such as Drake, than he did when he emerged amid the bling purveyors of the late 1990s; his outsized feelings still set him apart.
Perhaps that's why his primary reference point here is one of his own records, The Marshall Mathers LP, the 2000 disc that solidified his reputation as both a superstar and a serious artist. The rapper has said the new album isn't a sequel so much as a "revisitation" of themes: his relationships with his mother and his ex-wife, and the toxic effects of celebrity.
"It's like I'm in the dirt, digging up old hurt," he admits in Bad Guy, which by the end of its seven minutes has turned into a deranged monologue by the little brother of the obsessed fan from Stan. And then there's Berzerk, the Beastie Boys homage in which Eminem urges, "Let's take it back to straight hip-hop and start it from scratch."
But if the layers of nostalgia caking MMLP2 make starting from scratch impossible, Eminem sounds more alive -- angrier, yet more fully present -- than he has in years. As always, he flips between his alter egos, a means of demonstrating his technical ability, but also of putting some psychic distance between the real-life man and his often-horrific words.
Even in his rare clunky moments, Eminem burns with purpose. And if you don't like what he (still) has to say, there's a chance he doesn't either. HHHH
Download this: Berzerk
-- Mikael Wood, Los Angeles Times
Classified: Remixed and Expanded (Rounder)
Nov. 8 will mark the 30th anniversary of the death of New Orleans piano legend James Booker, who died in a wheelchair waiting to be seen at a hospital emergency room.
Your initial response to that information was likely, "Who was James Booker?" and that makes sense, as his talents and short life were overshadowed by other Louisiana piano luminaries such as Mac Rebennack (Dr. John) and Hank Byrd (Professor Longhair). Classified was the final album by the influential "Bayou Maharaj" and the music contained on this magnificent, 22-track reissue should prevent Booker's work from becoming completely lost to the ages. The pianist's playing nearly defies description. At times it sounds as if he has 10 fingers on each hand, as he plays complicated tandem runs at speed. In true New Orleans tradition, he makes all of the 88s work for him, and his energy and passion are evident on every track.
The album is full of the kind of swinging, N'Awlins party tunes that make this style so infectious. The title track, Baby Face and his tribute to Byrd will get any Mardi Gras-themed party started on both feet. Yet it's Booker's versions of atypical tracks like the transcendent Warsaw Concerto, the classically inclined Angel Eyes and his notable version of Theme From The Godfather that help define his singular talent.
For music fans with broad tastes, Classified ranks more as necessity than nostalgia. HHHH
Download this: Lawdy Miss Clawdy
Janina Fialkowska (Atma)
Austrian composer Franz Schubert's life may have been brief (1797-1828), but it was undeniably prolific. You'll never go wrong with Schubert on your program.
Montreal-born pianist Janina Fialkowska, whom we associate with Chopin and large concertos with orchestra, takes a different turn with two lovely Schubert sonatas. No. 13 in A Major begins with a refreshingly delicate simplicity. This opening theme returns several times, in different keys, while between the reprises it grows and flowers, often boisterously. Fialkowska's transitions of touch and attack express all that Schubert intended.
The andante is gently elegant, if a little melancholy. The final allegro, set in the waltz-like form of a l§ndler, bubbles with fun. …