January '04

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Sheryl Crow
The Very Best of ... A&M Records

There's got to be millions of hairy (or bald), belching, beer-drinkin', pool-playin', tool-belt wearing men who just melt when hearing Sheryl Crow sing. Crow is a guy's type of girl singer, period.

The Very Best of Sheryl Crow shows how this artist can reach inside of lives lived, picking at the joy, the thrill, the tease, the heartbreak and the hope we — and that's most of us — struggle to make sense of in the pursuit to get by in this life. "All I wanna do," Crow sings in her break-out 1993 Grammy winner, "is have a bit of fun before I die."

And the fun is always the journey, like when she sings "Everyday Is A Winding Road," a Buddha-esque reflection of hitchin' a ride with "a vending machine repairman ... high on intellectualism ... with a daughter called Easter."

Hurt, laughter and wonder permeate Crow's work and, oh yeah, this lady can play the guitar, too. —Bruce Rodgers

The Revolution Smile
Above the Noise - Flawless Records

Ever since Nirvana ended with a bang, so to speak, hordes of wannabes have taken their turn tugging at the Excalibur of grunge-metal. One of the newest is The Revolution Smile, formed by Shaun Lopez and backed (unfortunately) by Flawless Records, the label of favored musical whippin' boy of the year, Fred Durst.

Still, there's a lot to admire here, particularly the clean sound of Lopez's guitar and Jeremy White's slick drum work, although at times some of the 13 tracks seem just a little too clean to be attached to the original Seattle scene. The best comprise the first six, with the second half sounding like a standard B-side compilation of mostly throw-away songs.

Helmet these guys ain't, but for the first album of a relatively new group, they do evoke a little of that distant heyday long past, and that does bring on a smile. —Brandon Whitehead

The Thrills
So Much for the City - Virgin Records

The Thrills sing about the California coast, but their music sounds closer to Nashville and Austin — not what you might expect from an Irish group.

The stand-out, "One Horse Town," is the Flying Burrito Brothers with a horns section: the verses — punctuated by brass and a one-note piano part — dissolve into a bouncy banjo-driven chorus. And when Conor Deasy strikes the only chord in the song, he gives us the most invigorating moment on the disc.

Even without the banjo, the band retains its country jangle, particularly when they break out the pedal steel and harmonica on "Don't Steal Our Sun" and "Hollywood Kids."

A few pleasant, slow piano-centric numbers round out this debut. And while the band waxes sentimental once or twice, they are generally upbeat and never depressing. Deasy offers a breezy vocal style — he exhales more than he sings. But it works by eschewing suffocating production demands. —Paul Smith

The Flaming Lips
Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell - Warner Bros.

Released in the same month as the remake (or remix or re-release or whatever) of their famous alt-fav album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, The Lip's 7-song EP Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell sounds suspiciously like an attempt to squeeze some moola out of the remains of a failed full-length album ... then that just wouldn't be like the wonderfully strange Wayne Coyne and Co.

Often sounding like the audio equivalent of eating a few funny mushrooms, FL has been producing their layered, ethereal melodies since the early '80s. They even use the dinky EP format deftly (and yes, the T.P.S. remix of the ridiculously over-hyped "Do You Realize" is really cool, you geek) to pull their audience into their own fuzzy, bright and colorful world. Do the late Dr. Theodore Giesel a favor, pick up Horton Hears a Who, throw on some Lips, (forgetting that current movie monstrosity that Mike Myers should be castrated for creating) and you might just recall the true wonder of being a silly, silly child who refuses to grow up. —Brandon Whitehead

Bright Flashes -Victory Records

Snapcase has managed to stay progressive enough not to stagnate as a band while never falling too far off center from what their fans want to hear. The hardcore indie metal scream-core band has been pumping out their style of music for the better part of a decade. Their latest album, Bright Flashes, serves as a well deserved, by their fans, follow up to their 2002 album End Transmission.

That album left their listeners with a liner full of lyrics and titles for six songs not found anywhere on the album or any other album ... until now. Those songs have found the light on Bright Flashes. However, the mystery songs of End Transmission don't prove to be the real interest point for Bright Flashes. That goes to things like the remix of "Believe/Revolt," which opens the album with its strong metal riffs and electronic undertones — an overall sound reminiscent of Rage Against the Machine. The album is also littered with cover songs in a tribute to some of the band's influences ... heavy and dull. —Justin McBee

Mic Piper
Big Brass Bells and Bashing Piano - Gloryland Studios

Man, this is fun stuff. Once there was this style of music long, long ago where some guitar players and a drummer played mostly old-style blues-based cords adapted to a much quicker 4/4 beat. Eventually, these guys called it rock 'n' roll, and believe it or not, the music wasn't about the evils of George Bush (either one) or the wonders of vegetarian lesbianism. This is music meant to be heard live, in a bar, with a cheap beer in your hand and a dull roar in your ears.

Mic Piper's two short guitarists and one medium height drummer named "Neto" are loud enough to cause actual physical pain, and although the lyrics are often illegible, who cares?

It's damn nice to here a version of "Johnny B. Goode" that sounds like it was meant to and though the other seven original tracks on their KC debut album Big Brass Bells and Bashing Piano blend into one long and very loud song, that's ok — 'cause like the man says, it's just rock and roll, baby. —Brandon Whitehead

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