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  Listen Up! 5/8/02 Listen Up!

Wednesday, May 8

Jake Andrews, "Jake Andrews," Texas Music Group. While I recognize that Andrews has a distinctive blues-rock guitar style, one that draws equally from Robin Trower and Buddy Guy, with maybe some other 70s rock bands thrown in the soup, I'm not really very impressed with his songs. And his voice bothers me, for some reason. He sounds mush-mouthed, without sounding convincing. I've heard worse records, of course, but I'm not gonna go back to hear this one again.

Various Artists, "Riding the Roots Chariot," Pressure Sounds. I've never seen this collection before, never heard of this label before, but this is one amazing collection of roots reggae cuts. Featuring Big Youth, I roy, Augustus Pablo, Dennis Brown, the Ethiopians, and U Roy, among others, cut for cut this is magnificent. Deep loping bass lines, pitt-pitt hi-hats, ching-ching guitars, and vocals that can best be described as sublimely insane, or insanely sublime. The harmonies on the singing tracks are exquisite, but it's the toasters who steal the show on this one, applying that thick Jamaican accent to all sorts of rhythmic tricks.

Jack Logan & Bob Kimbell, "Woodshedding," Parasol Records. It's another couple of guys with monotonous voices rumbling along in the general alt-country paradigm. There's no sense of discovery, no sense of excitement, no sense of joy, no sense of anything that isn't a standard-issue dirge, accompanied by steel guitar.

Lauryn Hill, "MTV Unplugged 2.0," Columbia Records. This is the sound of a career trainwreck. Hill can't even sing as well as she used to, which is saying a lot. Her voice is cracking, and missing notes right and left. Instead of putting her songs in the interesting rhythmic arrangements that made her popular, this time she just plays acoustic guitar, and fancies herself Bob Marley or something. All the songs remind me of failed copies of "Redemption Song." Only preachier. And less tuneful. Throw in lots of speeches between songs, and you've got the worst record by a major artist you've heard this year.

The Hives, "Veni Vidi Vicious," Sire Records. Hyped-up old-fashioned garage riff-rock, with a snotty singer who sounds like the guy in the Sonics. This record has been out for a while on an indie, but now it's been reissued on Sire, which is appropriate since this could have been one of the late 70s wave of punk records. These guys are from Sweden, and their reverence for American garage styles leads to a paradoxically loose-limbed rockin' record. Nothing you haven't heard before, but this is a million times better than either the White Stripes or the Strokes, to name two bands that work in somewhat similar old-fashioned styles without half the chops or songwriting skills.

PuffyAmiYumi, "An Illustrated History," Bar None Records. Japanes pop music is so weird. This stuff sounds like it could have been written for imaginary American cartoons in about 1970 or 71. It's catchy, if rather treacly. And, of course, we can't understand a word of it here, which lends an exotic quality to music that's not very exotic. Now, I'm prone to like cartoon music of the early 70s, but this stuff sounds a little harsh to my ears in a way I can't describe. It's almost too forced, mixed too clean to allow the vocals to shine with the rhythm tracks.

--Steve Pick



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