Otis Taylor, Respect the Dead (NorthernBlues Music)
With the propulsive feeling to the songs on Respect the Dead, the movement akin to the swirling, fast-moving waters of the mighty Mississippi river, Otis Taylor seems to have planted the seed for blues in this new millennium. For example, the driving sound he manages on "Hands on Your Stomach," with its simple guitar opening giving way to a subtle crescendo of instruments, soon feels like a world-beat jam. Its repetitive drone is not unfamiliar to blues fans. Yet followers of, say, the Talking Heads, would recognize bits as well. The first four songs, as a matter of fact, share that repeated instrumentation which sounds like sampling, but comes from the ease of playing for many years. And Taylor has -- picking up the banjo in his teens, learning other instruments later, and playing in bands. In 1976, he left the music business to sell antiques, and did not emerge again for 20 years.
Now, with his third disc in as many years, Taylor paints a bleak and desolate landscape, dark songs with ominous overtones that penetrate the soul. On "32nd Time," for example, the subject matter is the civil-rights movements of the '60s, with Taylor at one point remarking in a quiet voice, "Selma, Little Rock, Birmingham..." Perhaps it's the absence of drums that allow for the slight disorientation in sound. The driving beat is predominantly created by the strumming of the guitar or banjo and the bass. Similarly, on "Baby So," where Taylor blows a harmonica with such conviction and zeal that you can almost feel the spit coming out of the speakers, you're sure this is blues. But the subtle use of an organ for the last few seconds shifts the whole flavor of the number just before it ends.
There are other elements that add to the swooping sounds, such as Eddie Turner's slide guitar that moans and wails, playing with time much like Ry Cooder. It's an ethereal sound, almost cryptic at times, as it lazily floats in and sails upward on "Shaker Woman," or on "Hands on Your Stomach." Likewise, Kenny Passarelli's throbbing bass, piano, and organ work contribute to the backbone of the songs. Passarelli also handled the production chores, and there's not a sound out of place. In the end though, it's the gruff and weathered vocals of Taylor that solidify this disc. At times raspy, at times evil, threatening, or even playful, his tone is such that you get the feeling there's much more behind the man than is let on. It's the kind of voice you'd encounter at the crossroads at midnight, a voice that lurks in the shadows. Combined with the minimalist instrumentation, Respect the Dead is a powerful disc,
somewhat difficult to sit through all the way due to the darkness, but could well be the most important blues album of the year. B.R.
Related Artists: W.C. Handy All-stars, B.B. King, Al Basile, Buddy Guy, Jonny Lang, Johnnie Johnson (w/Keith Richards)
Coal Chamber, Dark Days (Roadrunner Records)
The latest from the Southern California quartet finds them as dark as ever, as heavy as usual, but a bit sharper and more intelligent than their earlier releases. Sure, a statement like that should be a given for any band, and for the better ones it always is. Yet on Dark Days, their third release since their inception in '97, Coal Chamber seem to have locked into a solid approach to songwriting at the heavier end of the rock spectrum. Like many aggressive-band frontmen, Dez Fafara can blast a guttural string of words like he was Satan's apprentice,
but there are spots where he brings it down as well. Perhaps the most interesting of those is on "Rowboat," a slow-paced number (and that's unusual in itself) where the verses are sung in a forced, breathy tone, and sound like they're going through a bullhorn that's distorting. Of course, when he gets to the chorus, he screams "Get out of my rowboat!" like a psychopath.
This is also presumably the last disc where you'll catch Rayna Foss-Rose on bass, as she's left the group to take care of her daughter fulltime. But her work is solid, laying down a thundering bottom line that works well with drummer Mike Cox. And Cox isn't your typical machinegun kick-drum kind of player. Instead, his beats and fills have enough of a funky edge to keep the metal lively. Sure, he'll toss in triple kicks and such when needed, but he doesn't overplay like many drummers often do. Miguel Rascon's guitar work is good too -- there's the obligatory heavy chording, nothing but fifths,
but in quieter spots, as on the beginning of "Empty Jar," he plays some fine harmonic tricks with the strings.
From the outset, the music is hard charging yet tempered with dynamic breaks. "Fiend," the opener, utilizes a choppy minor third riff, yet still manages the occasional pause from the swelling sounds. On the title track, the instrumentation starts slowly and quietly (well, relatively speaking), before taking off for a brief launch of insanity, as Fafara unloads with a horrific yell. Pretty soon, it's metal mayhem alternating with brief respites to calmer pastures. And so on.
If there is a knock to be made on the disc, it would be in the area of lyrics, which are often sketchy at best, or perhaps something you might understand only if you spent a lot of time on message boards and chat rooms. The abbreviated, vague use of language and abundant profanities (goes with the territory) seem to paint the band as none too cerebral. But, then again, the visceral impact of this type of music is best enjoyed live, where you can feel the push of air from the speakers. If you want creative lyrics, look elsewhere. If you want heavy, head-banging stuff, this is the place. B.R.
More Coal Chamber
Related Artists: Godsmack, Deftones, System of a Down, Sevendust, Marilyn Manson
Dishwalla, Opaline (Immergent Records)
Though the name always makes me think of some furry Australian creature, the boys in the band hail from Santa Barbara, California. First blasting onto the music scene back in '95 with Counting Blue Cars, they continue to meld a rock sound with a folky feel. Their strengths in songwriting, using hooks and melody (all the stuff pop songs should have), continue to shine, and are evident from the opening title track. There's a slow, driving feel to the number, with acoustic guitars strumming, electrics playing arpeggios, until the chorus crashes in. And JR Richards' voice has enough of a snarl to hook teenage girls' ears and get them all weepy. It's a blend of influences that sound fresh, and manage an instant appeal.
