One Bird Two Stones
Beer rock and stoner rock are different. Stoner rock is when the riffs are reinforced through repetition and absence-of-counterpoint. It's about concentration, whereas beer rock is fatalistic about having none. Denton, TX, trio Dixie Witch's One Bird Two Stones is beer rock with stoner-rock productionimagine if Funkadelic guitarist Eddie Hazel drank beer. The rhythm section ambles a lot but still manages to touch its nose and pass the Breathalyzer. I like the bits where bassist Curt Christenson and guitarist Clayton Mills play the same thing, as on "More of a Woman." Actually I like this stuff best of all when the guitar, bass, and drums (Trinidad Leal, who also sings) are playing the exact same thing over and over. Oddly enough, the more bands play in strict regimentation, the more it sounds like they fight a lot. Then again, Lynyrd Skynyrd used to beat each other up with pool cues, and they invented this stuff, so there's that theory shot to shit. Beer rock lyrics also have a better-adjusted outlook on lifeno darkness and drugs and death. (Pace Skynyrd again. They really had somethin' evil goin' on! They "paid dearly," though.) Dixie Witch are less dark than the Darkness, even. The singing is straight out of BTO and Molly Hatchet, the music is Tad/Black Label Society, and One Bird Two Stones opens with same notes as Grand Funk Railroad's On Time (which means the same notes as Grand Funk's Live Album, too!!). The overall effect, take your pick, is of a band that opened for glam-metal asylum seekers with new stubble growth and down-tuning in 1991, to audience laughter, or a band that opened for Skin Yard or Mudhoney in 1991, to audience fear. The obvious punch line being that those bands (this band) were (are) better than the headliners most of the time. DAVE QUEEN
RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE
Live at the Grand Olympic Auditorium
No one ever changed the world hawking tapes out of the trunk of their car. That was Rage Against the Machine's escape hatch from hard-line grassroots idealists, their unspoken justification for accepting a corporate bankroll to peddle anticorporate principles. Was a difference made? Sure, although Rage's posthumous political influence pales compared to their deep footprints on the metal and hip-hop landscape. Face it, screaming "Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me!!!" in the pit doesn't necessarily translate to Googling Howard Zinn in the campus library the next morning. Ironically, this Los Angeles swan song went down nearly a year to the day before 9/11, a time when an assured, established renegade voice was desperately needed on the radio. It's a passable greatest-hits run-through, made substantially less vital by the obvious stagnancy of the players, who went on to plumb new, inane depths in Audioslave. Hindsight reveals that frontman Zack de la Rocha was the flaming battery acid driving the Machine. Barely able to contain his passion and/or venom in "Testify" and "Know Your Enemy," his spastic poetry afforded credibility for the stormtrooping, overfunked rhythm section and perfectly book-ended Morello's infamous, once-astonishing solos. Thuggish backup vocals courtesy of Cypress Hill dilute Olympic's ferocity, and it's worth noting that set/career ender "Freedom," Rage's first and most beloved call-to-arms, doesn't even end with the incoherent wailing and crippling feedback of the album version. A sadly fitting end for a cabal of wealthy, bright rebels that pulled back too many knockout punches. A.B.
