The Best Little Secrets Are Kept
Review: 3 stars (Out of 4) Back to the well, one more time. It's amazing the thing didn't run dry a long time ago. But there it sits, waiting for generation after generation driven by the belief that they're the only ones hip enough to know where the well is located.
Louis XIV, a San Diego quartet, is the latest outfit to make the trip. Citing the band's influences is not a particular difficult endeavor -- T. Rex, Stones, "Ziggy"-era Bowie, even a little Jobriath. And yes, the band is banking on its 20-something target market hearing what it's doing as somehow new; this is, after all, far more exciting if you don't know "Electric Warrior" from the electric slide, and if David Bowie is just some dude your dad is always going on and on about.
Is this cynicism? Or is it merely another example of timeless rock making yet another trans- generational leap? I'm banking on the latter. Doing so makes me feel comfortable cranking up "The Best Little Secrets Are Kept" without feeling like a major fraud, a gullible rockophile or both.
Of course, it all comes down to the tunes, and Louis XIV's got 'em. The core ingredients aren't exactly startlingly original, but the way leader/producer/vocalist/guitarist Jason Hill runs them through his own twisted blender is actually pretty fresh, and irreverently so. Low-key, laid-back and humble these boys aren't. The album begins with "Louis XIV," a gutter- bound blast of primal riff-rock during which Hill lets us know that "I'm a weapon of mass destruction/Got no apologies for a hyper concussion." Before long, Hill and Co. are shamelessly reaping Marc Bolan's crop -- "A Letter to Dominique" is pure T. Rex, from the quivering, fey vocal to the Mark Vollman/Howard Kaylan backing vocals.
Elsewhere, "Exile on Main Street" gets run through Mick Ronson's cheese grater, as Hill's inventive production places everything in its proper place -- which means the guitars are layered and compressed and the vocal is way, way up front. Let's not forget the handclaps, which are nearly as ever-present as the silly sexual innuendos. Original? Nah. But man, it sure does sound good on the headphones.
-- Jeff Miers
Review: 3 1/2 stars
re:Brahim -- Abdullah Ibrahim Remixed
Review: 1 star
This is why it's an ongoing tragedy that Alfred Nobel never endowed a Nobel Prize for music and that no one else ever invented an equivalent. The great South African jazz composer and pianist Abdullah Ibrahim was 70 last year. He's been recording for 50 years, 35 of them with Enja, the great German jazz label of Matthias Winckelmann. By all means, join the celebration. There are few better reasons. This would be, by any possible definition, a Nobel Prize-winning life in music, if there were such a thing.
"Abdullah Ibrahim: A Celebration" is a glorious anthology of the best Ibrahim on Enja from 1973 right up to 2004 and, with one exception (of which more later), is music that is never less than either rhythmically infectious or melodically haunting. ("Saud," a duet with bassist Johnny Dyani, is a kind of stark threnody for a world where humanity is constantly subjugated by the whims of geopolitics; "African Market Place" is a township spirit dance; "The Mountain" is both contemplative and heart-rending.)
If Randy Weston seems his slightly older American musical brother, Keith Jarrett is his musical younger brother. But there's a melodic sweetness and simplicity in Ibrahim's music that remains singular and affecting in a way no other living jazz musician even resembles. The only exception to the exalted level of this career anthology is EJ Explizit's remix of Ibrahim's "Calypso Minor," which, as with everything else on the egregious "re:Brahim" is a godforsaken travesty of everything this amazing musician has ever stood for.
-- Jeff Simon
It's Me Again
Review: 2 stars
Rochester-born Tweet -- aka Charlene Keys -- gets lost between two opposing worlds on her sophomore effort, "It's Me Again." The problem lies in the fact that Tweet is actually a musician -- she plays guitar and writes songs, and she's in possesion of a sexy, versatile voice -- and yet, she's still making generic hip-hop/pop records that lack the snarling immediacy of her executive producer Missy Elliott and boast nothing of her singer-songwriting abilities.
This is hip-hop/pop by the numbers, from the spoken-word intro, through sleepy dance-floor pastiches like "Turn Da Lights Off" and "Sports, Sex and Food." "Iceberg" shows some promise but in the end sounds pasted together and lacks anything resembling an organic flow. "Could It Be" would like to be ubersoul a la D'Angelo, but sounds more like R. Kelly -- smooth-pop with mild soul overtones.
Tweet is a fine singer, and throughout "It's Me Again," she sounds as if she's dying to bust out and say something unique. As it stands, the record does nothing to distinguish itself from the 50 or so nearly identical releases currently on the market.
-- Jeff Miers
Songs About Me
Review: 2 1/2 stars
Let's talk packaging here: Why does redneck narcissus Trace Adkins look so menacing on the album cover of his latest, "Songs About Me?" And what about that abandon-all-modesty title? Just a couple of disarming elements before even de-cellophaning the latest effort of Adkins, whose unwavering baritone and good-old-boy posture are a Nashville success story.
While the album's title cut is all about proselytizing country music's skeptics, Adkins won't have any problems selling his sizable fan base with this disc. Even so, "Songs About Me" is spotty at best and, at times, lapses into pretense. For the my-country-right-or-wrong set and armchair neocons, there's "Arlington," an embarrassingly silly first-person about a young war casualty virtually tickled pink to spend eternity among heroes in hallowed turf. ". . Yeah dust to dust / don't cry for us / we made it to Arlington." (Words of mass deception . . . gag me with a bayonet.) But when the artist connects, he is a formidable force. Adkins ignites the testosterone thrusters in "Baby I'm Home," the steamy setting for a long-overdue night of wahoo-wahoo. Barroom rockers don't come any better than "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk," which should give the big guy a hefty chunk of play in the nation's honky-tonks.
-- Randy Rodda
Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver
You Gotta Dig a Little Deeper
Review: 3 1/2 stars
For his debut on Rounder, gospel-bluegrass veteran Doyle Lawson follows a less secular path but manages to find the spirit quite nicely. Despite honing his chops with J.D. Crowe, Jimmy Martin and the Country Gentlemen, Lawson is worth much more due than he gets, perhaps an unfair testament to his gospel leanings. But as musicians and four-part harmonizers, he and his Quicksilver collaborators have few peers. In particular, Lawson's studied steadiness on mandolin is a dazzling contrast to the giddyap ballistics of too many practitioners out in high-and-lonesome country. "You Gotta Dig a Little Deeper" offers a fine array of traditional bluegrass, as well unlikely songs admirably crafted to the style, including, "Four Walls," a country hit for the late Jim Reeves back in 1957.
-- Randy Rodda