A more shinily perfect piece, but slightly less lovable, is William Finn's A New Brain (RCA Victor), seen last summer at Lincoln Center. Finn's strategy is to apply song-and-dance modes to unexpected topics in this case an autobiographical recounting of his bout with brain surgery. The material inevitably grabs you, and the score, Finn's most fulfilled work to date, has real power; you just can't help feeling a little bit hemmed in by all the cleverness. Oh, for a little imperfect spontaneity. Still, the musical side's handled immaculately under Ted Sperling's direction, and the gemlike cast Malcolm Gets, Liz Larsen, Penny Fuller, Michael Mandell, Mary Testa is hard to top.
For something equally medical but aesthetically opposite, check out Dan Moses Schreier's score for Dan Hurlin's strange, static piece, The Shoulder (Mower Records). Here an almost-blind farmer's 40-day trip via power mower to see his ailing brother is the topic, and Schreier's rippling lakes of arpeggio and what might be called pomo doo-wop make a serene, unmodulated musical equivalent of sightlessness. The disc, which also contains much of the spoken text, gives the full quality of the quirky work, and music director Alan Johnson's keyboarding is pure heroism.
Michael McElroy and Lauren Ward in Violet: a musical bus tour of a region and its people
There's more traditional work worth sam- pling with some skipping on The Show Goes On (DRG), the revue of Tom JonesHarvey Schmidt songs staged last year at the York Theater. Jones, an affable narrator, should stay off the vocal lines, and the two female cast members aren't all that much better. Fortunately, Mark McVey's sturdy baritone handles the heavier tasks with ease, and Schmidt's classy pianism carries the day. Also, pleasantly, the roster includes a lot of nonstandard material alternative title songs for I Do! I Do!, items from the team's early Julius Monk revues and the lack of slickness keeps the whole thing appealingly low-pressure.
Proof that the unslick tradition goes on can be heard in A Special Place (Original Cast Records), a collection of songs by Bob Ost that aren't really the original cast of anything they're from cabaret revues, unproduced shows, this occasion and that. The roster of known quantities, ranging from Lillias White and KT Sullivan to Heather MacRae and the soap star Brian Lane Green, is as miscellaneous as Ost's songs, which jump from country rock to old-style show tunes to cabaret-style comic patter numbers. He holds his own pretty well in all these and other genres; someone should probably hire him to write a musical.