New on CD 7/11

Friday, July 11, 2003

'Diamond Dave'

This is where the once (and future?) Van Halen frontman casts off the mantle of Metal God and assumes the role of Soul Man. If you remember Roth as the long-haired blond banshee howling on VH classics such as "On Fire" and "Running With the Devil," you probably won't like his new album, "Diamond Dave," a collection of covers of '60s and '70s songs by The Doors, Jimi Hendrix and others.

On the other hand, if you liked the four-song EP "Crazy From the Heat" that launched his solo career in 1985 with "Just a Gigolo (I Ain't Got Nobody)," chances are, you'll love this.

Roth revels in the backbeat boogie and blues he's always been so good at while forsaking the crunching metal that first brought him fame. In fact, "Bad Habits" is very much in the big-band mold of "Gigolo," and could be another major hit.

With characteristic self-confidence, Roth changes the titles of several songs he covers. For example, "Tomorrow Never Knows" is now "That Beatles Song." Also characteristically, Roth covers himself, serving up a boogie-woogie piano version of "Ice Cream Man" from the very first Van Halen album that, while tasty enough, leaves you wondering what Eddie Van Halen is doing at the moment.

'Chapter II'

As a singer-songwriter, Ashanti has all the substance of a vat of cotton candy. Her voice is pleasing yet thin, her music often relies on R&B hooks from the past, and her songs are lyrically weak (if she couldn't use the word baby, many of her songs might be instrumentals).

But despite all its fluff, cotton candy is still a tasty guilty pleasure. And the same can be said for the 21-year-old Ashanti, who, despite her limited talents, manages to keep the listener entertained on "Chapter II," the follow-up to her multiplatinum, self-titled debut.

Case in point is the disc's first single, the dreamy "Rock Wit U (Awww Baby)," which features Ashanti cooing sweet nothings. It's basically a 30- second song repeated over and over, but it's a tune that's hard to get out of your head.

And Ashanti, who co-wrote most of the tunes along with co-executive producer and mentor Irv Gotti, does show some artistic depth in spurts. For example, "Carry On," a defiant Ashanti sings forcefully as she tries to persevere over a broken relationship; "The Story of 2" is a highlight, even though it borrows from the old Rick James tune "Dream Maker."

Conspicuously absent on this disc is frequent duet partner Ja Rule; except for a flashback sequence in the beginning of the album, his gravelly

voice is nowhere to be found -- probably a good thing, given his overexposure and recent fall-off in street cred. Unforuntately, Gotti replaces him with fellow Murder Inc. artist Chink Santana and himself, and they add nothing (and neither do the corny, stupid skits between tracks).

"Chapter II" isn't one of the year's best R&B albums -- heck, it's not even the best of the month. It's more akin to a trashy novel -- and it's good beach listening.

'Freeman'

Jamaica native Winston Rodney has been writing and performing reggae music as Burning Spear for over thirty years. Along with having the distinction of being one of the purest practitioners of the genre recording today, Spear's particular brand of Rastafarianism is the most coherent and most clearly identifies with the teachings of Marcus Garvey than any other artist.

Spears personal philosophy is central to his music and lends a feeling of authenticity to his songs. On "Freeman" Spear sings about the familiar themes of self-determination and equal rights for African descendants and for all people. His voice is often slightly off pitch, but rather than jarring the listener, its arresting in it believability and creates some uniquely beautiful harmonies with the backing vocals.

Spear is capable of being playful as well as profound. On "Rock and Roll" he sings of the delights of pop music. The horn arrangements throughout the album are stellar. Never overpowering, they instead grace the tracks with soulfulness.

'Parts of the Process'

Even non-Morcheeba fans will get déjà vu listening to "Parts of the Process," their greatest hits collection. Their songs have been used in movies, advertisements and television shows, ad anyone who regularly goes clubbing has likely grooved to Morcheeba's combination of electronica, soul, hip-hop and rock.

Among the included tracks are the upbeat "Be Yourself" and "Rome Wasn't Built in a Day" and the trancelike "Trigger Hippie" and "World Looking In." Mostly everything is worth a listen, if only to enjoy the trippy combinations of different sounds and front woman Skye Edwards' sweet and versatile voice.

"Parts of the Process" also includes two new tracks. The first, "Whets Your Name," is a strange combination of techno and rap. The song combines what sounds like a speeded up version of the theme from "The Twilight Zone," with computer-enhanced vocals and a guest appearance by rapper Big Daddy Kane. "Cant Stand It" is completely different, a melancholy ballad dominated by acoustic guitars and symphonic instruments.

-- From wire reports

'Run That By Me One More Time'

Willie Nelson and Ray Price first worked together as relatively young men on Price's "San Antonio Rose," on which Nelson played bass.

