Tori Amos, Scarlet's Walk (Epic)
It's been a decade since she released Little Earthquakes, and two years after that Under the Pink, the heavy-hitting one-two punch that put her on the map. Her musical and lyrical styles are brutally honest and introspective. Though Amos doesn't have the ethereal loneliness to her voice like Sarah Mclachlan or Kate Bush, she can venture into the high register from time to time for a bit of a vocal workout. Yet key to Tori's voice is you're never quite sure if she's fragile or solid as a rock the subtle shifts in her tonal timbre keep you guessing, and that, at least for me, is the attraction.
At the beginning of "A Sorta Fairytale," for starters, her voice is timid, yet by the first chorus, there's a bit of gravel, and you sense pillars of strength supporting the individual. As the song progresses, and the vocals double and multi-track, the instrumentation building ever so slightly, you get a sense of emotional stabilization.
Unfortunately, the record company decided to offer up only six songs to reviewers, afraid of critics who might instantly shove the entire album onto the internet. And my first reaction is, if you're going to short the reviewer, do you care about the artist? Or for that matter, the buying public? It seems a desperate attempt to curb online thievery.
Rant aside, Amos plods her way through the six tunes, and I say "plods" because there's no ripper here, instead you get a solemn trek across the rock landscape, though the cut "Taxi Ride" does get slightly funky, and sounds happier than the others. Amos tries to connect the songs and engage the listener in a story line that follows a character across the U.S. from West to East Coast, but again, with just six songs out of who knows how many, it's disjointed thematically.
Her voice is solid as ever, and that's what really matters. Instrumentation is minimal, her piano work is capable, and she'll get you wistful in a heartbeat. Though it may not be up to the caliber of her first two discs, what is presented here does show that Amos has maintained an artistic integrity, and while she may not get tons of airplay or voluminous amounts of press touting her, she's still okay in my book, anyway.
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Various Artists, Rise Above (Henry Rollins WM3 Benefit Project)
After seeing two documentaries on HBO about three boys who, it seems, have been wrongfully imprisoned, Henry Rollins decided to take action. The result is this benefit CD, with the proceeds going to the West Memphis Three defense fund (www.wm3.org). The album is a collection of 24 Black Flag songs redone by various artists.
For those not familiar with Black Flag, they began in the late '70s, and when Rollins joined in '81, they were one of the most powerful punk bands on the scene. There was no denying the toughness of the band, the rawness of the sound, or the brutality of the live performance.
Listening to the songs now, some two decades later, the rawness is still there. Sure, the production is cleaner, but what is amply evident is why the label "punk" was applied to them, and how different the word is used today when describing bands and their music. "Fix Me," featuring Iggy Pop on vocals, is a prime example, a raw, from-the-hip rocker, clocking in at just 54 seconds. By the time you get slapped in the face with the chords, the song is over. Similarly, "I've Had It," rips by in a blistering 1:22, as Cedric Bixler Zavala of the Mars Volta screams out the vocals. Exene Cervenka (X) sings a duo with Rollins on "Wasted," another sub-minute number that zips past.
Other artists who contribute their talents include Tom Araya (Slayer), Lemmy (Motorhead), Nick Oliveri (Queens of the Stone Age), Corey Taylor (Slipknot), Ice-T, to name but a few. The 24 songs here are not only powerful in their brevity, but also an important window to the past. For those waxing nostalgic, wishing for the old days of punk, the numbers provide a breath of fresh air; yet they also show the substance of the band. Unlike so many other bands that hopped on the punk bandwagon 20-some-odd years ago (and quickly and justifiably fell off), the collection here shows the staying power of the Black Flag songs. There's an immediacy that is difficult to ignore. Similarly, there's new life breathed into the songs by the guest artists.
And Rollins shows he still has that from-the-gut ability, as on the lengthy "My War," which seems like a marathon as it clocks in at just under 4 minutes. Veering from spoken word to maniacal shouting, his presence is as ferocious as ever.
Yet the reason for this disc is not to look to the past, or to pat the back of a punk pioneer, but to support three boys, now men, who have been locked up for over a decade. Purchasing the CD will not only get you some great music, but help three victims of injustice. As Rollins notes, "It has been fun being the ringleader in this great conspiracy against injustice. By buying this record, you join us. In a situation like the one the WM3 are in, silence is the enemy and apathy is death. So let's go."
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Marky Ramone and the Speedkings, Legends Bleed (Thirsty Ear)
It's been a mercurial couple of years for Ramones fans the passing of Joey and Dee Dee, the Ramones' induction to the Hall of Fame, the lifetime achievement award from MTV, and so on. It seems Marky Ramone has medicated himself by playing with the Speedkings on their latest album Legends Bleed. The snotty and insolent Speedkings are Nick Cooper (vocals and rhythm guitar), Stevey Jay (bass and backing vocals), and Dee Skywalker (lead guitar). Rockin' to this album is like being on the back of a dirt bike as it flies down a mountain. And you'll be laughing your tail off the whole time.
Fast chicks, fast cars, and faster punk. Yes, yes, and yes. Cooper's throaty barks on "Burning Rubber" and "Saturday Night" put a fist in the air and a boot in your balls while the bad-ass factor exceeds Richter scale measurements. Same goes for the Motorhead-blessed "Fuck Shit Up!" Songs like "UPS Girl," "Beaver on My Mind," and "Weenie Hair" will have you crying over the lyrics as well as the guitar insanity, and Marky's drumming is nothing short of nuclear. The laughter stops with a song about a girl who doesn't want to live anymore. "Teenage Rock 'n' Roll Suicide" isn't exactly on the same plane as "Sex Phone Girls," know what I mean? Legends Bleed ends with four live Ramones covers, just in case you forgot who got us into this glorious mess in the first place.
Chevelle, Wonder What's Next (Epic)
Hey everybody, I got the new Tool album. It's got all that Tool stuff that made the first album so popular: tortured, quivering vocals, sublime bass lines, and layered guitar tracks. The only thing is, the new Tool album is by a band called Chevelle. Chevelle are the Loeffler brothers: Sam (drums), Pete (vocals/guitar), and Joe (bass). I wonder if they fight like the Gallagher brothers.
But I digress. Wonder What's Next is the second album from Chevelle, and their first on a major label. It's a combination of the hardcore of Helmet and the math-rock of Tool, but I think I already mentioned that. Well, consider this: Chevelle have worked with the top-recording gurus in the industry today. Steve Albini produced their first album, 1999's Point #1, and GGGarth Richardson and Andy Wallace imparted their know-how on Wonder What's Next. Richardson and Wallace are best known for their work with all those bands-in-black you see on MTV. So it's appropriate that Chevelle are now part of their resumes.
The songs frequently begin with teasing snippets of guitar and then open up to embrace shadowy melodies before chugga-chugga charging into harder territory. "I'm usually in a bad mood when I write a song," confesses Pete. He's in a band with his two brothers. That would be trying on anyone. The album opens with the assaulting "Family System." "I'm tired of your open mouth, crawling inside my skin," Pete wails. What kind of brothers do you have, dude? "Don't Fake This" is a mix of sensitive singing and generic screaming. The first single, "The Red," works more melody than chaos, but, Jesus, these guys really sound like Tool.
Related Artists: Tool
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