Stone Temple Pilots
Shangri-La Dee Da
Stone Temple Pilots vocalist Scott Weiland clocked enough hours in drug rehab and jail during the late '90s to rival Robert Downey Jr. His never-ending battle with addiction pinned STP as the least likely candidate to live beyond the grunge movement. But instead of crashing, the Pilots have survived, unlike a disbanded Soundgarden, deceased Nirvana and ailing Alice in Chains.
"Shangri-La Dee Da" is the first toxic-free STP album. Weiland stares at his greatest enemy during the spastic opening track "Dumb Love." While guitarist Dean DeLeo serves helpings of meaty riffs Weiland realizes, "Alcohol, it's a lie/stimulate a needle in your eye/let it bleed, blow your mind/touched myself, nearly went blind."
Like the manic depressive Weiland, "Shangri-La Dee Da" is a mixed bag of emotions and sounds containing both dirty hard rock and sparkling balladry. Weiland lashes out at his many demons with the rough and tumble choruses of "Hollywood B****," "Regeneration" and "Coma," which skitters along to the simulated turntable cutting of DeLeo's guitar.
In some lighter moments such as "Hello, It's Late," the beautifully composed "Wonderful" and "A Song for Sleeping," the maturing rock star speaks to his wife and son Noah. "Finally I've met you/the day has come/you're more than beautiful/and you're my son/I don't deserve this," he sings as his gazes into his newborn son's innocent eyes. "Shangri-La Dee Da" is the continued evolution of a band that has been through hell, only to surface and become one of the living godfathers of the flannel generation.
- Andrew Parks
Take Off Your Pants and Jacket
Blink-182 doesn't want to grow up. After all, it's the Punks 'R' Us kids afflicted with a life-long affinity for bad mom jokes and wet T-shirt contests.
"Take Off Your Pants and Jacket" is the trio's fourth full-length album centered around puppy love and bodily fluids. "It's Christmas Eve and I've wrapped only two f--kin' presents, and I hate, hate, hate your guts," sings bassist/vocalist Mark Hoppus on "Happy Holidays, You Bastard" - a profanity-laden, 42-second track sure to get coals dropped in someone's stocking this year.
As juvenile as it is at times, this hefty slap of pop-punk is too catchy and well-produced to ignore. If you can get past the few songs meant to offend, the warm sensitivity of "First Date," "Roller Coaster," the elasticized single "The Rock Show," and other tracks will surface. "Stay Together for the Kids" leaves guitarist/vocalist Tom DeLonge reflecting on his own parents' divorce to the sound of Travis Barkers' rolling drums, subdued guitar strumming and a piano outro.
"I'm always nervous on days like this like the prom /I get too scared to move 'cause I'm still just a stupid, worthless boy," the whiny DeLonge admits on "Story of a Lonely Guy." Like the aging Green Day, Mark and Tom are finally showing dreaded signs of maturation - and that even potty-mouthed punks have feelings.
- Andrew Parks
[Eminent] *** 1/2
Heather Eatman, a graphics artist for the New York Daily News, has been getting some headlines in the musical press for pop tune-smithery known for depth and originality. On "Real," her third album since recording "Mascara Falls" for John Prine's Oh Boy label in 1995, Eatman has herself a benchmark.
Spikey haired and sneakily inquisitive, Eatman weds her feathery rasp of a voice and guitar chops to lyrics that beg for love and clarity in an era of indifference and murk.
"Mixed-Up Girl" is a girl just out of junior high school, treated to the giddy and guilty confusion of reckless carnival romance, effervescent with images of ducking behind trailer-trucks and ribald rides on roller coasters, the Tunnel of Love and Tilt-a-Whirls. "Phone Call" is mystic Wanda Mae's connection to Jesus and her in-demand take on the future. Wanda Mae's advice: "Y'all better dance all day."
"Blackout" plays to the insecurity of a world full of folks whose candles have gone out and who are just feeling their way around, tentatively at that. "Midnight Shift" is about Cornelius P. Ziff, a night-shift custodian whose ticket to life is passing him by.
