soundbites
December '03

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James Blood Ulmer
No Escape From The Blues: The Electric Lady Sessions - Hyena Records

James Blood Ulmer might not have ever had No Escape From The Blues, but based on this disk, there’s been a shift in direction. Ulmer, a relatively unknown bluesman outside of New York City and Memphis, may have seen his time come because of this superb CD.

Ulmer’s blues is so loose it fits fine; fashioned about with such authenticity, the free-form disconnect that sometimes happens between him and his session players just enhances the burst of freshness on this album. Much of this CD has a haunting, distorted feel to it, as fluid as life and as accurate as the blues can be.

Two standout selections include Queen Esther in a duet with Ulmer on John Lee Hooker’s “You Know, I Know” and on harmony in a bewitching Jimmy Reed tune, “Bright Lights, Big City.” Olu Dara on pocket trumpet and Maya Smullyan Jenkins’ tap dancing shows this cut as something converging on where the blues has been and where it can go. —Bruce Rodgers




Toni Gates
Outside the Lines - Ransomed Productions

Kansas City’s own Toni Gates presents a rich and flowing musical masterpiece with outside the lines. Gates did most of the arrangement on the album, which included an interspersing of emotional piano, cello, electric bass, acoustic guitar and flute. The diva Gates bares her soul in the upbeat “Good Things,” and she looks to e.e. cummings for the lyrics of “Raise the Shade.”

Outside the Lines includes nine tracks with a total running time of only 22 minutes — painfully short for a disc which could have held three times the substance. But quality is always better than quantity.

This album, with Gates’ smooth, captivating voice, has made its way into the CD collection permanently keep in my car — a cherished spot when the monotony of the road needs breaking and other reflections are sought out. – Jessica Chapman


Sting
Sacred Love - A&M Records

In between his faux-English-hipster attitude and his semi-serious, semi-sarcastic interview stylings, Sting/Gordon Sumner has actually managed to squeeze out an impressive series of solo albums since his law enforcement days and garnered some serious critical acclaim from across the musical spectrum.

Four years after his last album, the King of Pain has returned with Sacred Love, a somewhat standard mix of melodic ballads with some Latin and Eastern influences thrown in to prove Sting’s “progression” as a musical artist (ever notice that ripping off the best of traditional music from other cultures now somehow equates to your average McPopstar’s “evolution of ability”?).

Still, the sacredness here is easy to digest, the exotic flavors kept to a standard Chinese buffet level, while each song’s just different enough from the last to keep you coming back for more, making every breath you take as shallow as spirits in the material...ok, ok, you get the idea. –Brandon Whitehead


The Appleseed Cast
Two Conversations - Tiger Style Records

Two Conversations is the latest from this Lawrence-based emo group whom, in the past, has been called very “Radiohead” like. The group had a lot to live up to following the critical success of their two-album project Low Level Owl as well as it being their first release for Tiger Style Records.

The band has seemingly stepped back a little in their musical style to more emo rock roots and away from some of the “artsy” renderings that dominated Low Level. That’s not to say the album is without merit.

Two Conversations actually brings the band up to date in the direction of, what some might consider, modern emo rock. Singer Steve Crisci’s vocals stand out while not completely dominating a song’s landscape and he adds more legitimacy to the lyrics beyond the typical up and coming band ambitions. Aaron Pillar (guitar) and Marc Young (bass) hold down the underlying melodies while Jordan Geiger’s keyboard and Josh Baruth (drums) bring the “punch” when it needs to be there. The album, while not completely moving, lets the melodies flow nicely from one song to the next. –Justin McBee


Limpbizkit
results may vary - Interscope Records

When the semi-novel rap/rock sound of Durst and Co. first broke water, their fortunes (and royalties...) seemed destined to climb to “musical savior” status. Today the most common fan interest in the group would seem to be Google searches involving the words “Durst, Britney Spears, nut salad.”

Falling from grace, or in this case pretty much waking up to find cab fare on the night-stand, is seldom good for any bands output, so it’s little surprise that their newest CD results may vary has, well, varying results.

Most of these 16 tracks are pretty standard, despite the addition of ex-Snot guitarist Mike Smith, with little variation on the standard ‘bizkit “PBR and bong water” themes. A few songs like “Eat you alive” evoke enough of the gloriously sloppy head thumpin’ sound that originally made these guys so much fun to listen too...but to think what they could have accomplished if it wasn’t for that damn Spears girl. –Brandon Whitehead


The New Amsterdams
Worse for the Wear - Vagrant Records

The latest side project from the Get Up Kids frontman Matt Pryor seems filled with lyrics written as reflections of life on the road and as something for Pryor to do while on a break from touring with the GUKs. Like most of the other GUK’s side projects, including The New Amsterdam’s previous releases, the album is filled with sounds that don’t fall far from the GUK tree.

The music is solidly emo yet has enough pop not to be overbearing. The overall sound also has some underlying twang and folk sensibilities that show homegrown roots. Songs like “Hover Near Fame,” “From California” and the title track deserve repeated spins while others are less memorable.

The album will certainly draw comparisons to Dashboard Confessional (especially their latest album) but the lyrics lack the emotion found in that band’s music. In classic form, Worse for the Wear brings in Get Up Kid’s Ryan and Robert Pope to fill in on various instruments on different tracks. –Justin McBee

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