Albums of the week: J.T., Greenfields, Verklärte Nacht
New releases from Steve Earle & the Dukes, Barry Gibb & Friends, and the BBC Symphony Orchestra
On a farewell album to his beloved son, Steve Earle reprises ten of J.T.’s songs.
Barry Gibb and a host of Nashville stars offer “beautiful” country takes on the Bee Gees’s greatest tracks.
And Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht is sumptuously performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra.
Steve Earle & the Dukes
Justin Townes (“J.T.”) Earle, who died of an overdose in August aged 38, was a talented singer-songwriter cut from “the same mould” as his more famous father, Steve Earle, said Neil Spencer in The Observer. J.T. had the “same mix of Americana influences, the same wearied twang to his vocals, the same inspired way with a lyric” – and, alas, the same personal demons. On this farewell album to his beloved son, Steve Earle reprises ten of J.T.’s songs, and the results are made all the more moving by the fact that he “delivers the songs straight, only occasionally letting a sense of loss intrude”.
There’s a sense of catharsis here; many of the tracks are “up-tempo, upbeat anthems to carefree living”, said David Cheal in the FT. But whereas J.T.’s voice was rich and resonant, Steve Earle’s vocal cords sound these days “as if they have been peppered with ground glass and buckshot and left to marinate in a flagon of whisky”. The closing track, Last Words, is a poignant tribute to J.T., written by Steve Earle himself.
New West £11
Barry Gibb & Friends
Greenfields – The Gibb Brothers’ Songbook Vol. 1
The Bee Gees’s critical stock, and their influence, has surged in recent decades, yet to hail the Gibb brothers as among the greatest songwriters of their era “still feels weirdly transgressive”, said Alexis Petridis in The Guardian. For example, you never see Odessa or Main Course or Saturday Night Fever on lists of the 100 best albums ever, though that is surely “where they belong”. This superb album serves as a testament to the group’s “greatness”. On it, Barry Gibb and a host of Nashville stars offer subtle and “beautiful” country takes on the band’s great tracks.
Dolly Parton, Keith Urban and Sheryl Crow certainly “provide genuine star power”, but the highlights come from less well-known performers, said David Smyth in the London Evening Standard. Jason Isbell shares the “smoky vibes” of Words of a Fool; Gillian Welch and David Rawlings provide “blissful harmonies” on Butterfly; and Alison Krauss’s turn on Too Much Heaven is a “gorgeous reminder” that the Bee Gees had as much to offer in the 1960s “as in their 1970s pomp”.
Stuart Skelton/Christine Rice/BBC SO (Edward Gardner)
The opening decades of the 20th century saw “the final explosion of Romanticism as it collapsed into the modern era”, said Richard Fairman in the FT. This “intoxicating” disk dedicated to that fecund period has as its centrepiece Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, sumptuously performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra. But the real treat is the accompanying selection of rarely performed vocal works, “similarly born in that final blaze of Romanticism, and making a splendid showpiece for Wagnerian tenor Stuart Skelton”. Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Abschiedslieder are “four lusciously glittering songs of yearning”. And Franz Lehár’s symphonic poem Fieber is “extraordinary”.
Another composer inspired by Verklärte Nacht (a poem by Richard Dehmel) was Oskar Fried, said Erica Jeal in The Guardian. Here, his tone poem for mezzo-soprano, tenor and orchestra features “glorious” singing from Skelton, while Christine Rice “brings mellow richness” to the mezzo part. It completes a “disc of discoveries that put Schoenberg’s work in intriguing context”.