soundbites
October '02

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Dixie Chicks - Columbia

Emily Robison, Martie Maguire and Natalie Maines spice it up in their third album, Home. From the trio’s classic country songs filled with stories of broken relationships to straight ahead bluegrass, the Dixie Chicks’ voices fuse together, becoming one singing multiple notes. The trio only contributed to the music and lyrics of four of the twelve songs on the album. However, the original cuts on Home prove the Chicks have original material left in them.

“Lil’ Jack Spade,” a toe-tapping instrumental, features Maguire on the fiddle and Robison on the banjo, who both co-wrote the piece. The beat brings on a line-dancing urge even if you don’t know the steps. The Chicks’ bluegrass roots come through in their “White Trash Wedding” and “Tortured, Tangled Hearts.” Stevie Nicks, Patty Griffin and others songwriters also are featured on the album.

The Dixie Chicks seem to have a more positive outlook on love than in previous albums, especially in their original song “I Believe In Love.” They sing, “Love is out there waiting somewhere/You just have to go out and find it.—Jessica Chapman

Sea Change
Beck -
DGC/Geffen

With seven albums under his belt and three years since his last release, indie hero Beck has re-invented himself more times than John Travolta. Unlike the inconsistent sweat hog, however, the sultan of lo-fi songwriting strikes Mellow Gold whenever he searches for it.

Take, for instance, Sea Change, Beck’s first full-length album since 1999’s Midnite Vultures. More mature than that disc and more dynamic, Sea Change resurrects the brooding mood of Beck’s Mutations, in part by re-enlisting producer Nigel Godrich and re-assembling his band after the dance-y Vultures. The tracks are prosaic, well produced and flow consistently on the album. “Paper Tiger” is simply one of the best Beck songs to date, and the drowsy “Sunday Sun” begs to see the dawn after a lonely Saturday night.

The album requires a few listens to really grow on you, and fans that know him from his radio singles might not recognize the depth displayed here. Still, Beck has taken an adventurous voyage out to Sea Change, and it is indeed a pleasure cruise. —Casey Adams


just chillin’
Norman Brown - Warner Bros.

Traditional jazz is my love, and I tend to relegate "smooth jazz" to the class of elevator music. But done right, smooth jazz can set a heck of a mood. Norman Brown does it right on his latest release just chillin’.

Brown’s music is all about melody. Sometimes he carries the melody in a slow, sensual instrumental such as "Let’s Wait Awhile" or in the jubilant instrumental of "Dancing in the House." Other times, he lets a vocalist take the melody. This recording features a few notable singers: Michael McDonald, Chante Moore, Mikki Howard and Debbie Nova. The vocal highpoints of the recording are Chante Moore on "Feeling the Way" and Mikki Howard on "Not Like You Do."

No mistake, the cuts on just chillin’ are mood music. However, Brown’s guitar skills, superior song selections and a cast of notable musicians make just chillin’ very good mood music. —Deborah Young


Everything I Touch Falls To Pieces
DeadtoFall -
Victory

 

Darkest Hour is a very good band. That said, DeadtoFall brings precious little to the metal/hardcore table that has not already been served out tenfold by their more established label mates. Everything I Touch Falls To Pieces is chocked full of tonsil shredding vocals, speedy drums and blistering guitars, but it translates into a weak effort to pick up not where Darkest Hour left off, but rather right where they started.

Victory Records does this from time to time. They find a group of bands that all sound the same, sign them, make them tour together, et cetera. It's not a bad idea; it can truly solidify a sound for a label that makes a concerted effort to corner a specific music market.

But the backlash leaves bands like DeadtoFall twisting in the musical wind. In many ways, Everything I Touch Falls To Pieces is a good album, and they are indeed a good band. Being on the same label as a very similar band that captured the sound previously, however, leaves them with mud on their faces before they have the chance to prove themselves, throwing them on the pile of phonies and imitators in a genre where originality is the key. —Ron Knox


By The Way
Red Hot Chili Peppers
- Warner Bros.

With more than twenty years and eight studio albums behind their belts, the members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers have finally proven with By The Way that they can accomplish anything they set out to do. The taste of this CD has touches of funk yet it’s still miles away from the Peppers’ vintage rap roots. By The Way smacks you upside the face while still letting you lean back and relax to the atmosphere the Peppers have skillfully set.

Tracks include a more extensive variety of musical styles than their previous works. The Latin salsa blend of “Cabron” seems out of place from the other songs, yet it is both musically and lyrically a positive addition not only to the album but also to the band’s repertoire. As if that was not enough, the Peppers even include a wise attempt at ska in “On Mercury.”

However, their traditional funk style seeps through in songs like “By The Way” and “Minor Thing”… songs that attract fans like tattoos to Flea’s body. —Jessica Chapman


A Gangster and a Gentleman
Styles -
Ruff Ryders/Interscope

In a long line of artists to flow from the porous, dark version of New York City that is the Ruff Ryder's world, Styles appears to be the prototype suitor to engage this variation of the sleepless city: predictable yet haunting, helpless yet ultra-violent.

Superficially, A Gangster and A Gentleman is not a remarkable album. Styles gives us a full helping of the classic rap motifs, complete with "purplish Porsche, mahogany seats" songs like "Daddy Get That Cash" and enough gun references to make Charlton Heston blush. It seems like a blueprint debut record in contemporary rap, a pattern for success that somehow still works after countless incarnations.

But as the record plays, Styles takes our hand and slowly leads us into a different place, far removed from the "blingin'" so archetypal to the music. His world unveils itself in shadows, haunting the listener in unpredictably morose lyrics: "If you bury my man, I'll bury your mom" from "Ya'll Know We In Here,". Even the radio hit "Good Times" is sprinkled with helplessness from his dark perch in Yonkers, NY: "I'd rather roll something up/Because if I'm sober, dog/I just might flip, grab my guns and hold something up." —Ron Knox

 

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