New on CD 7/25/03

Friday, July 25, 2003

'Strays'

If Jane's Addiction had been forgotten as a burnout band that recorded only a few albums before disbanding under the weight of their own success, they're giving fans a new reason to remember them on "Strays."

Opening with "True Nature", a high-energy guitar onslaught that sets the tempo for the entire album, 44-year-old singer Perry Farrell cries through poetry with a voice that hasn't changed an octave since 1990, when the band released it's last album "Ritual De Lo Habitual."

Each track follows a groove of punk and indie rock. "Wrong Girl" tells of the perils of relationships over funked out guitar riffs and fills. "Suffersome" follows the same, only spicing the sound with syncopated rhythms and a bit of electronica.

The album's only departure is in "Everybody's Friend," an acoustic ballad about losing a friend. But even here the band's wild California sound comes out in guitarist Dave Navarro's somewhat nostalgic rock solos.

"Strays" is a raw free-for-all, tempered by age and experience. It's a perfect return for a band that always lived on the fringe.'Moodring'

Although Mya's been on the R&B scene for a good five years now, it's hard to think of a song she's made that has had any lasting impact.

That likely won't change with "Moodring," her third disc. Though at times fun and funky, it's also very forgettable. In fact, the songs that stay in your head most borrow their hooks from other hits: On one track, she reworks Tom Petty's "Freefallin"; on "Sophisticated Lady," she uses the music from Rick James' "Cold Blooded"; and on the sexy "My Love is Like ... Wo," the catchy hook from Black Rob's rap hit "Whoa!" becomes the focal point of her uptempo dance groove.

Certainly, Mya has some appeal of her own. Her voice, while as light as a bird's, is sweet and charming, and she always has at least one song that's so unusual lyrically that it sticks in your head for a bit: for example, "Late" could be the perfect jingle for a home pregnancy test ad.

But most of the album is just run-of-the-mill R&B that goes in one ear and out the other.'Special One'

This is not your father's Cheap Trick album, and because of that, a new generation of fans may soon be grooving to the rockers.

As unlikely as it seems, the '70s stalwarts could have the rave hit of the summer in "Low Life In High Heels-Hummer." The trippy dance track would play well in the clubs, as children of Cheap Trick fans who swooned over "I Want You To Want Me" discover the band on their own terms. The song is little more than lead singer Robin Zander humming along to an infectious backbeat, backed by a kazoo (really!) and some ZZ Top-ish guitar squeals from Rick Nielsen, but it's the kind of song you can't get out of your head.

There's a lot fewer rockers here than Cheap Trick is usually known for, "Scent Of A Woman" and "Sorry Boy" notwithstanding, but the Lennon-ish "Words" and the poppy "My Obsession" make for intersting listening. The jazzy "If I Could" sounds more like Rickie Lee Jones than Rick Nielsen, and "Best Friend" pretty much defines how loudly a human being can scream before suffering a brain aneurism. Not their best album by far, but still worth a listen or three.'What's In The Bag?'

From the opening bars of "What's In The Bag?," it's evident that talented tunesmith Marshall Crenshaw is in a mellow mood. The first song, "Will We Ever," is a slow waltz, and the second, "Where Home Used To Be," is just a bit faster.

While Crenshaw's music is usually more bouncy, his melodies on "What's In the Bag?" remain as catchy as ever. Among the most hummable are two instrumentals, along with the dreamy "A Few Thousand Days Ago" and "The Spell Is Broken,"

Four of the 11 cuts feature a vibraphone and acoustic bass, giving those tunes a slightly jazzy feel.

and there's also a cello and pedal steel.

Crenshaw recorded most of the album at his home studio in Woodstock, N.Y., and it sometimes sounds like a demo. That's especially true when the final cut -- the instrumental "AKA 'A Big Heavy Hot Dog"' -- ends abruptly, a casual conclusion to a laid-back set.

'Friends of Mine'

Adam Green is a 22-year-old, freewheeling singer-songwriter of the new New York music scene -- a combination of the Washington Square Park folkies and today's indie malcontents.

"Friends of Mine," his second album, adds polish to his skewed tunes, with a string section on all but one song. But at its heart is Green strumming his acoustic guitar. His voice is right up front: clear and uninflected, tinged with satire and insomnia.

Some parts of "Friends of Mine" run together unforgettably, but much of it sticks, like "Bunnyranch." Underneath the song's sunny, fairy tale front, a menace seethes.

