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Essential tracks: Steven Page and Johnny Cash Add to ...

A Singer Must Die by Art of Time Ensemble with Steven Page (Pheromone/ Universal)

If we take Barenaked Ladies' new single, You Run Away, as a sappy-but-biting accusation directed at the band's former co-vocalist, then consider A Singer Must Die from Steven Page as an aristocratic retort. Page pointedly includes the Leonard Cohen song about truth-in-artistry on his new album of covers, recorded with an interpretive jazz-classical chamber group. Gracefully in stride with waltzing strings, Page sings Cohen's words - about conflict and hiding in the clothes of a woman - that seemingly relate to past BNL conflicts. "Your vision is right, my vision is wrong," he offers with sarcasm. "I'm sorry for smudging the air with my song." If Page had written this musical poetry himself, he would be genius. As it is, let's call him a clever gentleman.

Ain't No Grave by Johnny Cash, from the forthcoming American VI: Ain't No Grave (streaming at rollingstone.com)

"Ain't no grave," sings the man in funeral-black, tired yet resolute, "can hold my body down." So we hear.

Me and the Devil by Gil Scott-Heron, from I'm New Here (XL)

It's the devil knocking at his door - who knew Lucifer would be so decorous? From the bluesy poet Gil Scott-Heron, grandfather of hip hop, a moody shuffle from this mortal coil.

Cherry Red Wine by Luther Allison, from Songs from the Road (Ruf)

At the beginning of the live CD, recorded at Montreal Jazz in 1997, the announcer asks the audience if they're ready for the blues. Nothing would have prepared them for this 12-minute workout of West Side minor-key molten guitar from the late, great Allison, who is exhaustive, but in the best possible way.

 

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