New on CD 5/24/02

Friday, May 24, 2002

'Mended'

"Mended," Marc Anthony's first English-language disc since his self-titled pop debut two years ago, finds the singer immersed in love -- being in love, losing love and finding love again. In other words, a fairly average topic when it comes to pop albums.

But when you have a booming, beautiful voice like Anthony's, nothing sounds average. He manages to make the most trite lyrics sound alive and passionate.

Though the songs on "Mended" are solid, they don't have much spark. The tunes, mainly ballads, depend too much on the Latin crooner to bring them to life (Anthony wrote or co-wrote most of them). But he's more than up to the task, delivering powerful performances on songs such as "She Mends Me," "Tragedy" and "I Reach for You." One can only imagine how great Anthony would sound if the songs were as stellar.

'There and Back Again'

The spirit of the Grateful Dead can be felt throughout "There and Back Again," the first studio release by Phil Lesh, the Dead's bassist and leader of his own group, Phil Lesh & Friends.

Longtime Dead lyricist Robert Hunter co-wrote six of the 11 songs, including "Liberty," a tune Jerry Garcia sang in the Dead's last years. References to past Dead songs are sprinkled throughout; some more subtle than others.

However, extended jams and highlights of Phil Lesh & Friends' live shows are sacrificed here, with the longest track clocking in at under seven minutes. The songs often sound cluttered as Lesh tries too hard to cram as much music as possible into every second.

Ultimately, the disc will please the most Dead-icated fans, but likely will not entice many new listeners.

'Killing the Dragon'

"Killing the Dragon" is another brilliant album from Ronnie James Dio, one of hard rock's most versatile voices and talented songwriters.

In nearly 30 years spent with some of the biggest bands on the planet (including Black Sabbath and Rainbow) -- as well as a sterling solo career -- Dio has never made a bad album. His songs often work on several levels, and he still laces his crunching rockers with thoughtful lyrics.

The title track of his new CD combines his love of medieval fantasy with a denunciation of heroin, using imagery that could apply equally to both interpretations.

"Rock and Roll" combines a salute to the fallen heroes of Sept. 11 with complaints about censorship, stemming from a refusal by some radio stations to play his hit "Holy Diver" after the terrorist attacks.

Dio reunites with longtime Rainbow bassist Jimmy Bain, and imports two hard rock veterans, former AC/DC drummer Simon Wright and guitarist Doug Aldrich, for one of the tightest lineups you'll ever hear. - From wire reports

'Further'

What distinguishes drum 'n' bass music from the many subgenres of electronica is the dizzying number of beats per minute contained in the tracks.

What distinguishes Darragh Guilfoyle, aka DJ Dara, from some of his drum 'n' bass colleagues is his dramatic use of crescendo and decrescendo. On "Further," his second full-length release, Dara demonstrates he's keenly aware that the likely venue for his frenzied electronic creations is a steamy dance floor.

Disc jockeys are often too relentless in their aural assaults, but Dara builds excitement through pauses and a colorful variety of sounds pulled into his mixes; perfect to dazzle the minds and bodies of late-night ravers.

Dara himself has commented that for some, drum 'n' bass is bizarre, out-there music; an indication, perhaps, that Dara is comfortable doing his thing without a distracting eye on commercialism. Always refreshing.

-- Jim Collins, AP Writer


"I'm About to Break" (Moonshine, $16.98) -- DJ Baby Anne

Futuristic layered break beats, the backbone of much modern techno music, is DJ Baby Anne's specialty. But she fails to shine on "I'm About to Break," a dance mix album mired in redundancy.

The third track, "Phat Beat" by Speedo, gets you really wound up with its acidic melody line. The song is abrasive and addictive, and its signature electronic warble blends through to the next track "Fury" by Baby Anne herself. But the album becomes mundane during the later tracks, and Baby Anne takes too much time blending in and out of some incessantly redundant hooks.

