soundbites
November '02

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The Richest Man in Babylon
Thievery Corporation - ESL Music

If you don't yet know Theivery Corporation, just listen up to the music in the next trendy, low-lit bar you come across; there is a good chance their ambient anthems are lurking in the background, keeping a steady pusle. The popularity is deserved — Theivery's last album, 2000's Mirror Conspiracy, was a down-tempo classic, blending grooving electronic music with a world-beat touch.

With The Richest Man in Babylon, Thievery Corporations' D.C.-based producers Rob Garza and Eric Hilton have taken their trademark sound even deeper, exploring a more introspective, darker sound. A musical polemic against global capital exploitation, the title track admonishes, "There is no wisdom in your freedom/The richest man in Babylon." The message reappears throughout the album, from brooding ballads in French, "Simple Histoire (A Simple History)" to Brazilian blues on "Meu Destino," all the while never losing sight of the beat.

The Richest Man in Babylon combines a downbeat soul with a social consciousness. Rarely does such smooth music have so much to say. —Casey Adams

A Rush of Blood to the Head
Coldplay -
Capitol

A Rush of Blood to the Head is all about melancholy, from mellowness to sweet longing. The members of Coldplay may have gotten a bad reputation for the whinings of Parachutes, their 2000 debut, but they have come a long way in the last two years. As if a rebuttal of Parachutes, the members of Coldplay make a dramatic yet slightly familiar opening in A Rush… with the repetitive accompaniment of the first track, “Politik.” The lyrics scream, “Open up your eyes,” just in case listeners don’t already get that idea from the incessant throbbing of the electric guitar and drums. This selection is eerily reminiscent of their chart-topper “Yellow” from their debut.

The strange chord progression of “Clocks” makes it difficult to discern whether the song is in a major or minor key, which gives it a texture unusual to the other tracks.

For those who did not like the style of Parachutes, this album will not awaken a newfound love for Coldplay. However, those who appreciate the lyrical meandering and soulful artistry of the music, the album will be one to play again and again. —Jessica Chapman

Don't give up on me
Solomon Burke - Fat Possum Records

Wise, wicked and smooth to a fault, Solomon Burke is like aged velvet and Pabst Blue Ribbon — so out of style it's cool. Burke, the gifted vocalist who penned such R&B classics as "Cry to me" and "Everybody needs somebody to love" in the '60s, belts out some serious emotions on his come-out-of-retirement party. A bevy of premium artists devoted unreleased or obscure songs to this choicest of cover albums.

Burke, who was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame last year, takes Van Morrison's "Fast Train" and "Only a Dream" and turns them into what can bet be escribed as modern gospel blues classics. With Tom Waits' "Diamond in your mind," Burke celebrates the optimism of years gone by as only an old optimist can. The rendition of Bob Dylan's "Stepchild" features Dylan collaborator/producer Daniel Lanois on fuzz guitar in helping create some surreally satiating Chicago blues. "The judgement," an Elvis Costello song about stark desperate love, has Burke wringing the pain out of his voice.

The provocotive "None of us are free" stands out with its vigorous, righteous call for accountability to the masses: "None of us are free/None of us are free/if one of us is chained/then none of us are free." Burke was crowned "The Wonderboy Preacher" at age 7, when he started giving sermons to his church and later on WDAS radio in Philadelphia. Known these days as The Bishop, Burke's ability to engage through emotive phrases persists strong and enduring. —Lance Jungmeyer

Scarlet's Walk
Tori Amos -
Epic

Scarlet’s Walk brings Tori Amos back to the unmistakable edge of her early works, far surpassing the musical experimentation of her last album, Strange Little Girls, which was composed of only cover songs by artists such as Eminem, Neil Young and The Beatles.

Inspired by her cross-country tour after the events of 9/11, the album follows a path throughout the United States focusing on subjects such as Native American history. As the vocals-only track “wampum prayer” sings, “Trail of Blood and amens, greed is the gift for the sons of the sons.”

Perhaps the most breathless track is the recently released single “A Sorta Fairytale,” a brilliantly woven and eerily soothing ballad. A few of the tracks, such as “gold dust” and “mrs. jesus” are strikingly orchestrated, complementing the elegance of Amos’ piano accompaniment.

Another plus is the enhanced feature of the disk, giving fans a key which unlocks the interactive website from Amos’ homepage. Scarlet’s Web offers information about the making and journey of Scarlet’s Walk, including photos, movies and an unreleased song. —Jessica Chapman

The Lonely Position of Neutral
Trust Co.
- Geffen

Rock is often a heavy-handed medium. Bands tell listeners what they have to say by screaming, belting out lyrics and tunes in the most direct way at the highest decibel. But if Trust Co. is going to make a mark on the music world, the Alabama-based foursome will do it in a different manner.

Indeed, The Lonely Position of Neutral makes a solid attempt to break away from the Linkin Park pattern, with relevant lyrics sometimes delicately conveyed and searching for place, love, trust or whatever — juxtaposed by the all-too-familiar crunchy/melodic guitars that have taken over, as if by siege, the soul of modern rock.

The band does a waltz around popular music, taking a step foreword here, backward there, mixing the radio friendly sound of pop metal with the often-underplayed theory that, sometimes, it is all right to whisper an imporant bit of lyrical message that the listener can hear as well the nu-metal archetypal scream. This hint of emo flavoring gives the band something more to work with in the future. While The Lonely Position of Neutral is not a remarkable album, any divergence from the norm could certainly indicate a reason for the listener's trust the next time around. —Ron Knox

Living with the Blues
Duke Robillard -
Stony Plain Records

Duke is back after lying low for awhile. And with Living with the Blues, Robillard reaches out to some blues mentors in coming back home. The album's title is from a Brownie McGhee classic, and Robillard adds tunes from Little Milton, Bobby Bland and Freddy King among others, plus a few originals.

Some real kickers are worth noting. The King tune, "Use What You Got," has been a staple of Robillard's for years. The lyrics brush aside that male or female preoccupation with size, getting to what is real: "Some like 'em short/some like 'em tall/but when it comes to lovin', baby/size doesn't matter at all."

Robillard heats up the CD player with "Stratisfied," a nearly 9-minute scorcher with drummer Mark Teixeira pacing Robillard, generating enough energy to light KC, including the suburbs. A Robillard original, "Buy Me a Dog," pays homage to Lucy Mae, his loyal dashound, while revealing Doug James' tasty background harp. A Roomful Of Blues tune, "Sleepin' On It," and Willie Dixon's classic "I Live The Life I Love," showcase Bruce Katz on piano. Robillard and his band deliver some jump blues at its best. —Bruce Rodgers

 

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