History of an Apology
The apology in question was issued by President Clinton in 1997 to victims of the notorious Tuskegee Experiment, in which black men suffering from syphilis were left untreated so that government researchers could track the gruesome progress of the disease. Responding to that woeful chapter in U.S. history, and with funding from King County, bassist Paul Rucker has composed a stirring, mournful suite, his large ensemble of Seattle musicians carrying themselves with elegiac dignity that aims to inspire and overcome, not rage and react. It's political music at its best (and, at 42 minutes, unmarred by the excess that this kind of grant-funded project can sometimes engender). The six tunes that form the bulk of the disc all cycle around an odd-metered vamp, with Rucker lumbering along the earthy bottom, Bill Horist adding gorgeous webs and filigrees of looped, processed guitar, drummer Jacques Willis subtly, insistently driving the groove. Over 16 months of recording, more than a dozen Northwest players stopped by Rucker's studio/bedroom to make their contributionsJay Roulston, Michael White, Elizabeth Pupo-Walker, Julian Priester, and others (including a typically invaluable two-cents from Bill Frisell). Rucker then layered the sounds into a soul-baring, multilevel procession richly imbued with bass clarinet, accordion, flute, and other textures, and with consistently evocative just-right soloing from Roulston, trombonist Jeff Hay, Jovino Santos Neto, and more. There's a pure sense of vision here and a nobility of spirit that responds better to the tragedy of Tuskegee than any shrill rage, or apology. MARK D. FEFER
How many of these things are they gonna make? Ever since Linda Ronstadt hooked up with the late Nelson Riddle and had an unexpected hit with 1983's What's New, every pop star in late-career-resuscitation modefrom Sheena Easton to Rod Stewarteventually decides to pillage the Great American Songbook and play the classy crooner. What's nextKim Carnes Does Cole Porter? Here's the big surprise, though: Lauper's CD of "standards" actually works, and then some. Whatever the impetus behind its creation, At Last never sounds like a desperate afterthought, and its inspired eclecticism includes everything from a delicate interpretation of "Unchained Melody" to an ebullient "On the Sunny Side of the Street." Beginning with a shivery, exultant title track that may knock you off your chair, Lauper treats several clearly personal favorites in small-scale arrangements with a mature mixture of impassioned restraint and combustive celebration. Stevie Wonder's "Until You Come Back to Me" (with Wonder himself on harmonica) bustles with a sunny confidence, while Smokey Robinson's "You've Really Got a Hold On Me," accompanied by a gentle piano, is crushingly mournful and insistent without getting maudlin. Guests are first-rate. In addition to Wonder, Sheila E. is around for the percussive Latin flair of "Stay," and an obviously amused Tony Bennett duets on a playful "Makin' Whoopee" (when Bennett sings the dismissive "He's so ambitious/He even sews," Lauper cracks, "2003, babe"). Anyone who saw her in full throttle as the opener on Cher's otherwise enervating Farewell Tour can tell you that Lauper has not retreated into the novelty-act sunset, but her craft here is still a surprisingly fresh pleasure. STEVE WIECKING
As most 19-year-old girls grow up and out of the Top 40, they contemplate their impending adulthood with the pop poetry of established artists they're just discovering: Joni Mitchell, Joan Armatrading, Cat Stevens. Mandy Moore isn't much differentas she enters adulthood, she's putting teen-pop behind her and finding inspiration in the mellower sounds of these and other '70s and '80s singer-songwriters. But instead of downloading some MP3s, Moore has recorded her own versions of other people's songs, to commemorate the waning of her teenage years. And actually, it's really good. Surprised? You shouldn't be. Not being a songwriter herself, Moore has been successfully interpreting other people's songs from the beginning of her career. True, that career is only four years old, and her radio hits to date have had no other cultural context beyond "the latest Mandy Moore single." But on Coverage, Moore's poise and quiet charisma continue to serve her well. Not only does she imbue believable emotion and meaning into material she didn't write, she avoids getting crushed by the context of the original versions. Moore may not steal the songs away from their writers, but she gets the details that a rote performance would miss, stuttering with playful nervousness on Blondie's "One Way or Another," bubbling over with desire on Armatrading's "Drop the Pilot." Moore's performances convey a casual confidenceit's not a stretch to believe that she could have chosen 12 entirely different covers and have done just as good a job. Only Mitchell's "Help Me" sounds like Moore is reading the words straight from a printout from lyricsworld.com, and even then, the backing band (the music is played by a host of guests including Evan Dando, Semisonic's Dan Wilson, X's D.J. Bonebreak, and Jellyfish's Andy Sturmer) is having so much fun that it's difficult to notice. Here's to growing up. CHRIS LORRAINE
Tales of a Librarian: A Tori Amos Collection