This is the stuff drum 'n' bass fans like -- a mechanical driving sound based on percussion and repetition. But Baby Anne's treatment of the material is dull, and there is little energy to her DJ mix tactics. She needs to develop better transition styles to carve out a future as a premier remix and production artist.

-- Ron Harris, AP Writer


"The Specials," "More Specials," "In the Studio" (Chrysalis, $16.98 each) -- The Specials

The Specials spearheaded the British ska revival of the late 1970s, with singer Terry Hall describing their mission as "dance music with meaning."

England was rife with labor unrest, unemployment and racial conflict in the late '70s and early '80s, and the integrated Specials put forth a pointed message of racial harmony and equality. Their music was an electrifying blend of ska, the up-tempo Jamaican precursor to reggae, and punk rock, and their live show was explosive.

Chrysalis is re-releasing "The Specials" and "More Specials," the only two full-length albums by the original lineup, plus 1984's "In the Studio," with slightly different personnel working as Special AKA. All three albums are cornerstones of any punk or reggae collection.

"The Specials," released in 1979 with 25-year-old Elvis Costello in the producer's chair, features "Gangsters," both a homage to ska great Prince Buster and a searing indictment of the record industry. "In the Studio" boasts the anthem "Free Nelson Mandela."

-- Jim Collins, AP Writer


"Sail Away" (Reprise/Rhino, $11.49), "Good Old Boys" (Reprise/Rhino, $19.98), "Ragtime" (Elektra/Rhino, $17.98) -- Randy Newman

Randy Newman is one of the most talented songwriters of his generation -- and also one of the least prolific. That makes any Newman release a major event, even if the music is more than 20 years old.

"Sail Away" includes five bonus cuts, but is mostly notable for its remastered sound, which brings new life to Newman's eclectic, marvelous arrangements. "Good Old Boys," a concept album about the South that still seems audacious today, includes an entire disc of bonus material.

Rhino also has released Newman's soundtrack to the 1981 film "Ragtime" on CD for the first time. The mostly instrumental score includes little ragtime, but plenty of engaging music that evokes the early 20th century.

-- Steven Wine, AP Writer


"rarum I: Selected Recordings" (ECM, 2-CD set, $25.98) -- Keith Jarrett

"rarum II: Selected Recordings" (ECM, 2-CD set, $25.98) -- Jan Garbarek

Pianist Keith Jarrett and Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek have been recording for ECM for some 30 years, so it's fitting for them to launch the Munich-based label's "rarum" anthology series. ECM has made these "artist's choice" collections, giving the musicians a free hand in everything from choosing and sequencing the selections to writing liner notes.

One of the pleasures in listening to both collections is the chance to reacquaint oneself with Jarrett's 1970s European Belonging quartet featuring Garbarek and hear the pianist once again interacting with a horn player in a mainstream jazz setting. Both musicians included Jarrett's stirring 1977 ballad, "My Song," in their collections. Jarrett's "Sunshine Song," a Garbarek selection, is a masterpiece in group dynamics.

For "rarum I: Selected Recordings," Jarrett chose recordings he felt hadn't received their due or were unfamiliar to his younger audience, providing a broad overview of his work as a solo improviser. He includes not only excerpts from his acclaimed solo piano concerts, but also his otherworldly "Spheres" pipe organ improvisations, his unique "Book of Ways" clavichord solos and his "Spirits" tapes on which he accompanies himself on soprano saxophone, flute, recorder, tabla and percussion.

For "rarum II: Selected Recordings," Garbarek has taken a more conventional approach, arranging the tracks on each CD chronologically, the first disc featuring selections from his recordings as a leader, the second drawn from his collaborations with other artists. Garbarek's early recordings such as "Viddene" filter Norwegian folk influences through a modern jazz prism. On later tracks, Garbarek can be heard expanding his musical horizons, blending his chameleonlike saxophone with the sounds of Brazilian guitarist Egberto Gismonti, Indian violinist Shankar, Tunisian oud player Anouar Brahem and the Hilliard Ensemble, an early music vocal quartet.

-- Charles J. Gans, AP Writer

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