New on CD 5/23/04

Friday, May 23, 2003

'Deftones'

The intense, distorted riffs of the Deftones' self-titled release is a soundtrack befitting any headbanger's ball and music to keep out of the hands of those with poor anger management skills.

With song titles like "Death Blow," "Battleaxe" and "Bloody Cape," the follow up to "White Pony," which won a Grammy for Best Metal Performance in 2000, is an audio assault guaranteed to turn timid hands into fists.

Even the songs that sound in title to be tame, such as "When Girls Call Boys," carry an infectious riff-driven chorus.

The album isn't entirely the crunch of guitar. The vocals on "Lucky You" are recorded over the scratch of turn tables -- it's hardly a thrash metal sound. And "Anniversary Of An Uninteresting Event" remains free from screaming lyrics.

Metal fans have waited nearly three years for the release. And although a few tracks on the album are uncharacteristically soft for the California-based band, it's doubtful they'll find their wait in vain after hearing it.

The songs here sound best with the volume turned up.

'Up All Night'

For over thirty years, guitarist John Scofield has maintained the improvisational spirit of jazz, the danceable rhythms of funk, and the raw energy of rock.

Scofield and his quartet (Avi Bortnick on rhythm guitar and samples, Andy Hess on bass, and Adam Deitch on drums) serve up this hybrid in nearly perfect form on his latest release, "Up All Night."

The disc begins with "Philiopiety," a six-minute funk romp. Scofield's guitar licks are sparse, poking through the wall of rhythm in strategic spots. Bortnick experiments with ethereal samples that are as much a part of the jam as the instruments.

Much of the record was recorded in "real-time," meaning these ornamentations were added on the fly and are not over-dubs. The effect is an overall spontaneous energy. Ten of the eleven tracks are Scofield originals -- the band does one cover of the Philly soul classic "Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get." Here Scofield veers closer to melody without sacrificing the core element of the group rhythm.

'High Anxiety'

There's no reason why teenagers should not be blasting Therapy?'s "High Anxiety" on their car stereos this summer.

The Belfast, Ireland quartet work the intersection of punk, metal and pop, making songs high on noise and fun, and low on attention span. It's the perfect compliment to a speeding car full of kids.

"If It Kills Me" embodies Therapy?'s bounce-off-the-walls energy. Singer/guitarist Andrew Cairns snarls the title phrase as the band rides roughshod over verse and chorus in a clatter of bashing cymbals.

Cairns' voice, though no less aggressive, injects a spare melody into the songs, making them more listenable. He's close to crooning on "Hey Satan -- You Rock."--From wire reports

If Therapy? has a fault, it's that their music bounces off the brain. The titles of songs make catchy, repeated choruses, but vacate the memory when the clatter's over. It's present tense music.

But the present tense is great when you're peeling out of a shopping mall parking lot in your parents' car. "High Anxiety" is the soundtrack to loud and fast impulses.

'The Promise'

On "The Promise," Earth Wind & Fire's first album of new material in six years, the group tries to appeal to an audience that identifies them with their magical 1970s grooves, and the definitive soul music that has had lasting impression over time.

On "The Promise" there are no timeless classics to be heard. But with a little help from their friends, new and old, the group still scores big. The album's first single, "All in the Way," reunites them with The Emotions more than 20 years after they came together for the still-popular dance floor anthems "Boogie Wonderland" and "Let's Groove." But not to be undone, the new school also comes through with a contribution from Angie Stone on the chill-out groove "Wonderland."

Some of the band's signature sound is prevalent on "The Promise," particularly Phillip Bailey's distinctive falsetto, familiar from the slow dance classic "Reasons" and now nearly as good on "Where Do We Go From Here."

Founder Maurice White, who has been ailing with Parkinson's disease, returns for the album to perform and co-produce. His touch here is obvious because he leaves the band's reputation for funky dance symphonies to memory and brings in a contemporary style of R&B smoothness that listeners will appreciate.

'The Secret Sun'

Strip away Norah Jones' sexy vocals, pull her from the piano, and you'll find her guitarist and songwriter Jesse Harris and his band The Ferdinandos, whose album "The Secret Sun" is a folkie's paradise.

The band is a side project for Harris, who wrote five songs for Jones' multiplatinum debut "Come Away With Me" and won a Song of the Year Grammy for "Don't Know Why."

