Music » Music Etc.

ALL EARS

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SUNDAY MORNING AROUND THE WORLD

Sunday morning - which, depending what Saturday night was like, can stretch nearly to sundown - is a good time for music at my house. Given the day's inherent laziness, it's especially good for relaxed instrumental records like Bill Frisell's new The Intercontinentals (Nonesuch). As the name implies, this disc finds the guitarist joining colleagues from Brazil, Greece, and Mali, and the best comparison for the way the music feels is Talking Timbuktu, the 1994 disc Ry Cooder made with Ali Farka Toure. Frisell's electric guitar is daydreamy resting atop undulating African rhythms, percolating throughout Gilberto Gil's lively "Procissão," and a spiky reminder of the Western world in Christos Govetas' oud-oriented "Yála."

There's very little that's spiky about Flower With No Color, which will be awfully surprising for fans of The Boredoms and Cibo Matto, whose (respective) members Yoshimi & Yuka made the record - and for those familiar with Faith No More ringleader Mike Patton, whose label (Ipecac) released it. Rather than the Japanese avant-noise or kooky pop fans of those bands might expect, Flower is the aural equivalent of sitting on a sun-dappled lawn, by a burbling spring, after ingesting some extraordinarily gentle psychotropic vegetable. Here, the sounds of nature - the vocalizations of birds and dogs, footsteps through grass, and insect noises - are as much a part of the studio-layered improvisation as the musicians' earthy percussion instruments and rubbery bass guitar samples. Some of the tracks are more song-like than others, with identifiable keyboard melodies or snippets of distorted Japanese singing in the background, but for the most part this is an atmosphere record, a super-quirky but strangely relaxing soundtrack to dishwashing, housecleaning, and other sunny weekend activities.

For many Americans, of course, Sunday morning equals church. Those who prefer to commune with the Almighty while still in their pajamas could do a lot worse than to pick up Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan (Columbia), on which a dozen or so contemporary gospel artists deliver fiery versions of Dylan's born-again repertoire. Some of these - like Shirley Caesar's title track and the Fairfield Four's "Are You Ready" - are absolutely inspired, and throughout it's surprising how natural his lyrics sound in this context. As Tom Piazza says, it's enlightening to "separate what Dylan is saying in his gospel songs from the drama of his saying it" - in other words, to get over the shock many fans experienced when the songwriter started singing about Jesus, and start paying attention to the songs themselves.

A couple of tracks on Gotta Serve are a little too slick for my taste, particularly the one by Sounds of Blackness, but another new release more than balances that out: The Reverend Gary Davis' If I Had My Way: Early Home Recordings (Smithsonian Folkways) are mostly solo performances, with Davis singing and accompanying himself on guitar, and they're as relaxed and raw as you'd expect for tapes made in the living room with no thought of commercial release. This was 1953, before white people discovered Davis, when he spent his days preaching on Harlem streets and hadn't begun performing secular material. It's perfect for a solitary before-noon worship service, whether there's a cup of coffee or a Bloody Mary in your hands.


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