The Globe Sessions
A friend of mine hears the Rolling Stones in Sheryl Crow's new disc. But at the end of the twentieth century, any rock-and-roll album featuring bluesy, four-quarter-time, guitar-driven social commentaries in which a singer yells lines like "All the white folks shake their asses" ("Members Only") or laments, after a plaintive harmonica fill, "I don't think of you no mo'" ("It Don't Hurt") is going to echo the Stones--which speaks more to the shadow cast by that band than it does to Crow's wise choice of inspirations. And if you're going to acknowledge the Stones nods, you should also make note of the Pretenders' influence in the rich, Chrissie Hynde-like vocals on "Mississippi" ("All my powers of expression and thoughts so sublime/Could never do you justice, reason or rhyme"). Likewise, the haunting, edge-of-sanity insights, the mundane-but-telling driveway details and the Southern twang of Lucinda Williams hangs over Crow as she swears she's changed and begs a lover for another chance in "The Difficult Kind."
Another friend apparently heard little of anything in The Globe Sessions and took advantage of his local record store's listen-and-return policy. Perhaps he was put off by what I hear on the CD, which is sadness. Even though "My Favorite Mistake" (the album's opener and first single) is an unchallenging lost-love song with hooks happy enough for AAA radio, Crow sounds frail throughout it--and when she sings, "Hey, let's party, let's get down/Let's turn the radio on" during the second cut, "There Goes the Neighborhood," she does so with an angry vengeance; there's a bitterness in her voice that's a long, long way from "All I wanna do is have some fun." The drag queens, junkies and screenwriters she sketches with such derision here are exactly the types she used to love drinking with in the afternoon in seedy bars on other albums.
And "Riverwide," the song that reverberates after the recording's ov er, is awash with minor violins and mournful cellos. For her part, Crow gets dreamy and mystic (and a bit Celtic), sounding alternately like a cottonfield waif and an ancient French Quarter whore who'll live forever regretting the one who got away: "Tell ma I loved a man even though I turned and ran/ Lovely and fine, I could have been laying down in the palm of his hand/In the morning you wait for the sun and secretly hope it won't come/But time washes everyone clean/Honey now don't bail on me."
Crow could just as well be begging the same thing of all those fans who made Tuesday Night Music Club such a breakthrough but are inclined to pass this time around. On Sessions, she's not wearing a denim vest with nothing underneath or sexily manhandling an accordion. But it's getting easier to take her seriously.
The Jazz Passengers
Live in Spain
Recorded last year at the Victoria Jazz Festival, Live in Spain is the second Passengers disc to feature Blondie survivor Deborah Harry. But despite its earthy violins, placid vibes and jocular ambience, which effectively convey the playful jazz bravura for which the Passengers have become known, the disc ultimately does little to distinguish itself from the band's recent studio outings.
In the beginning, the Passengers' shtick came off as a clever outsider critique of the stuffy, staid jazz canon and its self-indulgent partisans. (It was the musical equivalent of Mystery Science Theater 3000.) But their emergence from low-brow yet avant-garde obscurity has revealed them to be crowd-pleasers as well. Saxophonist Roy Nathanson wrote the material for all but one track on Live, and given the absence of trombonist/group co-founder Curtis Fowlkes (replaced here by Curtis Hasselbring), he's clearly in the driver's seat. As for Harry, she plays the part of diva better than she actually sings. When she's on, as she was while crooning alongside Elvis Costello on the 1996 Passengers offering Individually Twisted, she positively glows, but she's not nearly as luminous here.
The material is generally strong. The tongue-in-cheek "Samba Uber Alles," for instance, devolves into an uptempo brass thrash that metaphorically equates an exiled Nazi's fractured weltanschauung with those frustrating Latin dance moves. But while the funky "Fathouse" is hardly related to its decade-old original version, "Maybe I'm Lost" and "Dog in Sand" are spitting images of the renditions on previous releases such as 1994's In Love. Live manages to appeal to the picnic-basket-in-the-park set even as it indulges in quirky arrangements, off-kilter noisemakers and spirited scat. But it's better at reproducing invigorating and rewarding passages from the Passengers catalogue than it is at superseding them.
Brothers Gonna Work It Out
In the fight to broaden techno's audience beyond the club scene, the Chemical Brothers are heavyweight champs; their previous Astralwerks release, Dig Your Own Hole, went gold, and its first track, "Block Rockin' Beats," won a Grammy. But instead of following up these victories with more original material, the Brothers have changed strategies. Brothers Gonna Work It Out compresses 23 (generally great) tunes into five tracks--and of those, only a handful were made by the Brothers themselves. Instead of spotlighting new material, the collection attempts to sum up the Brothers' entire DJ-ing history. Judged by that standard, they win by technical knockout.
The Brothers' mixing technique is flawless throughout the album, helping to overcome soft spots caused by the inclusion of lesser songs such as Unique 3's "The Theme," Carlos Barrios's "Doin' It After Dark" and Meat Beat Manifesto's "Mars Needs Women." But gems like Badder Than Evil's "Hot Wheels--The Chase" and Metro L.A.'s "To a Nation Rockin'" contribute a subtle Beck/Beastie Boys retro-cool feel, and the final track features a beautifully chosen batch of tunes that closes the album perfectly; in fact, the exquisite mixing of Ultraviolet Catastrophe into Manic Street Preachers provides the disc with its single best moment. There are a few faults here, but they're relatively minor, and overall, Brothers is wondrous ear candy. If the sound of techno to come is anything like this step into the Chemical Brothers' past, the future will be bright.
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