What Aspenites are (or should be) listening to | AspenTimes.com

What Aspenites are (or should be) listening to

Stewart Oksenhorn
Ben Harper, pictured last week at the Belly Up, has released a new double CD, "Both Sides of the Gun." (Stewart Oksenhorn/Aspen Times Weekly)

Following are reviews of CDs by artists on the minds of local listeners.Ben Harper”Both Sides of the Gun” produced by Harper (Virgin)Ben Harper has seemed to have two musical faces: the acoustic, near-folkie with the delicate voice, and the rocker who rips on electric guitar and screams out words of protest and uplift. With his first CD in three years, Harper adds a few more dimensions.

“Both Sides of the Gun” is, fittingly, a double CD. It could have fit into one disc, but it is two separate pieces. “Morning Yearning” is the gentler Ben; “Better Way” rocks. On both sides, Harper expands in a variety of directions.The title track to “Morning Yearning” employs a string section to great effect; the lovely instrumental “Sweet Nothing Serenade” dwells in newgrass territory. The song “Better Way” begins with touches of Indian sounds, with percussionist David Lindley on tambura.But what makes “Both Sides of the Gun” Harper’s finest album to date isn’t so much what he does new, but what he does better than ever. His soft songs are closer to the heart, and are consistently excellent. And “Better Way” is explosive throughout, from the raw, uplifting energy of “Better Way” to “Engraved Invitation,” which owes a heavy debt to early ’70s Stones.Ben Harper played a two-night stand at the Belly Up last week.

Elvis Costello”My Flame Burns Blue” (Deutsche Grammophon)Elvis Costello of late has raised “what-is-he-thinking” questions as he has composed a ballet score and collaborated with Burt Bacharach, mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter, string ensemble the Brodsky Quartet and the Mingus Big Band. To most, this has done little but made Costello a curiosity. But those listening closest have been struck by the quality of the projects; he has generally drawn excellent reviews.For the unpersuaded, Costello offers “My Flame Burns Blue,” a demonstration of his ambition and even brilliance outside of rock. In the notes, Costello says the record “may explain what I’ve been doing during the last 12 years when I haven’t had an electric guitar in my hands.” How many people will hear that explanation is the question: Recorded live at the 2004 North Sea Jazz Festival with the Metropol Orkest, the album has Costello as a big-band singer. The energy he puts behind the performance is compelling, and Costello’s songs are convincing in this setting. He saves the best for last, the staggering “God Give Me Strength,” which he co-wrote with Bacharach. Perhaps to hook old fans, he includes seriously reimagined versions of “Clubland” and “Watching the Detectives.”If the music doesn’t answer the questions, “Complicated Shadows,” a 2005 biography by Graeme Thompson, should. The well-researched book notes that Costello’s father was, of all things, a jack-of-all-trades professional singer.Costello, with special guest Allen Toussaint, performs a tribute to New Orleans, June 24 at Jazz Aspen’s June Festival.B.B. King & Friends”80″ (Geffen)Nearly 40 years ago, The Who’s Roger Daltrey sang, “Hope I die before I get old.” If “My Generation” were written today, he might sing, “Hope I die before I get the ‘And Friends’ treatment.” Following in the path of Ray Charles and Willie Nelson, bluesman King submits to the living tribute, collaborating with an eclectic group, several of whom always seem to show up for these parties: Sheryl Crow, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton. More interesting are the oddities: Daltrey, for one, Glenn Frey, Gloria Estefan, Daryl Hall. Is it necessary even to mention how closely this sticks to the middle of the blues road?B.B. King performs Aug. 12 at the Belly Up.

Sonya Kitchell”Words Came Back to Me” produced by Jeff Krasno & Steve Addabbo (Velour)It’s one thing for a 17-year-old to have pipes that can blow the windows out. What makes such a young voice special is when it adds subtlety, sophistication and warmth to the package. Throw in the kind of song writing on “Words Came Back to Me,” a folk-jazz album reminiscent of Norah Jones and Joni Mitchell, and Massachusetts teenager Sonya Kitchell becomes not just someone to keep an eye on, but someone to listen to right now.Sonya Kitchell makes her Aspen debut April 28 at the Belly Up.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com

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