The single from the disc, "Somewhere in the Middle," has a bit of a U2/Radiohead feel to it, as it ambles along. When Richards goes "ooh, ooh," at the end of the first chorus, you'd almost swear it was Bono, but it ain't. The song has that wistful feel like one of the big ballads from U2, sans the politics.
And that's pretty much the way the album goes. Listen to songs individually, and you'll be pulled in by the lush production, the layering of instruments, the slight angst in Richards' voice as he pleads with the listener. Listen to the disc as a whole, however, and there's a certain sameness to the 11 tunes. Oh, there's enough of a variance to identify them after listening a few times, but there's also the sense that without looking at the track numbers, you could get lost and not know which song is which.
The question here, then, is do the songs have enough merit, or is this just another bland pop album? And, currently, my opinion is still stuck in the middle. I like the songs, as a lot of it is in the style of Radiohead's OK Computer. But whereas that disc used electronic gadgetry to mix things up, the songs here all pretty much sound like they were done the same day, with no changes to equipment or settings. And neither is that a knock nor the end of the world. It's just that, listening to the disc in its entirety tends to make you feel as if you're in a rut. And nobody wants that. So while I am enamored of the songwriting, production, and overall feel of the disc, I still have reservations. B.R.
Related Artists: Sister Hazel, Goo Goo Dolls, Everclear
Quarashi, Jinx (Columbia Records)
If the opening cut, "Stick 'Em Up" doesn't get your feet moving and quicken your pulse, then you'd best schedule an appointment with a doctor. Part Beastie Boys, part Jane's Addiction, it's a furious number that hefts some industrial strength rock and rap.
If you're not familiar with the band, don't worry. There aren't too many rock-rap acts from Iceland charting lately. That's where the kids are from, and regardless of origin, they kick like a mother. Let's get the introductions out of the way then. Solvi Blondal is the songwriter and producer, Hossi Olafsson the lead singer/rapper, Stoney Fjelsted rapper, and Omar Swarez rapper. They trace their roots back to '96 when they began dabbling in punk, released a few albums along the way that went gold in Iceland, and began working on Jinx in '99. The resulting disc is a strong effort that melds rock, rap, and assorted bits and pieces lifted from hip hop.
Part of the reason it appeals to me is the similarity to early and mid Beastie Boys, and with a trio of rappers, the immediate resemblance should be obvious. But their music also finds itself heavily wedded to rock beats,
a strong 4/4 time that could easily provide the foundation for, say, a number by Ozzy. On
"Baseline," the drums pound and pound, while scratching and varied raps occur on the surface. There is also a number, "Tarfur," which is rapped in Icelandic, and might have you scratching your ears trying to figure out just what is up.
Overall, though, the heaviness of the guitar, bass, and drums (well, it's probably a programmed drum machine) provide a solid and heavy basis for the bulk of the songs, enough so that metal heads won't be turned off in the least. In fact, a number like "Copycat" will have those same metal heads snapping their necks in time to the music, as heavily distorted guitars slash and burn their way through the rhythmic mayhem.
Not all the songs are raucous and rowdy excursions though. "Drive In" has a heavy hip-hop feel, with the beat falling solidly on the three as it lazily weaves its way along. And "Bless," the closer, shows the softer side of the band. But, for the most part, it's straight ahead, heavy, rock-based rapping, and there's nothing wrong with that. B.R.
Motorhead, Hammered (Sanctuary Records)
"Who's cooler, God or Lemmy? Trick question, Lemmy is God." So went one of the more astute lines from Hollywood's heavy-metal satire "Airheads." Now, just when you thought it was safe to come out of the air-raid shelter, Motorhead's lethal-lunged bassist/vocalist Lemmy, ear-bleeding guitarist Phil Campbell and thunder-drum specialist Mickey Dee have returned with the bulldozer-heavy Hammered, Motorhead's 21st release in just over that many years. And the group's head-banging, hard-core followers need not fear that their Hell-bent heroes have strayed one millimeter from the path of pile-driving indignation and volume-induced indigestion.
Hammered houses 13 slabs of molten madness with enough variations in texture (rough to corrosive), tempo (thrash to hyperspeed) and theme (random homicide to Armageddon) to satisfy Lemmy's whiplash-lusting legion of fetid followers. The band may even shanghai a couple of nasty newbies onto the bandwagon. "Shut Your Mouth," the first single, finds Motorhead slashing and burning for four minutes of fire-breathing rock 'n' roll not likely to be heard on any radio station that gives a damn about selling commercials. Nothing new there. Despite being a subculture icon for nearly a quarter century, Lemmy's never cared whether his music had mass appeal. So long as he gets to run around the world every couple of years, record another album and someday, maybe get a second pair of trousers.
And the band keeps their trademark reckless proceedings extra interesting with keyboard work (courtesy of Guns 'N Roses' Dizzy Reed), a spoken-word piece guest-starring WWF sports-entertainer Triple H ("Serial Killer"), and a pair of bonus tracks. Pro wrestling fans will recognize the first bonus track, "The Game," as Triple H's entrance music. "Overnight Sensation," the second bonus track, is a live version of the group's sarcastic classic song. Ironic dialogue aside, Lemmy might not be God, but if the Devil ever needs a theme song, Motorhead are still the band to write it. Catch 'em if you dare when the band plays New York City with Morbid Angel on April 30 at the World. S.D.
Related Artists: Slayer, Metallica, Megadeth, Pantera, Anthrax
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