There was a time when I would have humped my own piano bench at the thought of a Tori anthology with some remastered classics, a few rarities, a couple new tracks, and a live DVD. I've tempered my devotion over the years, but my piano bench had better watch out because, while Tales of a Librarian isn't the most comprehensive collection, it's so very Tori, all quirky choices and whispered profundity. With the exception, that is, of the disappointing DVD, on which the live material consists of sound-check clips and superfluous bonus audio tracks. The CD is more fulfilling, featuring many lovingly remastered old favorites in pleasantly unexpected order (the juxtaposition of "Silent All These Years" with "Cornflake Girl" is particularly enjoyable), a solid introduction to Tori-ism for any neophytes to the world of piano innuendo and stream of consciousness so brilliantly streamy that one sometimes wonders if it isn't just bad beat poetry (oh, the sacrilege!). For us diehards, a few precious things are offered in the form of some rare B-sides, including new recordings of the sassy "Sweet Dreams" and the almost bluesy Hendrix nod "Mary," as well as the delightfully oxymoronic Armand Van Helden club mix of "Professional Widow." And, of course, there are the new tracks: the lovely "Snow Cherries from France," seven years in the writing with the outcome oddly reminiscent of Jefferson Airplane's "Lather," and "Angels," a down-tempo groove that is Amos' heavily metaphoric version of explicit politics. RACHEL DEVITT
The Collected Works of the Roches
The Roches never achieved mass popularityhence "collected works," not "greatest hits"and it's not hard to figure out why: These girls are loopy. Disarmingly loopy, sure, but it takes more than one listen to the sister trio's close harmonies to get them under your skinand attentive listening does not a pop juggernaut make. Beginning in the late '70s, the RochesMaggie, Suzzy, and Terrewrote and recorded offbeat reflections on love and life's possibilities that were distinctly hip and modern in content but which in form could resemble anything from Irish folk music to '20s ditties ("Mr. Sellack" is a catchy little tune in which a broke young woman begs her old employer to let her wait tables again). They even tried their hand, very winningly, on Handel's Hallelujah Chorus. Not everything worked. Some of their goofing around ("Nurds") sounds like familial in-joking, and the second the '80s hitabout a third of the way through this collectionsynthesizers and the like essentially threatened to turn them into a literate, upscale Bananarama (witness the drums and keyboards of "Face Down at Folk City"). But even that stuff creeps up on you. Ignoring some of the dated production reveals unexpected pleasures: Their voices cascade wistfully around each other on 1985's touchingly resigned "Love to See You" ("You are never gonna be mine/But I just love to see you"). The best of the songs herelike "One Season," on which our heroines muse, "I am the only tree/And everybody leaves"have the kicky, bracing bittersweetness of a rainy spring day. Give yourself a chance to get acclimated to their singular weather. S.W.
Although the States must salivate until just before Valentine's Day for the domestic release of Kylie Minogue's Body Language, in the interim we can satiate a yen for aging, aggressively sultry Aussie discotheque princesses via younger sis Dannii. Like Kylie, Dannii is almost unnaturally petite and posh, specializing in breathy, icy club pop that frequently sounds not of this planet. The ladies' delightfully androgynous, wet-dream-in- cyberspace videos go a long way toward coloring the Minogue mythology, which too often renders the music incidental. Truth is, Dannii's Neon blazes with a V.I.P. room/velvet rope eroticism that her sister prefers to inflate, distort, and drag out into the sunlight. Surprisingly, Dannii's reined-in, demure approach begets inconsistency. Nights' leadoff track employs the following hyperventilating, merry-go-round chorus: "Put the needle on it/I'll tell you where I want it/C'mon and spin me on it/All my freaks say . . ." Hello, METAPHOR OF THE YEAR! Similar come-ons are less successful as the record thumps and humps along. The strip joint throb of "Vibe On" would be, oh, a tad more alluring without Dannii and guest Riva trading lame moans about "XXX batteries" and, far worse, the concession "Looks like I'm a vibraholic now." Luckily, most of Nights isn't as licentious; the more traditional club tracks ("Loop," "For the Record") grind in an inviting, simple, "I'm gorgeous and I don't wanna be alone" vein. Nothing remotely groundbreaking here, but if you've invested in Kylie couture, Dannii is a must-have accessory. ANDREW BONAZELLI
I Can't Stop
Blue Note's put some of that Norah Jones windfall into Al Green's first collaboration with producer/arranger Willie Mitchell since 1985. But where He Is the Light was made for a gospel audience, I Can't Stop revisits the sweet and rough soul music Green and Mitchell perfected together in the early '70s. (Some of the same players show up for these sessions, too.) The new material isn't as stellarinsert the obligatory "What is?"but Green delights in his own power and gift for romance. That the delight never quite shades into the eccentricity of his country and Orbison covers or the post-Mitchell Belle Album doesn't take away from the fact that he's on pointe throughout. And at least two cuts deserve spots on Green's next multidisc career overview: The title track, a reclamation of the old Hi Records mid-tempo strut, and the longest performance, "My Problem is You," which suggests some kind of previously unimagined Memphis supper-club blues. Growling, repeating syllables, sighing, and casually reaching for high notes, the Reverend acknowledges that there may be a conundrum over which the Almighty holds no dominion. It's "Problem" that encourages Al Green to convince us once more, and to shred any argument that I Can't Stop is a mere nostalgia trip. Sure, he should be a guest on the next Basement Jaxx album. But he belongs right here, too. RICKEY WRIGHT