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Dwight Yoakam

South of Heaven, West of Hell

[Reprise] ***

Chances are Dwight Yoakam's "South of Heaven, West of Hell" won't make it to your cineplex, but the country artist's companion soundtrack is brimming with vivid, immediate music.

Granted, the dialogue intervals in this Yoakam-directed movie mean little out of context. But patience wins out in the end when feasting on such songs as "Who at the Door Is Standing," an upbeat gospel-tinged number performed with Bekka Bramlett. Yoakam takes a page from the book of Roy Orbison in the soaring "Somewhere" and its message of hope for lovers of all stripes.

The artist bows to tradition in "The Last Surrender" and its plea for redemption and an everlasting life. On the dark side of life, Yoakam croons ruefully in "What's Left of Me (Is Not Enough)," a down little ditty penned with Mick Jagger. Backed by just piano, the artist searches his heart in a strong reading of the traditional "It Is Well With My Soul."

Longtime Yoakam collaborator Pete Anderson produced and arranged the album, which enlisted the support of musicians including Anderson on a bevy of stringed instruments, Scott Joss on fiddle and Skip Edwards on keyboards.

- Randy Rodda


Rico McFarland

Tired of Being Alone

[Evidence] ****

"Bad Attitude" kicks off McFarland's debut solo CD with a screaming big-band sound and McFarland's assured singing and sizzling guitar. A child prodigy since age 5 when he played bass lines along with Booker T and the MGs' "Green Onions," McFarland's guitar-playing is a treat.

Earlier this year, McFarland appeared with James Cotton at Nietszche's, where his playing was equally commanding. The same controlled exuberance is in attendance on this CD, which could easily have been called "Rico and Friends." Special guests include Otis Clay, Syl Johnson, Sugar Blue and Billy Branch, as well as Melvin Taylor and Carl Weathersby. He has either toured or recorded with each one. His learning years were spent in the bands of Albert King, Kinsey Report and Little Milton (his mentor and teacher).

McFarland's a player, and his music is eclectic in the best sense of the word. Part soul, part rock, part gospel and all sexy R&B, it cooks!

McFarland's crisp and sharp Westside-styled guitar and punctuated phrasing accentuate the entire set of 12 cuts. Melvin Taylor, Chico Banks and Carl Weathersby provide lead guitar on three tracks, and guest vocalists include Otis Clay, Syl Johnson, Billy Branch and Teela. Syl Johnson rips into a gritty cover of Al Green's "It Ain't No Fun to Me," and Otis Clay tackles the Joan Osbourne gospel-tinged "What If God Was One of Us." Both benefit from blasting brass by the Chicago Horns.

"Blues Falling Down Like Rain" spotlights McFarland's sweet vocals, while "Tired of Being Alone" and "Giving Me the Blues" (both originals) are driving R&B numbers that feature great blues rock guitar solos. An overall stew of rock, stone-cold blues and funky soul makes McFarland's debut release one of the best of the year.

- Jim Santella




[Radioactive] **

It's too soon for Live to be having a midlife crisis. But that's exactly what "V," the fifth album for this still-young Pennsylvania rock quartet, is. No more earnest U2 treatises, no more Indian philosophy; Live is going for the same set of mainstream sounds and pedestrian topics every rock-rap act espouses. Good for Live for trying to evolve, but their efforts feel forced and unappealing.

They're not helped much by Alain Johannes and Natasha Schneider of longtime L.A. pop band Eleven, a duo that's never been able to make it big on its own. In lieu of first-hand success, they've positioned themselves as go-to problem-solvers for rock stars who've run out of ideas.

Other names on "V" include Adam Duritz of Counting Crows, who contributes vocals; Alanis Morissette producer Glen Ballard, who co-writes "Forever May Not Be Long Enough"; and Tricky, who chips in vocals and a rap on the single "Simple Creed."

Along with rap, Live incorporates old-fashioned-sounding rock, i.e. "sizzling" guitars and bombastic arrangements, as on the song "Flow." They even do boy-band crooning on "Call Me a Fool" and on "Overcome," a stereotypical ballad at the end of the disc, with a self-conscious piano solo and singer Ed Kowalczyk sounding sappy.

The disc sounds less like the old self-righteous Live and more like a dozen other bands. "Nobody Knows" could be Tears for Fears, "Like a Soldier" sounds like R.E.M., and "Deep Enough" clones the KoRn song "Falling Away From Me" - the last thing you'd expect from Live.

"People Like You" is a little Oasis, a little Black Crowes: "In a dream I had, I was on a stage with Queen, Michael Stipe and Elton John, Bono and Springsteen, singing hallelujah rock 'n' roll is king," Kowalczyk sings. The subsequent refrain is intensely self-referential: "Where the boys in Live?" and is sung in a vocal style that evokes, of all people, Axl Rose. It's just plain weird.

Maybe Live grew tired of its role as class oddballs. But at least they were gifted oddballs. Now they just seem like everyone else.

- Teresa Gubbins, Knight Ridder Newspapers


Keith Jarrett, with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette

Inside Out

[ECM] *** 1/2

Mike Jones

Stretches Out

[Chiaroscuro] ****

A tale of two master, monster jazz pianists: One, Keith Jarrett, is probably the most famous and venerated pianist in current jazz. The other, Lackawanna-born and -raised Mike Jones, has picked up a few heavyweight friends in Las Vegas where he now works (at the Paris) but is still little-known, even in jazz, despite being as extraordinary as any mainstream jazz pianist now living.

Both are doing things bigger than usual on their terrific new discs and have made their best discs in a long time. What that means is Jones' rocking, flying-finger raids into the jewel box of American pop standards hit the six, seven and even 14-minute mark (for one medley), and Jarrett's free-form trio improvisations hit the 21- and 22-minute level.

In Jarrett's case, this is his standards trio - arguably the most sublime long-lived group in current jazz - but the tunes are almost all originals, little more than free-form improvisations over riffs and ostinatos. Before he finishes off with a tender "When I Fall in Love," you will hear a climactic roar of audience approval for this live performance that you will fully understand. At this level of interplay, jazz is an art of total ecstasy.

From Dave McKenna, Mike Jones learned the art of simulating a rhythm section with huge, solid Gibraltar left-hand bass lines. He also learned a saloon pianist's reverence for melody. What he has developed on his own, over the years, is how to flash Tatumesque right-hand lightning and then, a few seconds later, to meditate in sound. Though in an obviously different way than Jarrett, Jones, too, has become a master of the jazz piano soliloquy. He expects to come back home in December for a Buffalo performance.

- Jeff Simon

Buffalo Wax

Bob Fera Band

The Bronze

Bob Fera is a rock throwback. On stage, he's a ball of energy with an ear-to-ear grin that shouts, "Isn't rock grand?" Trying to capture that energy in the studio isn't easy, but Fera's managed to do that on his second CD, "The Bronze."

The 13-track effort has a solid mix of moods, with lyrics concentrating on friendship and love. His music matches the emotion of his words, conveying, for instance, his disappointment in "She Let Me Down." "Illusions" and "Just Another Mile" move along on nice, driving rock beats. Not too harsh, not too much - just enough to get the foot tapping. "I'll Wait" and "Everyday" are buoyant power-pop numbers with a strong sense of melody. You'll catch just a bit of the smart, blues-tinged rock of say, a Paul Weller, on other songs (check out "Always Forever" or the opening guitar of the title track for a taste). It's a touch, but enough to notice.

When Fera steps back for the ballads, especially on "I Wish," "You Always Find" and "Wedding Day," you'll be lost in a laidback comfort zone. It's a nice place to be.

- Toni Ruberto

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