Eatman, who arrived at adulthood via Jacksonville, Texas, and Johnstown, Pa., pens multidimensional flare in 11 compelling songs - and one not her own. On Willie Dixon's immortal "Spoonful," she gives the hardscrabble blues standard one of the more daring interpretations since Jack Bruce & Co. dazzled on Cream's "Wheels of Fire" back in the late '60s.
- Randy Rodda
Studebaker John and the Hawks
Howl With the Wolf
[Evidence] *** 1/2
Like the auto of the same name, Studebaker John is working class. His shot and a beer, roadhouse blues are perfect for taking the edge off of a hard day spent in a factory. "Howl With the Wolf" is his eighth album and his first on the Evidence label, and unlike many blues musicians, every album has been comprised entirely of his own compositions.
Listen to "End to the Lies" for a thumbnail autobiography. "I don't have an angle, I don't have a scam, I'm up here just doing the best I can." Yep, he's got the car, a '63 Studebaker Silver Hawk, and the attitude to match. Whether playing Big Walter Horton-inspired harp licks on the neo-swing tune "Juke Joint Jump" or shifting his slide guitar into overdrive on "Burned By Love," the CD opener, SJ's strongest asset is his integrity.
I can forgive repetitive guitar licks and recycled riffs for the lure of his no frills, no holds-barred singing voice. Listen to how he bends words and snakes them around his delta slide playing on "Rich Man" ("I ain't got a penny, I ain't got a dime but I'm a rich man when it comes to good times"). For a taste of solid harp playing that sounds like he's channeling Little Walter Horton, check out "Nothing Comes Easy" or "Harpology." Studebaker John's appeal is his ability to play with the emotional depth of Otis Rush and the intensity of Hound Dog Taylor.
- Jim Santella
The Essential Miles Davis
[Columbia/Legacy] *** 1/2
Essential? Hardly. Nothing, for instance, that Miles Davis played as a searching disciple of Charlie Parker is Essential Miles Davis, as essential as it was to him and his development. Nor was "The Pan Piper" a better choice from "Sketches of Spain" than was "Saeta." Or "Summertime" a better choice from his version of "Porgy and Bess" with Gil Evans than "Prayer." And only one selection - "So What" - from the sextet with John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderly and Bill Evans; arguably the greatest small group in the entire history of jazz? And while we're reconstructing this anthology, why not drop some of the lesser late electric Miles - say "Portia" - and include his sublime work on John Lewis' "Three Little Feelings"?
Well, at least the compilers were smart enough to include the staggeringly concise and anguished blues that he played behind the titles of Louis Malle's film "Elevator to the Scaffold."
Still, you can't pick and choose from one of the longest and most important careers in all of jazz without compiling a two-disc anthology with magnificent music on it. And it's there in abundance - "Walkin'," "Round Midnight," "So What," "Some Day My Prince Will Come," "My Funny Valentine," "E.S.P.," "Nefertiti." In what would have been his 75th year on earth, his remains far too big and tough a career to digest fundamentally in one- or two-disc anthologies.
- Jeff Simon
The Rosaleen Marion Band
Belly Full o' Moon
Rosaleen Marion has reunited with guitarist Patrick Kane, bassist Doty Hall and drummer Jerome Augustyniak (10,000 Maniacs) on this low-key recording. It's the full-length debut for the musicians under this band name, but they're all veteran performers and have played together in groups including the Element and Innocent Bystander. Marion wrote the songs, produced and engineered the recording, and played guitar and sang.
The songs that work best are mellow and acoustic-based. The opening number, "Fall," is a prime example with its softly strumming guitar, Marion's lovely voice and some nice harmonies. Guitars sparkle through the upbeat "Bones." Many of the acoustic numbers recall a time long gone, including the lyrical "Stone in My Shoe," the reflective title track "Belly Full o' Moon," and the relaxing folk-rock of "Glasnevin." The electrified "Pale" adds a nice touch of bluesy funk to the collection.
- Toni Ruberto