Wednesday, November 23, 2005
JUST A FEW OF THE CLASSICS FOR YOUR THANKSGIVING ENJOYMENT! EAT UP!
Dar Williams: End of the Summer (Razor and Tie, 1997). The worst case of oversignificance to hit an artist since Suzanne Vega, Williams could turn a sunny day into midnight just by opening her mouth. The darling of the FUV jetset crowd, calling her pretentious would do a disservice to pretentiousness. And this is her best effort! C.
John Fogerty: Centerfield (Warner Brothers, 1985). With each passing year my contempt for this half-hearted, half-assed effort grows. Sure, it's competently played, and therein lies the problem. Fogerty could always out play his contemporaries. The trick is to bring something unique to the table. If we are to believe that Rock-n-roll Girls is the next Lookin' Out My Backdoor then we'd be believing in a lie. Truth is this was lame then and it's lamer now. B-.
Norah Jones: Feels Like Home (Blue Note, 2004). "What's not to like?" Robert Christgau once queried rhetorically. Plenty. Oh, I'm sure she's genuine when she emotes, and she comes from good stock, don't you know. If her Grammy sweeping Come Away With Me didn't convince you then perhaps nothing will. Sophisticated, easy to digest, harmless, but with just enough - shall we say - pizzazz to keep the multitudes in step. And you know she isn't some tramp or hip-hop chick, don't you know. No Eminem or Missy Elliott, here. Just the sweet girl next door who happens to play her own instrument; even writes a few of her own songs. Yes, talented she is, but with every note she exemplifies what's wrong with the biz. Jones is that perfect product ideally suited for that adult-contemporary crowd you thought didn't matter. Remember Roberta Flack in the '70s? Even if you like her personally, and by all accounts she is very likable, this is the ultimate sell job, by an industry adept at creating gods. Beware strange men bearing gifts too good to be true. B-.
Ben Folds Five: Whatever and Ever Amen (550 Music, 1997). Boy does this guy need a life. I've haven't heard such a pity pot since Billy Joel. Never trust a piano man who can't get laid. C+
Beth Orton: Trailer Park (Heavenly, 1997). I confess I find myself enjoying She Cries Your Name in my more morbid moments, but aside from that this is just one more example of a folkie way too in love with her misery. B-
Steve Winwood: Chronicles (Island, 1987). Like Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront, Steve "coulda been a contenda." Instead this overwrought and overbearing hack gets the award for doing less with more talent than any other artist in the last twenty years. Even Clapton had Layla. Banal, when it isn't nauseating. C
Sarah McLachlan: Afterglow (Arista, 2003). McLachlan is one of the guilty pleasures I allow myself. Her voice, seductive even when it's soulless, draws you into her world. With 1993's Fumbling Towards Ecstasy (still her finest effort) and the Lilith Fair concerts in the late '90s in her resume, she's hard to resist. But for all the seduction and pseudo mature themes her lyrics portend, this is one woman who still can't escape her insipid melancholy. She's as predictable as a broken country record without the twang. Actually, this is New-Age music without the mysticism. C-
The Mavericks: Trampoline (MCA Nashville, 1998). Country music with horns? Who cares. No matter how authentic their ethnicity might seem these guys are pure El Lay. Another Nashville express out to the masses. If you're looking for some good country music with a latin flavor, try Rank and File for starters. These guys couldn't tune their guitars. C+
Indigo Girls: Indigo Girls (Epic, 1989). Closer To Fine headlines this tripe and nonsensical effort. Tracy Chapman is Dylan next to these two wonderkinds. This is the worst kind of folk: deep but with no meaning. How else to explain lyrics like "In the ink of an eye I saw you bleed." They are intense, they are in need, they are in pain, and, of course, they're in love. Oh, come on, get over yourselves, girls. Your demons are in your music. C-
Thursday, November 03, 2005
RAP IT UP!
I've been remiss in my picks for top rap/hip-hop albums. So as not to suggest unwarranted bias, here are some of the better efforts out there.
Kanye West: The College Dropout (Roc-A-Fella, 2004). Like Ice-T before him he has no fear of breaking taboos and telling the world where to stick it. But whereas the former turned to unenlightened sociologist/philosopher, and saw a duty to rat out even his own kind, West really does see himself as the savior of hip-hop. His arrogance is not in a critique of what ails the world, but in how he can exploit it for his own good. But, like Mick Jaggar, his ego doesn't detract from his talent; it only enhances it. This is the best damn album in a genre that has seen more violence and insanity than any since rock music got started five decades ago. Yes, I know it's dangerous; quite frankly what he advocates will somehow come back to haunt him in his later years, assuming he lives that long. But deny him, you can't. A+
The Fugees: The Score (Ruffhouse/Columbia, 1996). Alternative rap is a sub-genre you don't hear much about, and for good reason. These guys just invented it. They balance gangsta rap with a world-vision humanitarianism. This is poetry with an attitude. Killing Me Softly and No Woman, No Cry aren't just covers, they're reinventions the likes of which the original artists would have been proud of, and in the case of the former, impossible for Flack to even create. In a genre that sings praises to the dopest of the flyist and more often than not ignores underlying root causes of the plight that besets its own artists, their triumph is considerable. That they managed to pull it off is a credit to their vision and courage. A
P.M. Dawn: The Bliss Album . . . ? (Gee Street, 1993). Is this rap light or light rap? Following up on the heals of their very fine Of the Heart, Of the Soul, and of the Cross, this album takes their caramel flavored rhythms and soul-searching lyrics to the next level. Its simplicity and, yes, sincerity, hook you in like no other music of its kind. Prince Be is one part Lionel Richie, one part Otis Redding, one part Brian Wilson. In other words he croons, but with soul and pop smarts. I'd Die Without You is a classic that lesser men would fall flat on their pretensions trying to copy. Dismiss them and you'll regret it. They're good for you. A
Ice-T: O.G. Original Gangster (Sire/Warner Bros., 1991). Gangster my ass. This guy's about as dangerous as the weather man telling you there's a hurricane coming. His humor - and by humor I mean sick humor - is matched only by his ability to play it hard and mean. He knows where he comes from, and his dislike for the hypocrites who preach the golden rule is genuine. When he scoffs "Imagine that, me working at Mickey Dee's," he's reading the riot act to any and all who still don't get it that down by his neck of the woods a "nigga" can make more in an hour selling than working all week at a straight job. And for those who would just like him to go away, his self prophetic line from the song New Jack Hustler is haunting: "They'll be another one after me." A
Notorious B.I.G.: Life After Death (Bad Boy, 1997). In the end he got what was coming to him. Songs like Somebody's Gotta Die and You're Nobody ('Til Somebody Kills You) proved to be more than just portending doom becoming reality; for him it was a way of life that he could never escape. But there was so much more to Biggie Smalls than mere death. For in his brief life the hope this ex-dope dealer had, first for his kids, then perhaps for us all, survived him. He was, if nothing else, warm and funny. He could laugh at himself, too, something most of his contemporaries could learn a thing or two about. He could've been a legend, instead of a footnote. The shame is we'll never know. A
Digable Planets: Rachin' (A New Refutation of Time and Space) (Pendulum, 1993). Eschewing the hardness of hip-hop for the lighter side, this reads like P.M. Dawn with a social conscious. They like their sex, but are respectful of their partner's needs. These rappers turned bohemians dig the spiritual realm like nobody else. And the music, it borrows as much from jazz as it does from R&B. Sort of Charles Mingus meets Curtis Mayfield. They are to hip-hop what The Buffalo Springfield was to rock. A