Now the men, both in their 70s and legends in their own right, reunite on "Run That By Me One More Time" is a collection of sad ballads and melodies thick with memories of an earlier time.

On "It Wouldn't Be The Same," Price's velvety Texan-drawl complements Nelson's grizzled pipes, as Nelson's acoustic guitar and the accompanying fiddles stagger like a drunk. It's a song about relationships, as is "I've Just Destroyed the World I Live In," "Deep Water," and "I'll Keep On Lovin' You." Each begins with a moaning violin, but the sound quickly becomes repetitive further into the album.

And that may be the album's biggest fault. There's a format they follow through much of it, both in what they sing about and the way the band backs them.

The album is not without it's memorable tracks, though. The best song, one that comes close to the freewheelin' lives Nelson and Price have known, is "Home in San Antone." Upbeat and bouncing, it grabs the album with a taste of Texas just when the whole project is falling down.

'Nina Simone: Anthology'

The incomparable singer, pianist, composer, arranger Nina Simone died this past April, leaving behind a body of work that defies categorization.

Simone moved easily through various musical styles, jazz, soul, rock and pop, often on the same album. BMG Heritage has compiled thirty-one of Simone's classics on a new two disc collection entitled simply "Anthology."

Her recording career began in 1959 with a cover of Gershwin's "I Loves You Porgy," which immediately brought her recognition; it is included here.

Simone's original compositions often reflected her involvement in the civil rights struggle. Songs like "Mississippi Goddam" and "Four Women" are searing in their power and originality. Her intense, expressive alto, while lacking polish, had the ability to stir any listener.

Simone's repertoire was filled with very astutely chosen cover songs that in her hands seem like her own compositions. "Sinnerman," "Strange Fruit," and "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," all included on "Anthology," are all imbued with that unique Nina Simone soul.

'Close Up'

To the producers of Elvis Presley's "Close Up": Thank you, thank you very much for combing through the Elvis vault and releasing the four-disc, 89-track set.

Each of the four discs focuses on a particular point in the King's career. The first disc offers 20 tracks from 1957. The second consists of outtakes from four Elvis movies: "G.I. Blues," "Flaming Star," "Wild in the Country," and "Blue Hawaii."

The third disc is packed with virtually every outtake from Elvis' 1960s sessions at RCA's Studio B in Nashville.

The outtakes give a glimpse into the world of an Elvis recording session, complete with flubs, jokes and alternate takes to well-known tunes.

The highlight of the set is the fourth disc, an entire 1972 concert from San Antonio.

Elvis enters to the strands of "Also Sprach Zarathustra," plays a host of his most popular songs, thanks the guy who brings him his scarves, and then makes his exit after crooning "Can't Help Falling in Love."

Elvis may have permanently left the building, but he sounds more alive than ever on "Close Up."

'O Sole Mio: Neapolitan And Italian Songs'

Metropolitan Opera tenor Ronald Naldi's "O Sole Mio: Neapolitan And Italian Songs" is the perfect soundtrack for either a romantic evening -- or a romance gone sour.

Naldi taps his Italian-American roots for these traditional songs by various composers that emcompass every emotion, from yearning and joyous passion to fear and loss.

Naldi delivers the songs with lyric elegance and impeccable technique, to an orchestral accompaniment. But what makes this recording special is the heart-wrenching spontaneity of the tenor's warm voice -- plus a few playful vocal turns, like a thrilling trill for "O Sole Mio."

More than half of the 23 songs are sung in the dialect of Naples, many in minor keys reflecting the melancholy of that city's greatest love songs, most often heard today as encores to vocal recitals.

The rest of the album is devoted to proper Italian texts, including some refined "parlor" songs by Francesco Paolo Tosti, who was Queen Victoria's singing teacher.

'How to Deal'

Much of the publicity surrounding the soundtrack of the upcoming film "How to Deal," starring Mandy Moore, is centered around Skye Sweetnam, an Avril-esque 14-year-old.

That's too bad, because Sweetnam's "Billy S." -- which relies too heavily on the perceived rebelliousness of calling Shakespeare by a nickname -- proves the soul of this soundtrack lies elsewhere.

More specifically, it's found in Beth Orton's throaty remake of Cat Stevens' "Wild World" (the original is also included) and on Tremolo's "Promise Ring," an appealing, if melodramatic, song about commitment.

The mood is lifted by the breezy falsettos of the group Marjorie Fair's "Waves" and the quirky jazz-electronica of Echo's "Surrender." The soundtrack also includes previously released songs by Orton, The Donnas, The Flaming Lips and John Mayer.

Put all this together and "How to Deal" is a fairly cohesive album, although Sweetnam's contribution feels like a junior high school girl crashing a high school, or even a college, party.

-- From wire reports

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