MUSIC REVIEW - Pick of the stack: Music lovers' stocking stuffers
Here's a wrap-up of current CDs for you to consider as you plan how to stuff those stockings hung by the chimney with care:
Album: Square One
What it is: Singer/songwriter rock with palpable pop appeal
The Good: Don't confuse this newcomer with other sanguine, soft, or depressing singer/songwriter chicks. Samantha is an adventurous writer and arranger with subject matter that ranges from risqué to reflective. This is not a boring record, by any means– as a matter of fact, it's dangerous and sexy at the same time. Samantha somehow manages to balance pop appeal and down-home and dirty jamming. Helping her keep her balance is a cadre of fine musicians who complement her wild style. Notable guest appearances by Stanton Moore (drummer from Galactic) and Robert Mercurio (bass) on two tracks provide a nice change to her interpretation.
The Bad: As much as I enjoyed certain tracks on this record, the first two just didn't do it for me. It's important for a new artist to grab people's attention– Samantha didn't get mine until track 3, and I wasn't fully impressed until midway through the record. Lyrically she's at her best with simple metaphors that can be interpreted in many ways. When her tongue got moving too fast, I tended to tune out.
Notable Songs: Icicles (surefire single!), The Party Life, Her Style (Diamonds), and Frank Sinatra
Artist: Silent Tongue
Album: The Formula Of Believing
What it is: New wave synth rock
The Good: First off, I haven't heard music made this way since my sister's depressed teenager phase in the late '80s. I admit to being out of touch with my Goth side. However, Silent Tongue are seven records into their career and still going strong, and you have to respect that. The songs on this record flow beautifully, with continuity from the intro to the outro. The lyrics are refreshingly depressing and full of social commentary on the not-so-glamorous life of the average urban Yankee. Sonically, Silent Tongue utilizes '80s synths that sound like Casio keyboard patches. But it works well for the entire package.
The Bad: Silent Tongue are not the best musicians in the world. The pair display shoddy skills frequently during the course of the record: a not-so-impressive guitar solo on "Motion in Purpose" subtracts from the song. The gritty underground feel of this record is cool, but there are times when they could have been more thorough in execution.
Artist: Jae Sinnett
Album: The Sinnett Hearings
What it is: Pharmaceutical-grade precision jazz
The Good: I talk to jazz musicians all the time who tell me that jazz music is dead. Funny thing is, they continue to explore and play the music. Maybe it's for the nostalgia– maybe they're fighting to keep the sound alive in young ears... who knows? When listening to drummer Jae Sinnett and his trio (sometimes quintet), you get the feeling jazz is alive and well– at least it was when they were recording this album. Sinnett, who also wrote and arranged the songs on the album, has stepped forward to prove that jazz drummers can be band leaders as well. The songs are generous rhythmic odysseys with distinctive melodies. Sinnett himself plays in all styles, at some moments sounding all Elvin Jones, and others sounding more Roy Haynes. John D'earth and Steve Wilson appear on tunes to lend spice to already complex and engaging compositions.
The Bad: The album in nine tracks long with five of them clocking in at over eight minutes. I had a hard time listening all the way through. The material was so dense and long that sometimes it lost me. I think seeing Jae Sinnett live and getting a chance to watch him work his magic would be a much different experience.
Notable Songs: What Elvin Left, Heading South, Third Potato
Artist: Jim Wave and the Young Divorcees
What it is: Good ol' homegrown bluegrass
The Good: Jim Waive has character seeping from every pore, and his voice and delivery are inviting. Once inside his spell, you find the tales he weaves to be anything but a disappointment. His stories are full of color and description. Even though the landscapes he paints are at times gloomy and depressing, they still manage to connect beautifully with the music. The Young Divorcees back Wave with a combination of upright bass, fiddle/violin, and/or dobro, pedal steel or bottleneck guitar. The music never gets too fancy. Every song sits at or near the same tempo and intensity. The subtleties in the music make the difference.
The Bad: There's not much to complain about here. If anything, I would have opted for a bit cleaner mix that accented the deeper frequencies in the music. The heart is in the treble, the soul is in the bass. This music is too soulful to not have a little bottom-end love.
Notable Songs: Voodoo, Shut Down 49, Bend