Largo

Largo

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It's one thing to call yourself Americana. Unfortunately, doing so almost guarantees that you ain't it. Largo is everything Americana should be. It is also (easily) one of the most ambitious albums of the digital era. Just their luck: they hit a home run while the entire crowd was out in the beer line. Between major-label mergers and the fact that it just says "Largo" on the cover, this flat-out masterpiece was lost in the shuffle and almost no one heard it. It is a swirling concept album touching on believable stories seen through the eyes of diverse Americans. Make no mistake, though, this is timeless rock with big hooks, not roots revivalism. Largo was produced by Rick Chertoff and his college roommate Rob Hyman of the Hooters; the two co-wrote nearly the whole album with Hooter Eric Bazilian and singer/songwriter David Foreman. The A-list talent (several of whom have hit records produced by Chertoff) is almost an embarrassment of riches, but it never sounds like a compilation album; it is focused and unified. "Freedom Ride," an out of the gates rocker, is sung by Taj Mahal. "Gimme a Stone" is a duet between Levon Helm of the Band and Foreman. It's a song for all but those who root for Goliath. Cyndi Lauper wails out on "White Man's Melody," and Joan Osborne turns in a memorable vocal "An Uncommon Love," a Carole King co-write that King also sings on. Osborne is also all over "Hand in Mine," which features a bleary-eyed co-lead from Hyman, whose knack for universal melodies is on full display on the track (and the whole album). Foreman's voice is deep and resonant, and his performances (as on the down, dirty, and devastating "Disorient Express" and the ballad "Largo's Dream") make you wonder where this guy has been all these years. Willie Nile turns up for the punky "Medallion," a song about a Pakistani cab driver working to make enough money to bring his family over. These songs are about people you might meet, not some spent myth. The album has several versions of Dvorak's "Largo" (performed by the likes of the Chieftains and Garth Hudson of the Band) which separate the groups of songs; it was Dvorak's trip to the New World that inspired Largo. The album has been completely out of print for years, but Roger Daltrey (who performs "Freedom Ride" and "Gimmie a Stone" live) pressured online retailers to provide a digital option. Although a commercial stiff the first time around, Largo is getting a second life on Broadway, and the show is currently in production. Some great albums need to grow on you, but the many virtues of Largo are apparent from the very first listen.

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