August '02

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The Rising
Bruce Springsteen - Columbia Records

Trying to chase the clouds away for a nation bewildered by Sept. 11, a war on terrorism and a bummer economy, Bruce Springsteen is counting on his anthems.

The Rising, his first studio album with the E Street Band since 1984, is a slickly produced, rich, layered opus on today's times that remains upbeat yet introspective.

Though a few arrangements are tired — how many sax solos has Clarence Simmons capped off by hanging on the same note for 10 or 15 seconds? — the band hits its parts right on, allowing Springsteen's approximation of American sentiment to speak for itself.

"Worlds Apart" starts and ends on an Afro-rhythmic chorus from The Alliance Singers but peaks with a series of searing guitar solos. Springsteen and John Cougar Mellencamp spent much of the ‘80s trying to prove who was more apple pie. But on several songs, such as "Waitin' On A Sunny Day" and "Lets Be Friends (skin to skin)," Springsteen ironically now employs many rhythmic pop fiddle elements, a la Mellencamp's "Paper In Fire."

But The Boss still makes records that matter. Much has been said about the album's references to Sept. 11, and Springsteen obviously draws much passion from the subject matter. Subtract that, and you've still got the most rockin' Springsteen record in two decades. —Lance Jungmeyer

back to then
Darius Rucker - Hidden Beach Recordings

Darius Rucker’s wish has been granted. His debut recording, back to then, stands out as an original in a queue of musical clones. Rucker has said he wants people hearing his music to know it’s him. He has nothing to worry about.

Rucker, the lead singer of the ‘90s pop-rock group Hootie & the Blowfish, has a smooth baritone voice and has cultivated an easy-rock style. He hasn’t abandoned that recognizable style on this recording of mostly R&B music.

On songs such as "Sometimes I Wonder" and "Back To Then," Rucker succeeds in mixing his pop-rock vocals with laid-back R&B grooves. Noted neo-soul singer Jill Scott joins him on "Sometimes I Wonder." Scott’s pure voice and easy-flowing phrasing complements Rucker’s relaxed style.

Rucker’s also added touches of gospel and rap, with a short, acappella rendition of the hymn "Amazing Grace," and a duet with rapper Snoop Dogg.

Overall, this is a solid debut recording. Rucker’s greatest asset is his flair for vocally creating free flowing, relaxed stylings. — Deborah Young

Seize The Day
The Enemies - Lookout! Records

As a mainstream genre, punk rock has died and been resurrected uncountable times, living musical cat lives. On closer examination, however, it is not a death-cycle but rather a strike-and-recoil process that, as The Enemies prove, can be quite potent when out of the public eye.

On Seize The Day, The Enemies execute their feverish interpretation of a sound that fueled the success of their musical predecessors, Green Day, Rancid and the ilk. Their Berkley, CA roots shine through just as clearly as it did in their more famous counterparts, breeding an intelligent blend of straightforward punk intertwined with melody and social conscience. "4 A.M." and "Broken" are shining examples of the recipe-churning guitars lines transformed into honest hooks with clean sing-along vocal.
As mainstream rock blazes on with its incessant trend of mediocrity, perhaps The Enemies shall embody what their name insinuates-a threat of revival, of change-as underground rock tallies a growing list of social and musical targets at which to strike. —Ron Knox

Live at the Old Quarter,
Houston, Texas
Townes Van Zandt - Tomato Records

Long out of print and available only as an import, Townes Van Zandt's seminal live set from an intimate Houston club is considered to Texas Hill Country music what Bob Dylan's live bootlegs are to American folk music. That is, a blueprint of insurgent populist wit, wisdom and wooliness.

Recorded in 1973 and originally released in 1977, the song list has now been upgraded to include 26 songs on two disks. The singer, alone with his guitar, starts briskly with a bare-bones version of his most famous song, "Pancho & Lefty."
Van Zandt peppers classics like "Mr. Mudd & Mr. Gold," "Tecumsah Valley," "Nine Pound Hammer," "White Freight Liner Blues" and "To Live is to Fly" with laid-back between-song banter and plenty of bad jokes made good. His ballads range from the hopeful "Loretta" to the grim "Kathleen," good humor and foul temperament occupying opposite hands of a guy just trying to get it together.

Like Dylan, much of Van Zandt's work has been covered more effectively by other artists. Emmylou Harris made a hit of "If I Needed You," Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings had a romp with the aforementioned "Poncho & Lefty." But unlike Dylan, songs of the late, great Townes Van Zandt have remained sort of covered in a thick, fine Texas dust.

This reissue reveals the essence of a true American poet at his peak, propelled by the notions of a sweeping desert wind still yearning to be heard. —Lance Jungmeyer

Hard Candy
Counting Crows - Geffen Records

As many bands attempt to recreate their image by selling out to today’s much-loved pop music scene, the Counting Crows hold true to themselves with their fifth album, Hard Candy. Regardless of influences from their previous albums, they still have found room to expand.

“For the new album, I really wanted songs that you can’t get out of your head,” said Adam Duritz in a press release from Geffen Records. A strong melody pushes along “American Girls,” an amazing trumpet solo seizes the forefront in “Carriage,” a mix of congas and a piano bounce the rhythm in “Up All Night” and then there’s a strangely cheerful rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.”
Hard Candy is all about nostalgia. The lyrics swim in a myriad of times and places, all playing on memory, the good and bad. As the title track cries, “It’s just the same hard candy you’re remembering again.”Jessica Chapman

No Other Love
Chuck Prophet - New West Records

Every song a story, that’s what Chuck Prophet delivers on No Other Love. Toss in some great musicianship, superb side players and jumble of instrument sounds on various cuts — from synth strings, piano, organ, pedal steel, accordion, upright bass to a punch bowl, plus the usual guitar and drums — and you’ve got a great CD to play and keep playing.
Prophet is an original, even though his voice, depending upon the song, can sound like J.J. Cale or Tom Waits or Bob Dylan. It’s uncanny at times but thoroughly welcomed. But the songs, oh they’re good.

No Other Love
starts out with “What Can You Tell Me,” a slow-shuffle blues tune about (what else?) the exasperations of love. Every male player of the heart will dig “I Bow Down and Pray To Every Woman I See.” There ain’t no other way to explain how some guys fool around. “Summertime Thing,” which has been getting some airplay (on NPR’s World CafÈ), fits the season’s mood perfectly. Prophet is a genuine talent. —Bruce Rodgers

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