The Beastie Boys
Review: 2 1/2 stars (Out of 4)
The Beastie Boys always had more ambition than their hip-hop brethren. They played their own music and wrote many of their own hooks. In a genre that doesn't afford many long-term careers, the trailblazing Beasties are still noteworthy, more than 20 years after getting their start as Madonna's opening act on her Virgin Tour.
The New York City trio is still taking chances by crafting a hip-hop/funk album sans lyrics. Adam Horovitz (guitar), Adam Yauch (bass) and Michael Diamond (drums), along with a percussionist and keyboardist, jam on a dozen funky instrumental tracks and come up with something that could be the soundtrack to an "Oceans Eleven" sequel.
Much like DJ David Holmes' evocative, throwback scores for the "Oceans" flicks, the Beasties cobble funk, rock and '60s bachelor pad exotica into a heady brew, played on vintage instruments like bongos, Rhodes organ and wah-wah guitar. Fans of kitsch will note some of this gritty fare also could sub for the background music in a grainy old porno film.
But after a few cuts, one begins to notice this really doesn't go anywhere or add up to much. It's merely background music by three cool guys, a stop-gap until they can come up with some new, snarky rhymes.
-- Howard Cohen, Miami Herald
Down for You
(One Soul Records)
Review: 3 stars
A regional Cleveland favorite, Darby Dizard -- you have to get past the ditzy name -- has a marvelously clear voice that makes such standards as "Speak Low" and "I Remember You" a pleasure. I wish she didn't have such a liking for songs about jazz musicians set to bebop tunes, the kind of songs spoofed by Dave Frishberg in "I'm Hip." (You get the inevitable "In Walked Bud," and in Dizard's lyrics to "Israel," for instance, you hear "Miles was all smiles" and "Carisi is such a good cat.") But she stretches out as she sings lesser-heard ballads such as "So Many Stars," "Early Autumn" and Chick Corea's "500 Miles High."
"The Music Goes Around and Around" is an offbeat experiment, beginning as if it's being played on an ancient turntable. Dizard has interesting ideas, and in today's jazz world, that's very important. She also has good sidemen. Pianist Christopher Cherney is a delight, and Buffalonians will note the presence of guitarist Tony Romano, of whom Dizard writes, "Tony, Tony, Tony ... I love you like a brother."
-- Mary Kunz Goldman
Working Man's Journey
Review: 2 1/2 stars
Live at the Ryman
Review: 1 1/2 stars
Best of the Sugar Hill Years
Review: 3 1/2 stars
The moment when Merle Haggard -- jailbird, onetime confidante of executed murderer Caryl Chessman, bottom dog rural style -- recorded "Okie from Muskogee" ("We don't smoke marijuana in Muskogee/We don't take no trips on LSD") has to be accounted one of the saddest things ever to happen to American music -- a bridge over troubled waters dynamited forever by demagogic self-righteousness.
There's money and popularity and status galore, though, in redneck reactionism. And despite it all, "Hag" at 70, remains one of the greats on "Working Man's Journey," if you can handle all the lyrics devoted to the political and spiritual equivalent of male climacteric. ("Are the Good Times Really Over" sounds now like a TV commercial for prozac.)
He tells us he's tired of "wars, rumors of wars and don't care who's to blame," but he sounds terrific on this disc of new stuff and oldies-but-not-goodies.
Not nearly as terrific on "Live at the Ryman" is Josh Turner, less than half Haggard's age and a fellow who just performed at Dunn Tire Park last Friday.
With a low, bland voice and about a tenth of Haggard's authority, he seems just as nostalgic for 1954 and even more xenophobic and self-righteous. You want to put both Haggard and Turner on Willie Nelson's bus, have Willie supply the herbs, Hank Williams Jr. bring along the dirty songs and jokes and Kinky Friedman the political perspective.
Meanwhile, if you're looking for the sort of backroads Christian purity that Turner and Haggard pretend to be yearning for (not to mention the good news both clearly need), find the bluegrass gospel glories of Doyle Lawson's "The Best of the Sugar Hill Years," with his group singing razor-sharp barbershop fourths and Lawson's mandolin and guitar bubbling with joy. It's part of Sugar Hill Records' "Americana Master Series," and its musical value is probably in direct proportion to its yawning distance from any music that ever made it to a country Top 10 chart.
Lawson and his boys could redeem Hag and Turner at their most disconsolate.
-- Jeff Simon
GirlNext: Volume 2
Review: 1 stars
Just when you thought Bubblegum pop was out, today's tweens have reached out and pulled it back in. Whether or not that is a good thing is debatable.
On "Girl Next: Volume 2," Hollywood Records puts together a girl-power tracklisting that pairs music veterans with young fledglings trying to make their big break, and the result is anything but innovative. Then again, catchy pop radio songs don't always have to be, and you can bet that at least one of these emerging artists will see their track hit airwaves soon.
Although not all of these up-and-coming musicians have dual careers, the overwhelming majority have recently seen teen success on the TV screen instead of the studio. Disney's "High School Musical" stars Ashley Tisdale and Vanessa Hudgens show off their (somewhat limited) pipes, and MTV's "Sweet 16" stars and sisters Aly and AJ duet on "Chemical's React," which is sure to become the theme song for the channel's next docudrama.
Respectable young actresses Emmy Rossum ("Phantom of the Opera") and Hayden Panettiere ("Heroes") both make their pop disc debuts on "Girl Next," and they provide some of the disc's only semi-listenable tunes, though their talent clearly lies on screen. Case in point: This will be the Holy Grail for tween girls missing Hilary Duff's wholesome, upbeat Lizzie McGuire. Anyone else looking past the image and actually listening to the music will recognize nothing more than recycled synchronized beats and one-hit wonders.
-- Molly Hirschbeck