His band's own album is filled with acoustic, introspective guitar ballads -- "The Other Road" is slow and hypnotic but with raw polish, while "How?" and "Just A Photograph" are oozing with confessional emotion.

The songs are tailored to that bluesy sound that Jones popularized, and the net effect is a disc that sounds like B-sides from Jones' own debut. Two songs even feature Jones' dusky vocals.

She sings prominently in a duet with Harris on "What Makes You," a story of jaded love carried on a slide guitar. However, the other track, "If You Won't," seems almost lackluster with her singing backup.

The album is undoubtedly good -- though Jones' brief appearances underscore how good they would have sounded if Harris had saved them for Jones.

'African Herbsman'

Originally released in 1973, "African Herbsman" has always been cherished by serious Marley devotees. This album transports the listener back to before rock and pop elements were added to make Marley's music palatable to a wider audience.

It reflects an era in recording when a song's tempo rose with the energy level, and an imperfectly tuned bass string just added more flavor to the mix.

The sound quality of this reissue's remastered tracks is still authentically raw and tinny with occasional heaping helpings of reverb. You can hear the grainy timber of Marley's voice and the creamy blend of the Wailers' harmonies.

The bonus tracks include additional instrumentals from Lee (Scratch) Perry's Upsetters showcasing the subtle strength of the roots grooves that mellowed and entranced audiences around the world.

A stand out is the bonus version of "Kaya." Along with some supple scat work from Marley, this track highlights the luscious background vocals.

'Last Call'

The all-woman metallic punk band Betty Blowtorch was on the verge of a breakthrough in 2001 with its album, "Are You Man Enough?" However, tragedy snuffed the Blowtorch when frontwoman Bianca Halstead, better known as Bianca Butthole, died as a passenger in a drunk driving accident later that year.

"Last Call," a 29-track memorial made of select hit faves, demo recordings, live outtakes and other studio hijinx, shows why Betty Blowtorch were so much runaway rock 'n' roll fun.

It was natural move when former L7 bassist Jennifer Finch joined the last Blowtorch lineup, since both were Los Angeles sister bands with hard-rockin' riffs as heard here in a live version of "Rock My World." Heck, "Shrinkwrap" pretty much lifts the lick from L7's "Pretend That We're Dead."

It's fun to hear Halstead's junior high humor guffaws in her trashy ode to the road, "Van." Blowtorch's audacious cover of Hole's "Teenage Whore" satirizes Courtney Love's rise to superstardom. The sarcastic "I Wanna Be on Epitaph" pokes fun at the successful independent punk record label.

Standout track "Yesterday II, the Sequel" is a breathy ballad that shows the tender side of the Blowtorch, while "Love/Hate" shines with pop sensibility. And the acoustic "Funeral Crashing Tonite" takes on a greater poignancy.

More than just a posthumous odds and sods collection, "Last Call," is tasty raspberry from Betty Blowtorch and a bittersweet remembrance of Bianca Halstead.

'Transform'

Powerman 5000 returns with its fourth album, "Transform," which combines dire lyrics with an electronic rock wallop.

"Make no mistake, there is no solution," huffs PM5K's singer Spider One in "Theme to a Fake Revolution."

If nothing else, "Transform" is packed with Grade A choruses that echo from radio speakers in tunes such as "Action," "Top of the World" and "Hey, That's Right!"

'Me Died Blue'

Barely a minute into "Me Died Blue," you're likely to be having Harry Chapin flashbacks. And that's fine with Steven Delopoulos. Chapin was his mentor. So was Cat Stevens, Paul Simon and Bruce Springsteen who, like Delopoulos, are craftsmen of story songs.

You'll be reminded of all in this CD, enjoyable for its lyric simplicity, despite a few curious lapses into techno backgrounds.

Stevens is the sound in the thoughtful title song. Chapin is heard in "Rocky Boat," and Simon in "Jungle Trail." There's even some Jimmy Buffett in the whiskey-and-women "Runaway Train."

Still, Delopoulos' delivery is uniquely his. The singer-guitarist, who founded Burlap to Cashmere in the late 1990s, retains that group's folk/Christian sound, blended at times with many of the Greek harmonies that filled his home during his childhood. Toss in a charming storyteller's sense of the theatrical and a poet's use of imagery, coupled with some retro-folk finger picking over thoughtful arrangements, and it's a selection of tales well told.

