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The Chris Stamey Experience
A Question of Temperature
Yep Roc
The mutual admiration society that is Chris Stamey and Yo La Tengo has some miles on it now, going back on record to when Stamey helped produce the group's sophomore effort, New Wave Hot Dogs, in 1987. In light of their latest collaboration, however, maybe even Stamey is part of the fan base that has asked, after each of Yo La Tengo's last two records: Donde esta la Rock?

OK, maybe not, but Stamey's new record — conceived for and performed with his long-time friends and music collaborators — finds Yo La Tengo rocking harder than they have on their last two records combined. Clearly, the three-day weekend last August now known as A Question of Temperature lit a flame beneath everyone involved.

The record is split neatly into covers and originals, Stamey's compositions filling out the last half. It's not all rock, but hearing Ira Kaplan and Co. put the musical muscle to rock warhorses like the Yardbirds' "Shapes of Things," Cream's "Politician," and the Eddie Harris/Les McCann anti-(Vietnam) war screed, "Let's Make It Real (Compared to What)," bears witness to the reinvigorating power of a strong rock band.

But the YLT signature sound — a precarious mix of porcelain melodies, lullaby harmonies and cathartic, feedback-driven dissonance — seeps into the quieter songs, too. "McCauley Street (Let's Go Downtown)," written by Stamey specifically for Yo La Tengo, is a majestic 10-minute-plus voyage that unfurls as adventurously as any of their own classic feedback-happy marathons.

There will surely be diehards from both camps who will find more to carp about than enjoy here. Stamey's voice is thinner than Kaplan's and occasionally grates on the rock tracks, and people fed a diet of chimey twang pop from Stamey over the years may blanche at all the guitar freakouts.

Their loss. A Question of Temperature blends two artists' talents as seamlessly as you could want — and that's as rare a feat as a rockin' Yo La Tengo record these days.

Track to burn: "McCauley Street (Let's Go Downtown)"

Rating: 1/2- John Schacht

Iron and Wine
Woman King
Sub Pop
Iron and Wine's Sam Beam is a prolific artist, to be sure: In between his stellar LP offerings (The Creek Drank the Cradle, Our Endless Numbered Days), he'll release an EP or two (see last year's excellent The Sea and The Rhythm) for good measure. The method to his madness? Beam says he sits around, all Paul Masson-like, and puts out a record whenever he feels he has a good enough batch of new songs. This, dear reader, may be his best batch yet.

Forgiving the Mary-Daly-would-shit-her-pants seeming incongruity of the title for a second, there's more genuine empathy for womankind on this record than on any male singer-songwriter record I think I've ever heard. Whether represented as object of affection, lover, enemy, warrior, mother, matriarch or muse, Beam realizes that definitive statements are impossible, and works instead at gathering a catalog of experience. (He's seeing himself in these women's eyes, to be sure, but tries mightily to see the world through their eyes as well.)

Backed with his usual bare-bones accompaniment — except on the last song, the feedback-ridden "Evening on the Ground (Lilith's Song)" — Beam's sturm und drang takes on epic purport with each passing line, every lyric piercing in its simplistic honesty. "Thank god you see me the way you do / Strange as you are to me," he sings in "My Lady's House," a potentially heartbreaking sentiment that is only softened by its sheer, almost puritanical honesty. It's self-deprecating and self-preserving all at once, and it happens about every other line. In a word, it's balance, and that's what saves Woman King from becoming either tract or treatise. Woman, thou art loosed.

Track to burn: "My Lady's House"

Grade: 1/2- Timothy C. Davis

Anja Lechner and Vassilis Tsabropoulos
Chants, Hymns and Dances
ECM Records
What makes Chants, Hymns and Dances especially intriguing is the astute combination of composition, arrangement and a free-jazz sense of improvisation. German cellist Lechner and Greek pianist/composer Tsabropoulos bring their disparate backgrounds into the fold with a mix of Byzantine hymns and compositions by American composer Georges Gurdjieff. This is the first time Gurdjieff's compositions have been arranged for cello and piano. The results are a spiritual melding of East and West, where the lines are blurred just enough for the haunting music to permeate the senses. This is not "world music," but straddles somewhere between classical and jazz. Gurdjieff was a teacher, philosopher and composer who brought together spiritual and secular rhythms, melodies and traditions into a forward thinking whole. There are several compositions by Gurdjieff, and a few by Tsabropoulos, on the recording, and they take the listener on a global journey where European music lets warm easterly winds into its midst. The key here is improvisation and arrangement without offending the purity of the original Gurdjieff compositions. Lechner and Tsabropoulos succeed brilliantly on that count.

Track to burn: "Chant from A Holy Book"

Grade: - Samir Shukla

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