Boston Phoenix CD Reviews
JULY 24, 2000:
** Bon Jovi Crush (Island/Def Jam)
It's hard to fault Bon Jovi for sounding so nostalgic on this, their first album in five years. They were, after all, the definitive lite-metal singles band of the late '80s before they went roots rock (and eventually adult contemporary) in the face of grunge. On their glitzy comeback single, "It's My Life," they go scurrying back for big hair hooks as if the last 10 years never happened, the same way Def Leppard did last summer. It's a crass move (almost as crass as the way singer Jon Bon Jovi name-checks fellow Garden State icon Frank Sinatra during the song's chorus) and also a foolproof one: their songwriting skills may have faded, but Jon's plaintive wail and guitarist Richie Sambora's talkbox riffs have stood the test of time better than anyone thought they would.
Problem is, "It's My Life" is a false alarm. Bon Jovi don't rock much on the rest of the disc, opting instead for icky orchestral ballads ("Thank You for Loving Me") and contemporary Third Eye Blind bounce ("Say It Isn't So"). They give a nod to their perplexing European popularity on "Next 100 Years," which takes cues from Oasis with its Sgt. Pepper horn section and other psychedelic Beatles production tricks. It's all done way too tastefully -- and that's the last thing anyone would want from Bon Jovi. -- Sean Richardson
Listening to Stacey Earle's second CD is like having a spirited, mildly intimate chat with an idealistic young soul. You learn a little bit about this lighthearted gal (Steve Earle's younger sister) with some Southern charm, but the lyrics and the experiences behind them are not all that profound or gripping. All the same, it's a sunny enough record. Her airy vocals have a sly way of moving from little-girl innocence to a tougher stance, and she occasionally sighs and lets a phrase drop like a dried rose petal from a diary. Earle, who has worked as a staff songwriter in Nashville, has the family knack for a well-turned phrase, as she displays on the best cut here, "No New Shoes." She surrounds herself with straight-ahead folk rock; the sound is so crystal clear on acoustic tunes that Mark Stuart's guitar pick sometimes scrapes across the strings at the same volume as the notes he strikes. Sheryl Crow guests on one cut, playing harmonium and piano and offering background vocals on a little lullaby called "Kiss Her Goodnight," and Earle offers a spirited rendition of brother Steve's "Promise You Anything." -- Bill Kisliuk
Now almost 75 years old, Carlos "Patato" Valdes has accompanied many of the heavies of Afro-Latin pop and jazz in the latter half of the 20th century. So it's no surprise that he pulls together the cream of the current crop for his own Ritmo y candela project. This release presents a sterling selection from these West Coast sessions. Patato came to the US in 1954 and made a name for himself in as part of Herbie Mann's group, so jazz is in his blood almost as much as fluid, subtle Afro-Cuban rhythms.
This set features instrumental prowess, from the free-blowing saxophone and flute of Enrique Fernández to Rebecca Mauleón Santana's crisp, darting piano work. And Patato's own uniquely melodic percussion marks every track. Early in his career, he altered the tuning system for the ubiquitous conga drum, and his changes became the standard. Whether soloing or backing, the man talks, even sings with his drums, drawing on the deepest roots of Cuban pop and extending them into the realm of jazz expression. These 12 dynamic tracks span classic son, ambling Latin jazz, funky guajira, and hypnotizing descargas (jam sessions); every moment is loaded with authenticity and personality. Three tracks near the end bring in West African harp and lute played by Abou M'Boup of Senegal, and also the distinctively Congolese vocals of Samba Mapangala. -- Banning Eyre
Until recently, McWilson -- who combines the down-to-earth style of Loretta Lynn with the country-rock instincts of Emmylou Harris -- fronted the Picketts, a rip-snortin' alterna-country outfit from Seattle. They had several well-received albums on Rounder, but despite critical raves, the band never took off. So McWilson steps out on her own here with a solid collection of honky-tonk rockers and poignant ballads that explore the many ways love can go wrong. Things kick off with the ironic title track; when she sings, "Happiness ain't nothin' but a misery to me," you hear hearts breaking all over town. "Today Is Yesterday's Tomorrow," a Tejano rocker in the mode of Sir Douglas, benefits from the Augie Meyers-like organ triplets of Dwight Yoakam keyboard player Skip Edwards; McWilson's bluesy wail makes "Weight of the World" and Brian Wilson's " 'Til I Die" sound as hopeless as unanswered prayers. Producer Dave Alvin, R.E.M.'s Peter Buck and Mike Mills, and other heavies add instrumental muscle and name recognition to the set, but McWilson's songwriting and razor-sharp vocals steal the show. -- J. Poet
Among the legions of Green Day-inspired teenagers to form bands in the mid '90s, MxPx, from Bremerton, Washington, have always been one of the most promising. Bassist/vocalist Mike Herrera's wise-beyond-his-years lyrics about growing up are reflective and intelligent. The band's punchy, crisp rhythms and buoyant melodies are by no means a revelation, but they're fun and that's the point. In calling their 1995 album Teenage Politics, the pop-punk trio recognized that their peers weren't just into potty humor and dick jokes (not that there's anything wrong with that); 1996's Life in General seemed to indicate, at least on the surface, that MxPx were looking at the world from a post-high-school place and ready to go forward.