'Live Phish Volumes 17-20'

As the "Live Phish" series hits volume 20 with the latest four releases, a reasonable person could ask what's left for the casual fan to care about.

First of all, understand that casual fans aren't the target of the series featuring the best live performances of the eclectic band known for its rambling jams and creative cover songs.

Secondly, Phish has very few casual fans.

If the curious newbie has no other Phish concerts, these are as good a place to start as any. All four concerts -- one each from 1991 and 1998 and two from 1994 -- are wonderful.

The 1991 show (volume 19) from Keene, N.H., stands out for the horn section that accompanied the band that summer. Volume 18 -- a 1994 concert from Dallas -- highlights Phish at its best, effortlessly weaving in covers like the Rolling Stones' "Loving Cup" alongside some of the best of their originals including the bouncy "Suzy Greenberg" and a hard-to-match "Tweezer."

'Invent Modest Fires'

Berliners DJ Kaos and keyboardist CE.EL have joined forces to become Ghost Cauldron, and "Invent Modest Fires" is their debut effort -- an eclectic pastiche of seventies rock guitar samples, hip-hop beats, gothic keyboard sounds and spoken word.

The tunes rely on the drama of swelling string arrangements, acoustic guitar, and other-worldly vocals. There's a somber quality to many of the tunes as well. "Fire Walk With Me" is reminiscent of a horror film soundtrack, while "Midnight Vapor," with its looping Indian music samples, like a score to a not so pleasant dream.

This is a wildly unpredictable collection of tunes -- an incoherent potpourri of random musical styles. But these polarities create a palpable tension that hold the record together,

'Into the Cauldron'

Two of the most gifted mandolin players on the planet, one a member of the original David Grisman Quintet and the other the wunderkind of Nickel Creek, combine for a duet album of impressive virtuosity, range and charm.

From the traditional fiddle tune "Fisher's Hornpipe" to the Charlie Parker romp "Scrapple in the Apple" to J.S. Bach's "Goldberg Variations," Mike Marshall and Chris Thile reveal themselves as jaw-droppingly talented masters of all styles.

In fact, they barely scratch the surface of what they can do, leaving the listener hoping they might release a jazz album, a classical album and an old-time album in the future. "Into the Cauldron" is highly recommended for anyone with a taste for acoustic music.

'Issues and Options'

Phil Roy's new release, "Issues and Options," blends jazzy, super-mellow music with strong, sexy vocals and poignant lyrics about home, God and relationships.

"Undeniably Human," which samples Euphoria's "Delirium," is a fabulous opportunity to re-hear the guitronica hit that popped up in television commercials. Roy adds lyrics to the song and makes it better -- much like what DNA did for Suzanne Vega's "Tom's Diner."

And "Melt" is simply one of the most gorgeous love songs ever. Co-written with actor Nicolas Cage, the guitar on it is just mezmerizing, and the weepy violin sounds like pure heartbreak.

"You're over me," Roy sings. "You won't take me back. I need you back. You're so alive it makes me numb. I could survive, but I don't want to."

Fall in love with Phil Roy.

'Lonesome, On'Ry and Mean: A Tribute to Waylon Jennings'

Waylon Jennings is probably best remembered as one of country music's original "outlaws" who rebelled against the tight strictures of Nashville decades ago.

But, as the songs on "Lonesome, On'Ry and Mean" make clear, he was more than that.

The album is a gathering of old friends such as Guy Clark, who slips right into "Good Hearted Woman," and newcomers such as Norah Jones, who does a sweet job with "Wurlitzer Prize." Maybe the best thing about this album, though, is that it showcases the music of a songwriter who deserved more notice in his time.

'Growl'

Ray Wylie Hubbard is one of Texas' finest singer-songwriters, which means, of course, that he is one of the world's finest. On "Growl" he is again precoccupied with redemption, sin, temptation, loneliness, life after death, the mystique of the Lone Star State and the other really big issues.

But Hubbard is no namby-pamby solipsist with a guitar and a pile of angst about his ex-girlfriends. He growls, howls, cackles and plays the blues, dares you to knock him over and gets back up when you do. The songs are mostly dark, tasty, bluesy and groove-driven, and the defiant closing song is bound to become an anthem of Texans, ex-Texans and wannabes everywhere.

-- From wire reports

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