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  • Rich Kassirer

CD Reviews: Erin McKeown, Joni Mitchell, Iron and Wine

Erin McKeown, “Lafayette” We’ve seen Erin live a bunch of times and it’s always fun. But one thing we always wished for was seeing her sporting a full band. Well, if we can’t see it in person, the next best thing is hearing it on an album.

And that’s what “Lafayette” offers. Erin’s live shows are always infused with the wide-eyed energy and the spunk of someone who has fun onstage. But with a full band – including Allison Miller on drums, Todd Sickafoose on bass, and Erik Deutsch on piano and even a three-piece horn section – Erin gets to share that enthusiasm as she highlights 11 tunes that span her five studio albums. The set was recorded live at Joe’s Pub in New York in January 2007.

Among the songs are the jazzy “Thanks for the Boogie Ride”; a heart-breaking “You Were Right About Everything”; one of our faves “James!,” slowed-down and slinky; a horn-filled exclamation “We Are More”; and a rip-roaring, foot-stomping “Blackbirds” closer complete with what we’ve been waiting for – an Erin guitar solo!Now if we could only have been there in person…

Joni Mitchell, “Shine” When reviewing a Joni Mitchell album, like Bob Dylan, it’s important to try to remove her past accomplishments from your mind. It is a near impossible task to live up to those standards. That said, on first listen to “Shine,” you can’t help but feeling a little disappointed. Yes, the gorgeous soprano of a voice from years ago has been replaced by a smokier version, and the songs here seemed to have gotten more bitter.

There’s no question she is upset by the war: “Men love war/Is that what God is for?/Just a rabbit’s foot/Just a lucky paw/For shock and awe?,” she sings on “Strong and Wrong.” She opens “If I Had a Heart’’ with the words: Holy war/Genocide/Suicide/Hate and cruelty…/How can this be holy?/If I had a heart I’d cry.’’ It is nice to hear that she has something to say, though it wouldn’t hurt to throw in one upbeat song, would it, Joni?

The album’s music is quite beautiful and jazzy as piano mixes with wistful sax. In fact, the album opener, “One Week Last Winter,’’ is a five-minute instrumental with Joni playing most of the instruments.

She even offers up a new, uptempo version of “Big Yellow Taxi,” with accordion and multi-track vocal.

Iron and Wine, “The Shepherd’s Dog” Sam Beam, who is essentially Iron and Wine, first made headlines for his sparse, image-filled albums “Our Endless Numbered Days” and “The Creek That Drank the Cradle.” On those albums, it was mostly him and his guitar with some backing vocals from his sister, Sarah. Since then, he’s expanded his sound, first on “Woman King,” which blew us away (see Issue 6), and then in collaboration with Calexico on “In the Reins.”

On “The Shepherd’s Dog,” one of our favorites of the year, continues on that path with some absolutely beautiful and lush arrangements that fill every song with head-bopping melodies. World music influences mix with jungle beats as well as folk and rock for a mesmerizing sound.

And while it will take many more listens to make complete sense of Beam’s nebulous, mysterious lyrics, he uses his hushed voice as if it’s another instrument. It’s hard to point to a single song as a highlight since the album works best as a whole, but we are especially drawn to “Wolves (Song for the Shepherd’s Dog)” and the uptempo “The Devil Never Sleeps.”

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