Throughout the album, Green strings together fractured pop culture references ("Jessica Simpson where has your love gone, it's not in your music") and snippets of vivid poetry ("prostitute fingers fumbling with matches"), all sung with deadpan delivery.

This evenhanded treatment of lyrical matter charges each new verse with anticipation. What will Adam Green say next? Perhaps something introspective: "I don't go out for months without my Barnes and Noble credit card."

'Man Work'

In the best possible sense, "Man Work" is like Colin Hay's cover version of his own greatest hits album.

As the title suggests, the collection of remakes includes early 1980s hits from his Australian band Men At Work, but the familiar songs "Down Under" and "Who Can It Be Now?" are reincarnated here in stripped-down acoustic style.

Hay's wry voice is a little deeper, a little rougher, but just perfect for emphasizing the bittersweet feeling of the music -- a contrast to the upbeat memories of those songs from two decades ago.

He sings like a reformed sinner who still delights in old memories: "Perhaps this is as good as it gets/ When you've given up the drink and those nasty cigarettes/ Now I leave the party early, at least with no regrets," he sings in the opening track "Beautiful World," a remix from his 1998 solo album "Company of Strangers."

A bonus version of "Down Under" features a Latin brass accompaniment from the Wild Clams and soul-salsa singer Cecilia Noel, who sings backup on a few other tracks.

The disc's highlights are a version of the Men At Work ballad "Overkill" and a rerelease of his 1993 song "Waiting For My Real Life To Begin," both featuring nothing by Hay's voice and his own acoustic guitar.

Hay is at his best when works alone.

'Rise: The Story of Rave Outlaw Disco Donnie'

"Rise" is the soundtrack to a new independent film bearing the same name, chronicling the life of an electronic music scene promoter. If the movie is anything like the soundtrack, keep your popcorn money in your pocket. The CD is a stinker.

Sounding very dated with strains of industrial metal sprinkled over plodding melodies, "Rise" fails to excite. Crystal Method puts up a weak front to kick off the mixed dance track CD with "Roll It Up." The songs sounds stifled and Crystal Method could have done better.

Other laggard tunes include "Roaches" by Trancesetters and "NTrance" by Nico, which are both understated, dark interpretations of a much livelier scene. Those tracks are repetitive sleepers which bring the CD to an aural halt. The downtempo offerings also seem misplaced.

The two best tracks are buried in the middle -- the thumping "I Feel Good" by Charles Feelgood and "Party People" by Hawk featuring Atomsmasher. They're the only thing on the disc worth moving to.

'Train Home'

While Chris Smither is a great songwriter, the centerpiece of his 11th album, "Train Home," is a cover -- Bob Dylan's "Desolation Row."

Smither always has been willing to reinterpret another artist when it suits his purpose, and he makes "Desolation Row" and the three other covers on "Train Home" his own. The subtle arrangement of "Desolation Row," with Bonnie Raitt's mournful slide guitar, ghostly horns and almost martial percussion, turns this jaded epic into a masterpiece.

And that's the thing about Smither -- he's subtle. He's not an in-your-face singer, he's not a 300-beats-per-minute guitarist. His lyrics require listeners to think, a dangerous attribute in today's music business. In a weathered voice he sings of acceptance and transcendence with lyrics that would make a Buddhist monk nod in recognition. On his blue guitar, he plays tunes in a style that would make Mississippi John Hurt proud.

Smither is an American original, a product of the musical melting pot, and one of the absolute best singer-songwriters in the world. "Train Home" is well worth taking.

'Streets of Sin'

Joe Ely has been singing twangy heartland rock for more than 30 years, so it's no surprise that there are no surprises on his 15th album, "Streets of Sin."

Still, it's a satisfying set, with 12 songs that Ely describes as "a bunch of stories from the B-section of the newspaper." Included are a flood song, a road song, a carnival song and even a love song. Ely finds fresh twists in these shopworn subjects, sharing his populist sensibility and dry wit in a pinched tenor that fronts sturdy, no-frills arrangements.

Among the highlights is "Twisty River Bridge," in which the protagonist drives off a bridge. "Love, wine and jealousy don't mix with gasoline," Ely observes. "Carnival Bum" is the most ambitious tune musically, with spoken verses and tempo shifts.

Ely opens the disc with two tunes that make Joe Everyman seem heroic, then reminds us on "Wind's Gonna Blow You Away" that we're all going to die. "Someday when your bones turn to dust, that wind's going to blow you away," he sings.

Have a nice day.

-- From wire reports

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