Category: Reviews

All bitter, no sweet

The title of Kim Richey’s previous album, Bitter Sweet, was indicative of its content. As mentioned in the Notebook’s 1997 year-end issue, the album contained sweet songs about bitter subjects.

With Glimmer, Richey has done away with the sweetness, and some the remaining bitterness borders on dark and angry.

“Other Side of Town,” for instance, sports some barely-contained sarcasm. “You can come out, now, the coast is clear/Old ghosts don’t run around here/No loose ends to tie you down,” Richey sings, later warning, “Careful you don’t go so far/You lose the best of who you are.”

“You remember the way it never was,” Richey accuses on “The Way It Never Was.” “You’ve forgotten the things we didn’t say/If you miss me the reason is because/You remember the way it never was.”

Even Richey’s music turns dark. “Can’t Lose Them All” starts off with a minor key hook uncharacteristic of most Nashville artists, and the last half of the album is dominated by a series of quiet, plaintive songs.

Richey’s clear soprano, backed by these more introspective tunes, could fit her a slot on Lilith Fair, perhaps even replacing the festival’s headliner. If Sarah McLachlan spent less time being precious, she’d probably sound more like Kim Richey.

Glimmer’s slick production by superstar pop producer Hugh Pagdamn positions Richey to be something like a Nashville version of McLachlan. There’s not a pedal steel guitar to be found on the entire disc.

It’s an interesting gamble from one of Nashville’s strongest songwriters.

Shhhh!

A few warnings about this album:

  • Don’t play this CD on a long drive home late at night
  • Don’t play this CD and walk into another room
  • And most importantly, don’t do any loud chores, such

    as washing dishes or vacuum cleaning, while playing

    this CD

In short, give the American Analog Set your undivided attention. It pays off. Really.

The American Analog Set hovers in the low registers of a volume knob, stripping away its songs from any sort of excess. Repeating guitar hooks anchor the band’s music, while Farisa organ and drums make subtle punctuations.

It’s great music with which to chill.

On The Golden Band, AmAnSet strike a nice balance between catchiness and proportion. Mostly atmospheric, AmAnSet’s music could easily meander into babbling territory. It never does, and combined with some nice hooks, the group’s tunes become exceptional.

File under: live

Don’t let the Grammy award for Sueños Liquidos fool you. No studio can catch the magic of Maná performing live. The band’s July concert in San Antonio proves it.

As such, Maná’s Unplugged performance becomes the perfect introduction for new fans. The group’s hits, a live setting and an adoring audience — elements vital to a Maná show all appear on Unplugged.

(So much so, a co-worker of mine who went with me to the San Antonio show said she was reliving the concert by listening to the disc.)

Admittedly, Maná’s music may strike some listeners as a bit bloated. Take away the Latin influence and translate the lyrics into English, and critics would have a fun time taking potshots at the quartet.

But hey — sometimes it takes a foreign language to make a bad gringo gimmick sound absolutely plausible. It works for Cocco in Japan.

And so too it works for Maná. They make music to make people feel great about themselves, and they even cross a few cultural barriers — without sacrificing their language — at the same time.

Unwrapped

The bad thing about exceptionally great albums is the anticipation its sets for a follow-up. If this album is good, the next one ought to be spectacular.

Hence, the sophomore slump.

Technically speaking, A Long Way from Home Anywhere isn’t a sophomore slump for country singer Bruce Robison. This album is Robison’s third overall but his second for a major label. If anything, his second disc, Wrapped, put Robison at a level where he could either appease or disappoint.

He does a little of both, really.

Robison is an excellent songwriter with a talent for writing some really heart-wrenching tunes. He just knows where to throw in that particular turn of phrase to make a country weepie sound almost Beethoven-esque.

Some of those qualities appear in a number of songs on A Long Way Home from Anywhere, but paired with some divergently-themed songs — the honky-tonk frat of “The Good Life”; the saccharine bouciness of “Just Married” — the effect of those poignant emotions are undercut.

Wrapped did much of the same, but it spread its breadth of material over the course of an hour. Clocking under 40 minutes, A Long Way Home from Anywhere is too short to do any of its songs any justice.

Girl Brothers redux

Many songs on Luscious Jackson’s new album Electric Honey evoke two names: Wendy and Lisa.

“Alien Lover”? Check out “Rainbow Lake” from Wendy and Lisa’s Eroica. “Sexy Hypnotist”? Check out the chorus of “Strung Out,” also from Eroica.

On “Gypsy” Gabrielle Glaser sounds a lot like Lisa Coleman. On “Summer Daze,” she sounds like Wendy Melvoin. Put a few more effects of Glaser’s guitar, and she plays like Melvoin too.

Is that a bad thing? Of course not.

In fact, Electric Honey is the album Wendy and Lisa should have recorded in the eight-year gap between Eroica and 1998’s Girl Bros.. Of course, the former Revolutionaries didn’t record it — that honor goes to Luscious Jackson.

Not all of Luscious Jackson’s new platter sounds reminiscent of the Girl Brothers. “Nervous Breakthrough” has a nice, old fashioned disco beat. “Christine” dabbles in some drum ‘n’ bass. “Fantastic Fabulous” is the band’s ode to Blondie, complete with the requisite appearance by Debbie Harry.

The most potentially interesting pairing — Emmylou Harris and the Jackson women on “Country’s A Callin'” — turns out less than the sum of its parts. In other words, where the heck is Emmylou in the mix?

Guess we’ll just have to wait for Western Wall to hear what an Emmylou/Luscious Jackson collab sounds like.

Troubled troubador

Which Freedy Johnston do you prefer? The rocker? Or the sensitive songwriter?

First impressions are tough to crack, and This Perfect World, Johnston’s 1994 major label debut, made an indelible one. A collection of quiet, poignant stories, This Perfect World screamed hit while it whispered timelessness.

Johnston followed that album in 1996 with a set of loud rockers on Never Home. It marked a return to his pre-major label days, namely the critically lauded Can You Fly?

Rocker Freedy? Or quiet Freedy?

The Notebook prefers the latter and as such, likes Blue Days, Black Nights, Johnston’s return to soft songs.

Back in 1994, producer Butch Vig coated the same subtle slick sheen he applied to many a grunge band at the time. This time, T-Bone Burnett opts for ruddy textures, miking the drums with a single microphone and allowing some guitars to distort on tape.

The result is an intimate, imperfect and wholly human recording.