September '03

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Neil Young & Crazy Horse
- Reprise records

“We’re going on a little trip, folks…” says Mr. Young at the beginning of Greendale, and is he ever right. This is classic Neil, the blue-jeans Troubadour of middle-American angst and social displacement. While age has mellowed his bitter black bile a little, the words still ring true.
In many ways this is almost a concept album, centering on the imaginary rural valley of Greendale, a place where time stands still and the world moves around people, not politics or beliefs. The tracks blend from one to another like an old path winding through country junkyards and old farmer’s porches, and the bonus live DVD filmed at Vicar St. thrown in just helps make Greendale a place you won’t want to miss. —Brandon Whitehead

T.S. Monk
Higher Ground - Thelonius Records

T.S. Monk’s jazz has been baptized in the waters of tradition and has emerged reborn. It is your father’s jazz, but with fresh, tight skin.

The brass section is dominant on Higher Ground, the first CD release from T.S. Monk’s new company, Thelonius Records. But there’s also a modern vibe present on several of the CD’s nine selections. Instruments such as electric piano and synthesizer contribute to that vibe, and it permeates “Girl Watchin,” with its synthesized handclaps and electric piano riffs. It’s a selection that rocks with a funky beat and driving bass line, but with melody and a precise technical execution that recalls the best of traditional jazz.

On “Ladera Heights,” the band slows down a bit and swings into a “smooth,” reflective jazz sound, an interplay between trumpet and piano. If you enjoy the easy jazz piano compositions of Dave Grusin, you’ll likely be drawn to this number.

Still, the most notable feature of this recording is that it swings, rocks and bops until it stops. Would you expect less from a band led by a drummer? T.S. Monk, a.k.a. Thelonius Sphere Monk III, has assembled an eclectic collection of mostly upbeat tunes. From the fanciful scat on Cedar Walton’s minor jazz classic “Mosaic” to the thumping beat of “Millennium Dance,” with its slippery-smooth violin fills, the music of Higher Ground goes exactly where the title promises it will.

This latest recording from the son of legendary jazz pianist Thelonius Monk offers a stylistic range that will likely appeal to both jazz neophytes and traditional-jazz junkies. —Deborah Young

Smash Mouth
Get the Picture - Interscope Records

Smash Mouth’s fourth album boasts credits including Neil Diamond, the pen behind “I’m a Believer,” (which the band covered in its last album), plus the track “Hang On” features 2-Tone legend Ranking Roger. Steve Harwell’s vocals, although quite nasal, are so endearing and nostalgic one finds it impossible to not sing along to the repetitive choruses.

Get the Picture’s beat remains buoyant and bubbly throughout the duration of the album, as if it is a bouncy ball on hyper speed, only briefly taking a breath during specific songs. “Space Man” and “Looking for a Wall” are two such instances; the slower pace proved to be a much-needed rest. In addition, the melody and accompaniment of “Space Man” skirts between major and minor keys, giving out an air of mystery.

But the most noticeable difference that sets this album apart from the group’s other releases appears in the range of lyrical themes, including a candid 9/11 tribute that pushes people to enjoy life even in hard times. Of course no Smash Mouth album would be the same without cheerful rantings about love and enjoying life to the fullest, and Get the Picture is no exception to this rule. –Jessica Chapman

Danny Krause
plain brown wrapper
- antfarm

Danny Krause (occasionally accompanied by Disappointments…the band, that is, not his emotional baggage) has strummed his folksy pop tunes around Midtown for many moons, slinking around with other ‘pickers like Forrest Whitlow and Chad “honky-tonk” Rex.

plain brown wrapper, his debut CD, combines some of his classics (the excellent “American disgrace,” for one) with a satisfying selection of new songs that highlight his musing lyrics and unpretentious melodies. No matter how you tear it, ain’t nothing plain under this wrapper. —Brandon Whitehead

Fountains of Wayne
Welcome Interstate Managers - Virgin Records

The Fountains of Wayne demonstrate their wanna-be hippie status with ‘60s-inspired rock grace and mentions of a multi-colored microbus, Volkswagen van and repetitive lyrics of “peace and love.” But Chris Collingwood’s lead vocals prove to be enticing enough to carry the album no matter what he’s singing about.

Welcome Interstate Managers always boasts an amusing, lighthearted disposition although often depressing in its meaning, such as the cynical “Bright Future in Sales” and the elegiac “No Better Place,” which gracefully sings “And the bourbon sits inside me/Right now I’m a puppet in its sway/And it may be the whiskey talking/But the whiskey says I miss you every day.

Yet the album does have its poetic moments, including the lyrics of “Yours and Mine,” a minute-long nostalgic look at the future, and the guitar work of “Valley Winter Song.” Other tracks to note include the radio single “Stacy’s Mom,” a figment of The Graduate played out in song, and “Hung Up On You,” a country ballad which sticks out as bad as one cowboy in a group of hippies. –Jessica Chapman

Indestructible - Hellcat Records

After ten years of being churned through the tractor nuts of the modern music industry (and still refusing to sell out), UK punk lords Rancid have come roaring back with the aptly named new album Indestructible, and given the rest of the punk-wannabes of the world a big fat middle finger (two fingers, actually, being British and all…).
With 19 tracks of classically trashing guitars and half-growled, half-sneered lyrics about such complex emotional issues as beer and getting the shit beat out of you, Tim, Lars, Matt and Brett prove that the punk we all once loved never died, baby — it was just a little hung over from the nineties. —Brandon Whitehead

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