New on CD 8/15/03

Friday, August 15, 2003

'The Chain Gang Vol. II'

Nelly's St. Lunatics are forgettable. Even Notorious B.I.G. underlings Junior M.A.F.I.A. fell apart after one lightweight album.

So why are six young Beanie Sigel proteges releasing a second album under the rather bland name State Property? In short: talent.

Unlike many rap posses, this Philadelphia-based group is not simply trying to cash in on the fame of its label (Jay-Z's Roc-A-Fella) or guru (troubled but dynamic wordsmith Sigel).

"The Chain Gang Vol. II" is hard-driving East Coast hip-hop. It's not aimed at radio airplay. The slow tunes are actually honest and reflective. There are no guest R&B stars singing hooks.

A hypnotic pop-pop-pop beat propels the first song, "Can't Stop, Won't Stop," into a surprisingly catchy single, while the remainder is more grimy and definitely compelling.

The Young Gunz and Freeway lead the way along with Sigel and guests including Jigga himself ("It's On"), Twista (on the funky "Blow") and Ol' Dirty Bastard, who proclaims on the lively "When You Hear That" that he prefers to be known as Dirt McGirt.

Though choruses of the 17 songs aren't up to snuff -- especially on "B.B. Gun" and "See Clearly" -- consistent production and snappy lyrics delivered with panache make up for the stumbles.'A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar'

With a name like Dashboard Confessional, the music's bound to be angst-ridden. And it is.

Continuing where he left off with "The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most," singer-songwriter Chris Carrabba shares his heartache on "A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar" with songs such as "Rapid Hope Loss" and "If You Can't Leave It Be, Might as Well Make It Bleed."

The new release isn't as sparse as the last, which featured Carrabba on acoustic guitar with a bit of percussion here and there. This time, he's added an extra guitar, organ and piano, giving Dashboard a meatier, but still solidly mainstream sound.

No great songs here, just sounds-like-everything-on-the-radio pop.

'Streets of Heaven'

It's odd that a talent like Sherrie Austin somehow hasn't cracked the country Top 10. The title song from "Streets of Heaven" could change that, if country radio is into a hankie-dabbing song about a mother's plea to God to spare her desperately ill child. It's a tune that will stay in your head.

Besides the title song, enjoy "Singin' to the Scarecrow," "Ride 'em Cowgirl" and "Drivin' Into the Sun."

Her unique voice soars in "Fools Like Us" and "Remind Me," and the more acoustic "Love Unafraid." The jazzy hidden track "Heart on Ice" shows the young Aussie's talent extends beyond country.

The rest of the album has its ups and downs. The ups are Austin's wonderful voice and clever lyrics, largely co-written with her boyfriend, Will Rambeaux. The downs are the clangy and drum-intensive backgrounds of producer Dann Huff. Austin has a unique voice that's best left to itself.

'Little Worlds'

There's nothing little about Bela Fleck and the Flecktones' latest album, "Little Worlds."

First off, it's a triple disc. Clocking in at more than 138 minutes total, each disc of about 46 minutes' worth of music nicely stands on its own. There's also a single-disc option, but somehow that takes some of the fun out of it.

Fleck once again takes the banjo to new heights, masterfully interweaving electronics, strings, percussion and horns.

All the instruments are used to take on diverse musical genres such as hip-hop, jazz, bluegrass, classical and world music.

Of particular note is Fleck's take on "The Beverly Hillbillies" theme song, "The Ballad of Jed Clampett." Featuring vocals by Bobby McFerrin and Divinity, along with Fleck's manic banjo picking, the new version bears little resemblance to the original.

Fans of Fleck's conformity-bending music would expect no less.

'KeokiClash'

There couldn't be a more iconic disc jockey of the last 10 years than Keoki, the consummate club kid of the early 1990s with a steady spinning gig at New York's Limelight. But his latest release, "KeokiClash," is frustrating.

It's a retro atmosphere as Keoki attempts to harken back to his wonder years, blending slow stabs of the old-school techno sound that never develop to full gallop. The remixes plod forward with little inventiveness.

There's still a little evil genius lurking in Keoki. Zombie Nation's "Unload" is one of the album's highlights. Most of the rest is preachy bluster with song vocals that purport to cast the last shovelful of dirt on cool clubbing.

Keoki has ignored dance tracks for some hackneyed history lesson about the New York club scene and is so busy pronouncing it dead that he forgets to make listenable music.

Keoki left the dance-heavy DJ stable at Moonshine Music in 2001 over creative differences. His releases for Moonshine, such as "Misdirected Jealousy," were much better -- and so was Keoki.'Drop the Debt'

Chico Cesar of Brazil serves up a party song about it, Faya Tess and Lokua Kanza of the Congo swing it, and Teofilo Chantre and Cesaria Evora from Cape Verde mourn it hypnotically, but the message is the same: It's time to annul the Third World debt.

Debt from loans made during the 1970s force many developing countries to shift their focus from providing basic needs to repaying what they owe, the liner notes of "Drop the Debt" explain. And so, El Hadj N'Diaye grieves, "We don't live, we hang on, We don't live, we suffer, Let's cancel the debt, And raise our heads again." Sally Nyolo and Shingo2 let their a cappella prayer bound over a chorus of hand percussion and choral harmonies: "Lord forgive us our debts as we forgive those in debt to us."

Often the danger of having an album dedicated to championing a political cause is a repetitiveness that can sound preachy. But these artists express their angst in a tapestry of languages and moods, making the entire CD well worth the listen.

-- From wire reports

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