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  Listen Up! 3/22/02 Listen Up!

Friday, Mar 22

Renee Rosnes, "Art & Soul," Blue Note Records. Yeah, I get it, we've got art represented by Ornette Coleman's composition "Blues Connotation," and we've got soul represented by vocalist Dianne Reeves guesting on a couple of cuts. Except that with Rosnes, it's not always so obvious, and this version of "Blues Connotation" is downright soulful, while "Ancient Footprints" gives Reeves some artistically ambitious stretching of words to sing. I've always liked Rosnes on piano. She has a rich tone, a neat tendency to vary between light high notes dancing around the melody and dark insistent runs of low notes bulldozing the damn thing. I haven't heard this 1999 release before, but it's quite nice, mostly sticking to the piano trio format that she handles well.

Wu-Tang Clan, "Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)," RCA Records. I haven't heard this record in years. I remember it shocked me when it came out, it just seemed so much nastier and more aggressive than anything else I'd heard at the time. Now, I'm hearing all the creativity in the beats, all the rhythmic variety and mastery of the various members of the group who have since moved on to become familiar icons as solo artists. This record introduced a lot of major talents to the world, and now, retroactively, I'm ready to get with the program.

Pretty Willie, "Enter the Life of Suella," Universal Records. Pretty Willie, pretty boring, pretty generic, as Scariano says, he goes from Nelly to Tupac and back to Nelly without ever cussing. I've heard worse records, but this one ain't gonna work no seductions around me, I'd bet.

Brandy Johnson, "Worried/Well," no label. Brandy is from St. Louis, just like Pretty Willie, and she doesn't cuss either. That's where the similarities end, not that one would expect there to be any. Johnson can sing, she has a delicious deep vocal tone that hugs notes, especially the ones she holds onto for more than a beat, like syrup hugs pancakes. The backing on this album is way more sympathetic than she had in Drift, her previous band, or even Bella Wolf (whose guitarist Jim Ibur turns up on this record). So, everything is in place to make a very enjoyable record, but I just gotta say, as much as it pains me, that the songs don't stick in my memory half as much as the sound does.

Son Volt, "Wide Swing Tremelo," Warner Bros. Records. I know I'm the only music writer in the country to talk like this, but I believe this will go down in history as the best record Jay Farrar ever made. I think "Sebastopol" has cuts just as good, and I think a great mix tape could be made from the Uncle Tupelo days and the first couple of Son Volt records, but it's "Wide Swing Tremelo" that moves me from start to finish. Why? Well, for one thing, there are songs that rock in the garage-punk fashion that Jay first fell in love with back when he was in the Primitives in high school. These set up the slow songs as beautiful contrasts, effective yins to the yangs. And, he expands his melodic sense beyond certain stereotypical directions that he's mined a million times before (and a few times since). This record sounds like a man searching for a way out of his admittedly self-imposed musical traps, and a man with the desire to find a new expression is a man with half the game already in hand. Also, he never sang more beautifully (though to be fair, he rarely sang much less beautifully, either).

--Steve Pick
   

 

 

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