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During this transition period, some fine shows got lost in the shuffle. For example, take Louisiana Purchase. It boasted a remarkable cast, a rich and varied score by Irving Berlin (including "It's a Lovely Day Tomorrow" and "Fools Fall in Love"), and choreography by George Balanchine. The funny and biting book by Morris Ryskind was about a naive U.S. senator and the attempts of crooked businessmen to corrupt him with women and liquor. (Imagine that!) It ran for 444 performances, was made into a Paramount film starring Bob Hope, and then disappeared, except for two brief revivals. The absence of a cast recording certainly contributed to Louisiana Purchase's obscurity.

DRG's great new revival cast recording puts the show back on the map. Music director Rob Fisher has lovingly pieced the score back together -- there was no published theater score -- and has even restored three numbers cut during tryouts. The cast has no big names (except to serious musical theater buffs), but no one will be disappointed with its singing, teamwork, and enthusiasm. Recorded following performances in June of last year, everyone captures the letter and the spirit of what the 1940 original cast recording might have been. Don't miss this.

-- Raymond Tuttle

Michelle Shocked
Kind-Hearted Woman
(Mood Swing)

Someone hit Michelle Shocked in the head with a Joan Baez stick, and boy does it smart! Shocked is one of my all-time faves, has been since her major-label debut, 1988's Short Sharp Shocked. But on Kind-Hearted Woman, her fifth longplayer (previously available only at Shocked's live shows), she has toned down her act considerably, and the results are distressingly Baez-ish, which is to say limp.

Gone are the eclectic arrangements that have defined Shocked's work over the years, from the brassy big-band sound of Captain Swing to the raucous fiddling of Arkansas Traveler. They've been replaced by quiet, brooding songs that spotlight the singer and her electric guitar. No horns. No fiddles. Very little percussion. That would be fine, welcome even, if the songs were consistently strong. "Stillborn" is a particularly annoying opener, a weepy chick-folk number that revels in bathos, and Shocked's usually sly alto quavers so much it sounds as if someone is pounding her on the back.

Elsewhere, Shocked fares a bit better. "Winter Wheat" unfolds with all the stark, depressive beauty of the old "Hollis Brown," and "Cold Comfort" has a sultry twang that wags the hips despite its understated delivery. "Homestead" shows all the markings of a bluesy stomp -- except the stomp. Like a lot of the songs here, it just never gets going.

Hard-core fans of Shocked will find enough rich melodies and evocative lyrics on Kind-Hearted Woman to make it worth the coin. But they may also be left with the creepy sense that Shocked's mellower come-on is a conscious nod to the mandates of the adult contemporary market. To put it more succinctly: The woman can still rock. And should.

-- Steven Almond

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