Review: Musgraves wows with ‘Pageant Material’ _lowres

Photo by KELLY CHRISTINE MUSGRAVES -- Kacey Musgraves

Kacey Musgraves PAGEANT MATERIAL

Kacey Musgraves strives for a classic ’60s country sound on her second album, “Pageant Material.” Ditching the loops and other contemporary flourishes of her ground-breaking, Grammy-winning 2013 debut, “Same Trailer, Different Park,” the native Texan presents carefully arranged tracks focused on steel guitar, orchestrated strings and brushed rhythms.

Lyrically, she shifts from her first album’s social statements — same-sex relationships, pot smoking — without dialing down her outspoken nature. This time she uses her lyrical cleverness to delve into the personal observations of a small town Southern woman establishing her individuality as she emerges into a faster-moving modern world.

From the romantic scenario of “Late to the Party” to the melodic richness of “High Time,” and from the good-time manifesto of “Die Fun” to the refusal to compromise on “Good Ol’ Boys Club,” Musgraves confirms her emergence as one of Nashville’s boldest, most effective artists.

Such new songs as “This Town” and “Fine” position Musgraves as a classic country singer-songwriter extending the work of Roger Miller and Willie Nelson. The only thing controversial about “Pageant Material” is how stridently it seeks to express a distinctive style of its own rather than fit into any contemporary formulas.

Michael McCall

Kurt Elling PASSION WORLD

On “Passion World,” jazz singer Kurt Elling expands his musical horizons way beyond his previous CD, “1619 Broadway-the Brill Building Project,” which focused on classic pop tunes by the songwriting teams housed in a single Manhattan building.

Here he uses his expressive, rich baritone to perform music from three continents in five languages, adapting to the jazz idiom an eclectic collection of 14 songs reflecting how different cultures express romance and passion.

On the traditional side, Elling offers a dolorous rendition of “Loch Tay Boat Song,” a Scottish ballad of unrequited love, accompanied by a soulful tenor sax solo by Tommy Smith of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra. Brahms’ “Nicht Wandle, Mein Licht,” sung in German, starts with Elling singing it as a classical lied, accompanied by Germany’s WDR radio orchestra, before turning it into a soft jazz ballad.

Edith Piaf’s signature song, “La Vie En Rose,” sung in French with some original English vocalese lyrics by Elling, is turned into a briskly swinging big band number. On Dorival Caymmi’s samba “Voce Ja Foi A Bahia?”, Elling and vocalist Sara Gazarek, singing in Portuguese, engage in a sparkling duet reminiscent of Sergio Mendes’ Brasil ’66.

In a contemporary vein, Elling includes a softer, slow tempo, folk-jazz version of U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name” and a smooth version of Bjork’s “Who is It?”

Elling also displays his skills as a lyricist on several new tunes, including a lovely jazz ballad “The Tangled Road,” composed by France’s Richard Galliano and featuring a tender melodic solo by German trumpeter Till Bronner.

Elling also contributed moving lyrics to a heart-breaking melody he heard expatriate Cuban trumpeter Arturo Sandoval playing from an adjoining cabin on a Caribbean jazz cruise. Elling and Sandoval team up on the bluesy ballad “Bonita Cuba,” reflecting the trumpeter’s homesick grief over his family’s exile from their island home.

On “Passion Road,” Elling eschews familiar jazz standards and the scat singing that’s made him the preeminent male jazz vocalist of his generation. But he displays a full range of emotions as he challenges himself in this celebration of musical diversity.

Charles J. Gans