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Standing in My Shoes
Leo Kottke
(Private Music)

In the wake of Beck, even old-schoolers like Leo Kottke are getting hip-hop hip. On his umpteenth album, Kottke teams with producer and former Prince cohort David Z for an intriguing, occasionally convincing synthesis of the guitarist's left-field visions and drum loops that suggest exposure to Odelay.

Some of Standing in My Shoes, especially instrumentals like "Realm" and the snoozily atmospheric "Across the Street," is barely a step up from tasteful background music. Other cuts, though, such as a beat-smart re-recording of "Vaseline Machine Gun" from his legendary first album 6- and 12-String Guitar, and the Delta-flamenco fusion of "Dead End," demonstrate the wisdom of the Kottke/Z pairing. Kottke's take on Fleetwood Mac's "World Turning" doesn't stray far from the original's arrangement, but his addition of a droning sitar illuminates the tune's gutter-blues roots. The title track, another revival of early Kottke, also effectively mates groove and stoic soulfulness. His collaboration with Z doesn't mark a great leap forward, but Standing is a modestly brave move.

-- Rickey Wright

American Visions
Keith Lockhart/Boston Pops
(RCA Victor)

Although almost all Americans can remember only three conductors of the Boston Pops Orchestra (Arthur Fiedler, John Williams, and now Keith Lockhart), the orchestra has had twenty regular conductors since it was founded in 1885. It's still in good hands.

It's not unusual for orchestras to release patriotic programs around Independence Day. Copland's Lincoln Portrait and Fanfare for the Common Man probably don't need to be recorded again, and Lockhart has wisely stayed away from them and other works of their kind on this, his second CD with the Boston Pops. For the most part, the works he has selected for American Visions have been on the fringes of the pops repertoire for several decades and have been in need of new digital recordings. Even if they are a little old-fashioned, Harl McDonald's "Fiesta" from San Juan Capistrano, Howard Hanson's Merry Mount, and Jerome Kern's Mark Twain: Portrait for Orchestra are all too good to stay in mothballs forever. Not all the works are older, however; the most recent is A Hymn to New England by John Williams, taken from a documentary he scored for Boston's Museum of Science in 1987.

American Visions is celebratory, rather than solemnly patriotic, and that's a good thing. It visits America's cities, small towns, rivers, and plains, but it skips Florida. It comes close, though, with Ron Nelson's Savannah River Holiday. Lockhart conducts everything with affection and energy, and RCA Victor has recorded him and the orchestra vividly. Declare independence from overly serious American music and give this CD a try.

-- Raymond Tuttle

Little Head
John Hiatt
(Capitol)

The previous John Hiatt, 1995's Walk On, was so drearily atmospheric that it might just as well have been produced by Daniel Lanois, so maybe the penis joke of this new album's title track is a step out of the ether. His slyness doesn't last long, though, as it hasn't on most of the work he's produced since straightening out his life and making a splash with Bring the Family in 1987.

Little Head, while not as deadly boring as Walk On or as offensively smug in its home-oriented happiness as Stolen Moments, just isn't too exciting. This is still well-crafted, R&B-inflected singer/songwriter rock with Hiatt's solid, unobtrusive band the Nashville Queens pinning it down, and the words are mostly unobtrusive too. The best, catchiest song here, "Pirate Radio," simply longs for the good old days of AM sure shots from Otis and Marvin -- a worthy sentiment, but one that is played out as fresh song fodder. The protagonist of "Feelin' Again" is holed up, maybe in the same cheap hotel Freedy Johnston recently booked a character into; instead of working the situation for claustrophobia, madness, even a pizza delivery, Hiatt merely has his guy make a little speech about things being pretty, well, okay. One song later, he pitches the fallacy that life is no more fun once you've "Graduated." Maybe he's right. Hiatt himself has rarely been as kicky as he was during his new wave phase, on discs like Slug Line and the newly reissued All of a Sudden. Maybe sad, definitely true: Those ersatz Costello-isms continue to stick a lot harder than does Nineties-vintage "real" Hiatt.

-- Rickey Wright

Nu Yorica!
Culture Clash in New York City: Experiments in Latin Music 1970-77
(Soul Jazz)

The Seventies are still regarded by many as a joke decade -- lava lamps, pop art, the Village People, Evel Kneivel, et cetera. But it doesn't take much digging to come up with not just a more positive assessment, but one that reveals a time of true creative ferment: Marvin Gaye, The Godfather, Miles Davis, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bruce Lee, Willie and Waylon, Bob Marley, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. And the Seventies were also the most adventurous decade in the history of Latin music.

Start with pianist Eddie Palmieri, who's represented here in wildly divergent configurations. Under his own name, there's the epic "Un Dia Bonita," which begins with some wondrous solo piano before moving through an icily beautiful landscape of tape loops and feedback, until finally resolving into a salsa raveup. "Un Dia Bonita" lasts fifteen minutes, yet is so well constructed it goes by in a heartbeat. Then there's Harlem River Drive, a band Palmieri put together that was one part Latin players, one part black R&B players. In concert, each would play a set and then they would play the encores together. That togetherness comes across in unexpected ways on "Idle Hands," a history of slavery.

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