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New Music, New Albums

New Music, New Albums


NYT Syndicate

An Outstanding, Taboo-Breaking Country Debut
'Hero' (Columbia Nashville)
Maren Morris
Maren Morris curses. Which shouldn't be remarkable, but is.
Profanities ” well, really just one ” are sprinkled throughout 'Hero,' this 26-year-old singer and songwriter's outstanding major label debut album, and perhaps the canniest country record in recent memory.
Think of all the ways dissenters have tried to upend country in recent years: by sneaking in rhythmic vocal tics learned from rappers, by thinning out the genre's musical baggage, by pledging inclusive values. Morris, an astute synthesizer, has studied and perfected them all. 'Hero,' as a result, is both utterly of its moment and also savvy enough to indicate how the future might sound.
The innovation is clear right from the breakthrough bait-and-switch single My Church. It's a roots-minded song about religiosity but not religion, in which the radio is the church ” a move both pious and defiant, in the manner of Kacey Musgraves, without the awww-shucks shrug.
The winks continue ” a few songs, like Sugar and Drunk Girls Don't Cry, suggest Kelsea Ballerini's light-spirited boys-are-trash anthems, albeit with a few years of men-are-trash experience. And the hilarious Rich spins if-I-had-a-dollar heartbreak over a do-nothing man into hip-hop-minded comedy:
Boy, I'd be rich, head-to-toe PradaBenz in the driveway, yacht in the waterVegas at the Mandarin, high-roller gamblin'Me and Diddy drippin' diamonds like Marilyn
She's sing-rapping here, but also blending hip-hop bravado and country modesty (think Chris Janson's Buy Me a Boat), tweaking more literal genre cut-and-pasters like Florida Georgia Line or Sam Hunt by smoothing down the seams.
Morris has a songwriting credit on every song on 'Hero,' which she produced with Mike Busbee (known as busbee), a songwriter-producer with a wide r`sum` across styles. The back half of this album is slightly less ambitious than the first, though even when Morris is playing it straight, she's strong, be it on the slow ticktock R&B country of How It's Done, the centrist pop of Just Another Thing or Once, with gospel and rock flourishes. And I Could Use a Love Song, her most conventional country number, is phenomenal, a meditative plaint with clear passion.
And then there's that four-letter word, which comes up time and again: on Sugar, on Rich, on Drunk Girls Don't Cry. Morris uses it fluently, casually and effectively, which is to say, you hardly notice at all as she's breaking what may be country's last remaining taboo.
An Argentine Pianist and Composer's Prismatic Experiments
'Los Guachos V' (Sunnyside)
Guillermo Klein
Guillermo Klein, an Argentine pianist and composer, has an affinity for transforming highly methodical designs into music that feels soulful and uncalculating. His primary vehicle over the last 20 years has been Los Guachos, 11 elite musicians stationed in Buenos Aires and New York.
'Los Guachos V,' Klein's captivating new album, contains two suites, Suite Indiana and Suite Jazmin, composed using techniques of inversion and retrograde. In plain talk, this means that Klein is toying with elements of structure ” altering a harmonic or melodic sequence by flipping it, running it backward or otherwise mirroring its shape.
Reverse motion has been an interest of Klein's for a while now: The opening track of 'Los Guachos II,' from 1999, involves a tape played backward, with Spanish lyrics written as a palindrome. But he's pushing toward a less disorienting effect here and keeping his process in the background. The ensemble ” powered by a brilliant rhythm section with Ben Monder on guitar, Fernando Huergo on electric bass, Richard Nant on percussion and Jeff Ballard on drums ” plays this music straight, both accepting and ignoring the overarching premise.
Suite Jazmin, in seven movements, gives Klein's concept a clear platform. It opens with"Symmetry I" and closes with"Symmetry II" ” two perspectives on the same idea, operating first in a processional hum and later in a quieter, darker mood. Burrito Hill Mirror, a reordering of Klein's recent piece Burrito Hill, features an uneven chime like that of a windup music box, beautiful but subtly unsettled. Human Feel Mirror more closely evokes its precursor, a polyrhythmic sprint with oblique connections to underground rock and postminimalism.
The musicians, attuned to Klein's methods, imbue this music with exquisite lightness. You won't hear a trace of the cerebral in Miguel Zen'f3n's imploring alto saxophone lead on Jazmin, or in Monder's distorted yet airy solo on Si No Sabes 4/4. As a whole, 'Los Guachos' have an uncanny knack for turning complex mechanisms into something flowing and natural.
This is wickedly effective on familiar themes ” like the Tin Pan Alley tune (Back Home Again in) Indiana, which inspired Miles Davis to write the bebop tune Donna Lee. Both of these tunes are subjected to head-spinning revision in Suite Indiana, a model illustration of how to run standard material through a personal prism, with seriousness and flair.

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