Music Review

Nothing Surprising Here / Nothing Is Wrong
Some music writers hate live albums, but not me. I think they are usually fascinating and worthwhile, as they provide an insight into an artist even if that artist stinks. But this is the least insightful live album ever. It sounds exactly the way you think it does: pleasant and soulful, but formulaic and calculated. One comes away knowing nothing more than that.

Honestly, there's nothing wrong with this CD of Alicia Keys' appearance on the revival of MTV's Unplugged series. The arrangements are nice and tight, the band is great, the guest appearances are good, and not especially plentiful. But there's nothing wonderfully magical about it either. Like the career of Alicia Keys, this record is right down the middle. read more

The REAL Soldiers Lay Down Their Arms as Soon as They Can
Emmanuel Jal is one of the hottest rappers in Africa, and Abdel Gadir Salim is an extremely prominent singer and oud player. They are both from Sudan, Africa's largest country, but this collaboration would have been absolutely unthinkable until very recently. This is because Salim is a Muslim from Sudan's north, while Jal, a Christian, is from Sudan's rebel-controlled south. Jal was drafted into the SPLA rebel army when he was only seven years old; with the help of aid workers, he managed to escape to Kenya, where he found his muse in a form of "gospel rap" -- but until the historic peace treaty signed between the government and the SPLA this summer, guerrilla raids were still commonplace in this wartorn land, and you'd have to be a fool to believe that everything is fine in Sudan. read more

Blues That Isn't Quite Blues

Keep this name floating around in your head somewhere: Mark Lemhouse. The Oregon native went and learned the blues from some Memphis and Mississippi masters, and his 2003 debut, High Lonesome Radio, is a perfect framework of mixing rural blues with a classic feel (thanks to using old equipment and analog tape).

Of course, just about every recording artist or band has to worry about the "sophomore slump". More often than not, the second album takes a nosedive for a very simple reason: After the artist/band spends years to prepare for its debut (and the long-term toil of blood, sweat and tears comes to fruition) there's less time to come up with a second effort that's just as strong. read more

Dengue Fever - Review

A few years ago, "dance" came back. Not as some ballroom revival, but as a buzzword. For example, the following have unequivocally earned approving nods in both alternative and mainstream press for containing that derriere-appealing je ne sais quoi: concerts that incite one to, parties that inspire a frenzied bout of, and songs that contain traces of (but are not exclusive to the genre) dance. Quite a contrast to not too long ago when the snoberatti considered a vacant stare and a glum swoon an indulgence.Now, the Rapture could be described as "post-punk disco". And that's a good thing. So, I was, all, big fucking deal!

The funny thing is that dance is a natural part of music. Its invocation in terms of fashion seems embarrassingly obvious, like making "fragrant" the in word to describe perfume. read more

The Bats - Review

It almost seems reactionary to release an album as good and straightforward as the Bats' latest, At the National Grid. Armed with a truckload of talent and an ear for pop craft that major record labels should be killing for, the band cheerfully and quietly puts out solid records like other bands do drugs and get hyped-up reviews. It's a skill that seems woefully under-appreciated at times, as press is diverted by colorful back stories, the exoticism of lesser-known cultures and their (sometimes great, sometimes merely adequate, but different) music offerings, and the good ol' thrill-of-anything-new game. The Bats aren't playing along. They're too busy working some day jobs and putting out records whenever they get a chance (this one is their sixth in 23 years). And it wouldn't seem reactionary if it weren't so good. read more

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