But though they've moved on, to Warped Tours and a major label (since A&M's 1997 reissue of Life In General), the group haven't made creative headway with The Ever Passing Moment. From Jerry (Green Day, Blink-182, Rancid) Finn's rote production to facile Elvis Costello cops ("Responsibility") to a surprising lapse in the focus of their lyrics, MxPx let their guard down and phone in a by-the-numbers effort it didn't seem they had in them. "I've got a lot to say," Herrera sings on "Responsibility." Unfortunately, this time he really doesn't. -- Mark Woodlief
This live CD from Clifford Antone's famed Austin club is proof that Joe Ely has grown no mellower as he approaches his mid 50s. All 14 of these numbers -- from Ely's Tex-Mex set pieces like "Gallo del Cielo" and "Me and Billy the Kid" to epics like songwriter Robert Earl Keen's robbery tale "The Road Goes On Forever" to romances like Jimmie Dale Gilmore's "Dallas" -- are sung with the same hard authority that caught Joe Strummer's attention 20 years ago and put Ely on tour with the Clash. And Ely still surrounds himself with crack bands. In particular, guitarist Jesse Taylor and steel player Lloyd Maines help him kick up Texas dust. It's in that dust that Ely so vividly continues to etch a mythic portrait of the Lone Star State, where a cowboy can become a hero or a hard-timer in a flash, depending on which way his luck's blowing across the flatlands. As for Ely, fate seems to have branded him a country-rock outsider forever. But give him a stage and he sure sounds as if he didn't give a damn. -- Ted Drozdowski
Think the symphonies of Gustav Mahler are loud, ugly, and expensive? Try this recording of the dark, tragic Sixth: it's pellucid, sensuous, and, at $10 for 87 minutes, cheap. Harold Farberman isn't exactly a household name even among Mahlerites, but this 1982 performance, now finally out on CD, is an overlooked gem. His tempos are slow, but the sharp contours and heterogeneous textures keep everything kaleidoscopic -- this is a heroic reading that debunks the all-too-common view of Mahler's Sixth as a surrender to nihilistic despair (it's no bleaker than, say, Wagner's Ring). Farberman won't replace Barbirolli (EMI), Bernstein (DGG), and Tennstedt (EMI) at the top of my list -- but they all cost a lot more.
Besides, this reissue comes with its own mini-mystery. In his CD booklet note, Richard Freed, alluding to the controversy surrounding the order of the inner movements (Mahler changed his mind about them once and possibly twice), points out that "listeners can make their own call with the present CD, either letting Harold Farberman's performance run as is, with the scherzo preceding the slow movement . . . , or programming the disc to place the slow movement before the scherzo." As it happens, Freed also wrote the liner note for the original 1982 LP release (on MMG), and at that time he said, "In the performance recorded here Harold Farberman has opted for Mahler's first revision in which the slow movement precedes the scherzo." That's right, on the LP the Andante precedes the Scherzo, but on the CD the Scherzo precedes the Andante -- and it's the same performance! So which way did Farberman conduct it? Did he authorize this bit of "editing"? And is Freed hoping we'll forget what he wrote in 1982? -- Jeffrey Gantz
With the release of their major-label debut three years ago, the Dandy Warhols, from Portland, Oregon, showed everyone in the UK that America also knew how to do the Jesus and Mary Chain and Spiritualized. Not that anybody was keeping track -- after all, our own Velvets had nailed that urban-boho-chic shtick (not to mention that riff thing) a long time ago. Even though it spawned a minor alterna-rock hit with "Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth," the Dandies' second album deserved a bigger trophy -- or at least an honorable mention for drop-dead perfect song titles like "Cool As Kim Deal" and "Hard On for Jesus" (and the drop-dead perfect songs to go with 'em).
Perhaps the third time will prove a charm. The band have managed a bubblegummy tune or two ("Horse Pills," "Get Off") in keeping with the Everlast-Elwood-Smashray-Sugarmouth sound this time around. If that doesn't get 'em, maybe the Beckishly saucy strut of "Solid" will. Alongside the atmospheric splendor of tracks like "Godless" and "Mohammed," however, the band's foray into suburban hipster-hop sounds a tad out of place. The best moments come when the Warhols kick it old-school, purloining Loaded-style pearls ("The Gospel") or delivering sticky-fingered Stones licks ("Bohemian like You") that betray their true source material. Although not as immersed in the paisley haze of previous days, the Dandies again flaunt the humor, edge, and indolence that make them more than mere retro-minded garage-psych knockoffs using bigger beats in hopes of a hit. -- Jonathan Perry
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