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“Live with the Colorado Symphony”

Cicero Recordings LTD

DeVotchKa’s genius has always been its ability to create sweeping, cinematic songs with so few people.

The Denver-based four-piece has a violin player who doubles on the accordion and piano, an upright bass player who doubles on the sousaphone, and a drummer who plays the trumpet, and all of it anchored by lead singer Nick Urata’s aching, gypsy croon.

Through all of their seven studio albums, it’s been impossible not to imagine the band backed by a full orchestra. And, here they are with their hometown 60-piece orchestra recorded live outdoors at Denver’s Red Rocks.

The band’s violinist, Tom Hagerman, spent months arranging the songs for orchestra and Urata mixed the tracks.

Unlike many symphonic collaborations, the songs are never surrendered to the orchestra, and most often the embellishments are relatively light, lifting these already great songs without overwhelming them.

Altogether, the songs are neither longer or shorter, or even much differently arranged. They’re just bigger, maybe a bit too big. Urata seems a little rushed here and there. But, it’s a tiny complaint.

“The Alley” and “All the Sands in All the Sea,” with their waves of urgent violins, could be the soundtracks to any chase scene in cinema. Others, like “The Common Good” and “Comrade Z” seem to get more in touch with their Eastern Bloc roots. And, “Queen of the Surface Streets” reveals itself as the love song it was meant to be.


David Wax Museum

“Everything is Saved”

Great North Sound

The ancient Mexican folk song “Chuchumbe” is so naughty the Catholic church banned it hundreds of years ago. Luckily, the pious priests of the time wrote down the offending lyrics and just as luckily they were discovered not long ago in an archive where the Boston-based David Wax could get his hands of them.

Although more cheeky than offensive, like the innuendo in blues songs, the lyrics are still a little too mischievous for a family newspaper. That makes it all the more fun to hear Wax and multi-instrumentalist partner Suz Slezak revel in the lyrics in this hip-shaking dance version.

In the same buoyant spirit, the pair blend Latin influences and instruments, including a donkey jawbone whose teeth rattle percussively, with Americana folk and blues.

“Born with a Broken Heart” ends with a swirl of accordion, hand claps and a chorus of mariachi horns. “Night Was a Car” rolls out over an eight-string jarana jarocha guitar and oddly tuned upright piano, while “Yes, Maria, Yes” jumps with a Mexican jarabe dance beat.

With “Everything is Saved,” the David Wax Museum earns a spot on the growing list of infectious indie-folk bands — Edward Sharpe, Calexico, Beirut, the Freelance Whales — making Latin and world music cool again.


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Jenny Ritter

“Bright Mainland”


During the last 10 years or so, Canadian Jenny Ritter has dug herself into the Vancouver-area folk scene, first in the folk band The Gruff and now on her own.

She has the quintessential Canadian folk voice — high, bright and clear — and she sings melancholy songs that hang close to the earth.

On the coffee shop circuit, he solo act has developed a loyal following. But on her album debut she calls in some favors, surrounding herself with a fine and subtle backup band that includes members of the Kingsgate Chorus.

It’s a good move, and could be enough to break her out. The songs sound better with a band, supported by drums, electric guitars, banjo and the occasional pedal steel.

“We must sing to forget about it/ And we must sing to remember it,” she sings in one song that celebrates sun and sea, birdsongs and pines.

If fact, she’s best when the band gets a little twangy, jumping through the opener, “They Can’t Tell,” or swaying through “Resolute” and “You Missed the Boat.”

Don’t let the indie-folk tag spook you. Ritter avoids all the self-consciousness and preciousness of so many singer-songwriters. She deserves all the attention “Bright Mainland” will surely draw her way.

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