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  Listen Up! 4/23/03 Listen Up!

Wednesday, Apr. 23

Maria McKee, “High Dive,” Viewfinder Records. Maria McKee is an enigma. For twenty years or so, she’s been popping up, tantalizing me with music that is almost, but not quite, great. She’s got a great voice, just odd ideas. She started out doing alt-country before there was such a thing in the band Lone Justice, then as a solo artist she’s been all over the map. This new record sounds like a cross between Dagmar Krause-styled art rock and Broadway-styled showtunes. I do really like “To the Open Spaces” and “Life is Sweet,” the one-two opening punch of this album. After that, there are a lot of cringe-worthy moments interspersed with really interesting ones. This just may be the kind of thing I have to hear a few times. We’ll see if I wind up giving it the chance it needs.

Lisa Marie Presley, “To Whom It May Concern,” Capitol Records. Well, the short answer is she can sing pretty good. The long answer is she doesn’t have any songs, the production is sterile, and she doesn’t nail the sultriness she tries to hit. There’s nothing offensive about this album, which may be a victory of sorts, but there’s nothing worth noting, either.

Liz Phair, “Liz Phair,” Capitol Records. I guess this is self-titled. Sometimes advance CDs are confusing. Oh, well, the music is generic enough that there’s no reason to bother giving it a name. Phair still can’t sing, and she repeats the same two or three melodic twists over and over and over again. The instrumentation is clean and gently rocking, taking away what elements of personality may have been there in her early records. So, what’s left? A very pretty woman with a listenable but unenjoyable CD.

Jason Moran, “The Bandwagon,” Blue Note Records. This isn’t even due out until August. Some people aren’t so concerned about potential piracy, eh? (That’s a joke, son! I said a joke!) I haven’t been paying close attention, but I loved Moran’s solo album from last year. This time, he’s got a trio, and he’s working some of the same songs – the version of “Planet Rock” included here is even more amazing – along with other material from previous albums and some new stuff. I suspect this will grow in stature over the summer. Moran is one of the most imaginative piano players working today.

Electric Six, “Fire,” XL Recordings. The liner notes on this pre-release says this band has a “bizarre genetic splicing of punk, new wave, disco, and arena rock,” and that seems pretty accurate. Every song could be from a different band. Maybe there’s a Michael Jackson vocal hook tossed over a Roxy Music melody with a Talking Heads rhythm track. Or some entirely different mix of influences on the next cut. The big hit seems to be “Danger! High Voltage,” based on the fact I’ve heard it three times in the past 36 hours, twice on KDHX. That’s a fun song, by the way, with a nod to “Lost in Space” and a bit of New Order, XTC, and the Tom Tom Club.

--Steve Pick

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