New on CD 6/20

Friday, June 20, 2003

'After the Storm'

Proving a good CD is as much about the production team as the performer, "After the Storm," is an uneven effort. When paired with the right collaborator, Monica makes the most of her first album in five years. Unfortunately, she also indulges in far too many rank-and-file wannabe-Beyonce duds.

The albums best moments come courtesy of two songs co-written and produced by Missy Elliott, who also served as executive producer for the entire project. Magic flutes sampled from The Whispers "You Are Number One" give "So Gone" a pleasing retro feel. Backed up by a falsetto chorus and another old-school sample, Monica is at her sassy best as she warns a cheating boyfriend not to come calling on "Knock Knock."

It's too bad the whole album doesn't sound like this. "U Should've Known Better," which Monica co-wrote with producer Jermaine Dupri, is a "paint-by-numbers" effort, bringing nothing new to the table in sound or lyrics. Jerkins fares a bit better with the uptempo "Ain't Gonna Cry No More." But you can hear what is in essence the same song on Jerkins collaborations with other artists.

Excluding the disjointed "Get it Off," nothing on "After the Storm" is out-and-out unlistenable. The best of the CD is soulful, imaginative and unique -- that's what makes the rest sound like so much pointless filler.

'Vulnerable'

Trip-hop artist Tricky's seventh album, "Vulnerable," oozes with understatement but offers songs so tough to latch onto that even his quasi-inventiveness can't save it.

"Vulnerable" appears really to be a showcase for whispering Italian songstress Constanza Francavila, who doesn't sound Italian or sing very well, in all honesty. She's on practically every track, breathily airing out vocals on key but lacking any punch or emotion.

The best track is "Hollow," a haunting ode to addictive love, thrown over a slow electronic beat with a nifty reverb effect.

For all the visionary labels foisted upon Tricky, "Vulnerable" is genuinely weak. Neither he nor Francavilla puts in enough energy to take the songs beyond low decibel lounge fodder.

There are enough production tricks included to make the album interesting to other musicians, but Tricky gives the common listener nothing to cling to. You'll hear some sounds you've never heard before, but most you'll never want to hear again.'Swing'

Suzy Bogguss has collaborated with Texas swing maestro Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel on her latest album, "Swing." Bogguss has a simple voice that suits this selection of inflected standards and originals perfectly.

The album begins with Bogguss's interpretation of Nat King Cole's "Straighten Up and Fly Right" Her version is light, breezy and upbeat. The singer also tackles Ellington's "Do Nothing "Til You've Heard From Me" and the standards "Comes Love" and Sweetheart" with the same sophisticated touch.

On "Swing", Bogguss has extended herself beyond her usual oeuvre, and fortunately the material is comfortably within her reach.

--From wire reports

'Redhead'

Bleu McCauley, a Boston-based singer-songwriter, doesn't offer introspective lyrics, wry social commentary or clever melodic hooks that one might hope for from an up-and-coming artist. Instead, his debut disc features banal, inane lyrics throughout.

The twelve songs on "Redhead" are guitar-based. While there are a few occasions when it seems a riff may take off and buouy the song, it almost always deteriorates around a syrupy chorus.

"I Won't Go Hollywood", has a catchy enough guitar intro, but between the idiotic lyrics ( "Sell me out/Sell me in/Color me misunderstood/I won't go Hollywood"), and the nauseating melody on the chorus, it sounds like a poor imitation of Cheap Trick with none of the irony.

The rest of the songs, with titles like "We'll Do it All Again, "Could Be Worse," "Watchin' You Sleep," "Somethin's Gotta Give" and "You Know, I Know, You Know" are completely devoid of any originality both lyrically and musically. Even "Searchin' for the Satellites," despite a slightly interesting image suggested in the title, is as poorly written a pop song as one could possibly dread hearing.

'Taste the Secret'

Yikes! There hasn't been a smarmy all-white rap crew this lame since Len. Ugly Duckling succeeds in producing the least necessary hip-hop release of the year.

Here's what you need to know in order to properly avoid Ugly Duckling: They've watched too much TV, they don't appear have a street cred bone in their three bodies and they lean way too heavily on comical skits about a mythical fast-food joint that only sells meat products.

The only thing to take away from "Taste the Secret" is an occasional solid beat scheme. "Energy Drink" and "Daisy" -- songs about an energy drink and a girl named Daisy, coincidentally enough -- have a really polished break-beat style layered with sprinkles of retro-organ hits.

"Taste the Secret" relies too heavily on 1960s and '70s derivative sound samples. It's an accomplished feat to blend it all together -- and without a curse word in sight -- but it makes for comparatively thin listening when the world of hip-hop and rap has clearly gone in another direction.

Here's a final tip for Ugly Duckling: Comedy is a crutch.

'The Folk Years'

At nearly $100, Time Life Music's academic-style look at folk music and its impact on popular music is a bit pricey.

But if quality and completeness are any indication, buyers will get their money's worth -- not just in the dozens of established and little-known examples of American folk music on the eight-disc set, but also in the background information, excellent liner notes and quick nuggets of info on the artists, the songs' origins and more.

That's a good element of this collection, because folk music is more than just twangy songs and attitude. Folk music is American poetry, set to music, that tells stirring stories and illuminates a time in the country's history when upheaval was the order of the day.

To wit, the collection provides a solid sampling of the music that drove American folk, from its early inception on AM radios in the 1930s to the FM force it became in the 1960s, spearheaded in part by Bob Dylan, The Lovin' Spoonful, Arlo Guthrie and the New Christy Minstrels.

Besides well-known stalwarts like The Kingston Trio, Peter Paul and Mary, and Judy Collins, there are some gems from performers that don't normally wear the folk label, including the Beach Boys playing "Sloop John B" and Harry Belafonte singing "Banana Boat (Day-O)."

'Sounds of Summer: The Very Best of The Beach Boys'

A greatest hits collection, "Sounds of Summer: The Very Best of The Beach Boys," offers both newcomers and longtime fans a chance to get acquainted (or reacquainted) with America's greatest pop group through the many phases of their career.

Early gems from their blue-striped shirt period start the collection. "I Get Around" surges with quick energy, guitar and drums rumble like a Camaro's engine. "Surfer Girl" is a heartbreaker ballad with choral vocals like a plaintive high school glee club.

The fun-and-sun tunes give way to more orchestrated songs. Brian Wilson, the group's bassist and main songwriter, mixed instruments and voices in dense movements. "Good Vibrations" was the high point of this period, a small suite of shifting parts with choir vocals, pipe organ and the ghostly, wailing theremin.

Popularity waned for The Beach Boys after this, but they still put out quality albums and singles, from Brian Wilson's disturbed, introspective work of the late '60s ("Wild Honey") to the glassy hits of the '80s ("Kokomo").

There's a reason The Beach Boys get played every half hour on oldies radio -- forty years on and they still sound creative and energetic.

-- From wire reports

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