Ying Yang Twins
Review: 2 stars (Out of 4)
D-Roc and Kaine drop their fifth album as the Ying Yang Twins, and if more of the same Southern-based crunk beats and party anthems is what you're hoping for, "Chemically Imbalanced" will please.
The deepest aspect of the Twins' approach is undoubtedly the duo's name, which refers (vaguely) to an Eastern philosophy of balance. A quote referencing the protean state of consciousness, printed on the disc's back panel, constitutes the only text on the record not devoted to weed, women and the club life. Though the Twins' beats often recall Lil John's animated Southern trunk-rattling, the true reference point for the Twins is 2 Live Crew; these Twins are the Motley Crue of rap, a foul-mouthed pair of adamant hedonists.
Wyclef Jean shows up to elevate "Dangerous" toward a state at least slightly resembling its namesake, as quotes from Hall and Oates' "Maneater" and the low-riding funk of "Black Betty" join with some grungy distorted guitars to provide the album's most moving paean to mindless fun. The gritty synth-horns that provide the hook during "Keep on Coming" are a thrill, though repetition gets the better of them.
"Chemically Imbalanced" is a good album to crank up while you're getting suited up to hit the clubs on a Saturday night. Come Sunday morning, it's the last thing you'll feel like hearing. That makes the album a perfect encapsulation of all that is both good and bad about the Twins. D-Roc and Kaine are the fast food of hip-hop: filling, tasty, a guilty pleasure but, ultimately, not very good for you.
-- Jeff Miers
The Harry Smith Project: Anthology of American Folk Music Revisited
Review: 4 stars
Greil Marcus called archivist/painter/filmmaker Harry Smith's world "the old, weird America," and even if this might be redolent of a Northerner's viewpoint, Marcus was right. Smith first compiled these folk songs for release in 1952, and they went deep into a past laced with myth -- real or imagined -- an unused well of American song, tunes that turned commentary on the minutiae of unremarkable lives into universal hymns detailing the human condition.
Producer Hal Wilner corralled a host of musicians, young and seasoned, for a series of concerts celebrating Smith's dam-busting work, and "The Anthology of American Folk Music Revisited" is the fruit of that labor. The package -- an elaborate four-disc set housing two CDs and two DVDs -- is a testament to Smith's vision. More importantly, it's a party honoring the "folk process," that mighty alchemy whereby songs are heard, borrowed, stolen, reconfigured, melted down and repoured, all for the sake of their continued life.
There is so much that is rich here, so much that begs to be appropriated, learned so that it might be unlearned and reimagined. One hopes that a new generation of listeners will hear these songs -- tunes originally recorded by everyone from Robert Johnson to the Carter Family, Mississippi John Hurt, Uncle Dave Macon, Blind Willie Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson and the Rev. J.M. Gates, now given further life by such divergent artists as Steve Earle, Elvis Costello, Nick Cave, Beck, Todd Rundgren, Richard Thompson, Gavin Friday, Beth Orton, David Johansen and Pere Ubu's David Thomas -- and be inspired, as were Dylan, Jerry Garcia, et al., to pick up an instrument and pass them on.
The "old, weird America" remains fertile ground. Far more so than is the new, normal America.
Review: 3 stars
This elegant CD, set off by black-and-white photography, is the best showcase yet for Buffalo jazz singer Mary Stahl. It's also a great celebration of a certain set of Buffalo jazz musicians. Club regulars will recognize the sax playing of Dave Schiavone, the guitar of Ralph Fava, Bobby Militello on alto sax, bassist Bill Staebell and, of course, the piano playing of Stahl's longtime collaborator, Jim Calabrese. (Calabrese also did the arrangements, which, the fine print says impressively, were "produced through Vienna Symphonic Library License.")
Stahl's unhurried lyricism works especially beautifully in ballads such as "Yesterdays," "We'll Be Together Again" and a sultry "I Can't Get Started." Stahl and Calabrese joined forces to come up with one original, "Stay," a catchy number with a coy Latin beat about drawn-out romantic frustration. I can't see why Stahl changes a crucial note in "Memories of You," one of the most beautiful jazz melodies of all time. But, in general, her experiments work. It's nice how the album avoids that overworked, overbuffed feel you find so often in jazz albums these days. It sounds relaxed, like Tuesday night at Bobby McGee's.
-- Mary Kunz Goldman
Eminem Presents: The Re-Up
Review: 2 1/2 stars
Not a new effort from Eminem per se, "The Re-Up" is in fact the rapper's first official "mix tape," a grab-bag of tracks and sounds mixed and configured to flow like a full-blown party soundtrack.
Mostly, this all comes across as a promotional sampler for artists recently signed to Eminem's Shady Records, including Stat Quo, Ca$his and Bobby Creekwater. Throw in some star-powered cameos from Eminem himself, 50 Cent, Lloyd Banks, D12, Obie Trice, Akon and the Alchemist, and you've got what passes for a full album, at least in Eminem's universe.
The production values, not surprisingly, are Eminem's throughout, and ultimately that's what makes "The Re-Up" worthwhile. It really doesn't matter so much who's doing the rhyming; Em brings his Dr. Dre-based pastiche of synths and beats to bear on the rhymes in question, in the process making them all sound fairly similar.
No matter. This is Eminem's party, and the sounds he is essentially ripping off here are his own. D12 and Eminem fans won't mind at all.
Legends of Jazz With Ramsey Lewis
Review: 2 1/2 stars
Who are the great living legends of jazz? Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman, Randy Weston and Max Roach, to name four (three of them still working). Scale down a little, and you can throw in Pat Metheny, Keith Jarrett, at least two Marsalises and maybe a dozen or so more -- none of whom would you find in Ramsey Lewis' much-publicized PBS series.
Instead, what you'll find on this mammoth, gorgeously luxurious four-disc, four-DVD set of the show are Lee Ritenour, Chris Botti, Dave Valentin, Jane Monheit, George Duke, Billy Taylor, David Sanborn, Marcus Miller and many other pleasant players of pop jazz, along with such blues figures as Keb' Mo' and Robert Cray.
Granted, there are a couple genuine octogenarian jazz legends around (Clark Terry, Dave Brubeck), the beloved Tony Bennett and a monster player or six (Joey DeFrancesco for one), but this is the distinctly commercial Ramsey's-eye-view of what jazz and legendry might be. It's all beautifully recorded and presented (state of the art, even) and, for the kind of thing it is, the performance level is, ahem, nothing if not professional.
Likability isn't legendry, though. Be an optimist. Think of this glass as half full -- maybe even a little more.
-- Jeff Simon