Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Bart Mendoza's Music Reviews: Soundtracks 1998 - 2004

More unedited reviews, this time all soundtracks. All blurbs are long out of print and contemporary to the title reviewed. They ran approximately 1998 -2004 in the San Diego Union Tribune's weekly art's insert, Night & Day.

OST- 50 First Dates (Maverick) **
Basically this is a collection of ‘80’s radio favorites, redone by modern artist’s, reggae style, this soundtrack works only on a novelty level.  Amongst the 13 tracks here, highlights include Dryden Mitchell’s ska flavored version of the Cure’s “Friday I’m In Love,” as well as Jason Mraz’s dub take on the Modern English’s hit “I Melt With You, ” with the most unusual pairing being Ziggy Marley’s rendition of the Cars “Drive.” Unfortunately little here rises above the album’s obvious gimmick and nothing comes close to equaling the songs these renditions are based on.

OST – A Cinderella Story- (Hollywood) * 
 A star vehicle for Disney moppet Hilary Duff, who performs a half dozen generic pop rock lite tunes here, this soundtrack  album is bolstered with tracks from Goo Goo Dolls and Edwin McCain, but remains formulaic from start to finish. Except for the unnecessary remake of the Go-Go’s “Our Lips are Sealed,” which only proves you can’t keep a good tune down, this is as uninspired as music gets. Night & Day August 2004

OST - A Walk To Remember (Epic 86311) ***
Essentially a vehicle for teen star Mandy Moore, this multi artist soundtrack still features a big enough variety to keep even the most jaded teen pop fan smiling. Easily the best track here is Toploader's hammond tinged remake of 70's classic "Dancing In The Moonlight", in a rare occurrence of the re-make surpassing the original, but local band Switchfoot's four songs come close, especially the killer ballad "Learning To Breathe". Moore's own "Cry" is also a splendid radio friendly tune worthy of chart contention, but it's Switchfoot- who have an equal amount of songs on this CD as Ms. Moore- that emerge as the real stars of this soundtrack.

OST - American Pie 2 (Universal) ***
An excellent collection of today's radio friendly acts, including established names such as Blink 182 and Green Day alongside up and comers, such as Oleander and Uncle Kracker. In keeping with the spirit of the film, most of the music is upbeat, energetic and fun. Highlights include Angela Ammons dance oriented "Always Getting Over You", and Flying Blind's guitar driven bouncy "Smokescreen", but this is as solid a collection of modern rock as your likely to come across.

OST - Dean Quixote (Spinart)
This soundtrack to "Don Quixote", is an essential who's who of the current underground music scene. Featuring Guided By Voices, Kim Fox, Beachwood Sparks, Olivia Tremor Control and many more, highlights are many. Top marks go to the Minders dreamy instrumental "Our Man In Bombay " and the Apples in Stereo "What Happened Then" a plaintive down tempo tune, but this album is a literal  treasure trove of catchy pop oriented tunes. If the movie is half as good as this album, count me in for a ticket.

OST - Die Another Day - (Warner Brothers) *
There's no getting around it, this is easily one of the worst Bond soundtracks ever. In an effort to update the movie franchises signature sound, all the familiar themes now have dance beats added to them, while  Madonna's title song, despite some pop charm, is amongst the weakest Bond themes ever. Disappointing from start to finish.

OST - Freddy Got Fingered - (Restless 73746) ***
This punk rock dominated album comes up aces. Recent tracks like Green Days "Blood Sex and Booze" and one of only two non rock cuts on the disc, Moby's "Unnatural Blues", rub shoulders with classics like the New York Dolls "Personality Crisis" and the Sex Pistols "Problems". Best of all is the inclusion of some lesser-known gems from such unsung Southern California punk heroes as Agent Orange and the Adolescents. Much better than the movie. 

OST - The Hulk (Decca 633-02) ** 
While Danny Elfman's orchestral music will appeal to any fan of symphonic music, the selling point on this disc, is easily the one non instrumental track included, the hotly anticipated teaming of Scott Weiland with the ex members of Guns and Roses, "Set Me Free." The tune itself shows the new group to be keen fans of punk poppers Red Kross, and while it's certainly a decent melodic rocker, it sticks out like a sore thumb on the soundtrack. Even hardcore G 'n' R fans will find it hard to justify the purchase of this album on the strength of one tune.

OST - Minority Report ( Dreamworks)*** 
John Williams latest film score is actually a throwback to the soundtracks of classic film noir suspense thrillers of the pre 1960's cinema. Despite it's futuristic theme, "Minority Reports" Soundtrack has a retro feel that jazz and orchestra fans will love. Favorites include the bongo filled "Spyders" and the tension filled horns in "Anderton's Great Escape", but fans of Mr. Williams work will find this one of his better works in recent years. While not an album you would likely play often, even deprived of the visuals, this is still impressive.

OST - Moulin Rouge (Interscope 3228) ***
A second collection of tunes from the movie, released just in time to cash in on the recent Oscar Hoopla. . Place of honor goes to 2 wonderful takes on Elton John's "Your Song", but there is a lot to recommend here. Other highpoints include the big band arrangement of "Sparkling Diamonds", Nicole Kidman's distinctive voice holding up well. Most of this soundtrack works well without the movie's visuals, but the spoken word version of "Like A Virgin" is truly cringe-worthy.

OST - The Scorpion King - (Universal ) ** Night & Day March 2002
It's probably testament to how big "The Scorpion King" film is expected to be, that the soundtrack was able to pull in so many big names, thereby also doubling as a pretty comprehensive look at today's hard rock scene. The 16 tracks here include most of the current top names from Creed to System Of A Down, but top nod goes to local favorites P.O.D. with a killer remix of their "Set It Off", though Rob Zombie's and Ozzy Osbourne's "Iron head" comes close. If you like your rock bombastic, angst filled and loud, than this will likely be an essential listen.

OST - Shrek (Dreamworks) ***
Surprisingly cohesive and eclectic selection of songs from the current animated kids film, heavy on dance oriented glossy pop. Best track is easily Leslie Carter's insanely catchy "Like Wow!"  and there are  also get 2 different takes on Monkees classic "I'm a Believer", the first a heavy slightly rearranged take from Smash Mouth, and a shorter, not as bad as it could've been version, from Eddie Murphy. With a range from the Baha Men ("Best Years Of Our Lives") to Eels ("My Favorite Monster") there is something for just about everyone, making even the film score closing the CD seem a natural conclusion to a better than average soundtrack.. 

OST - Someone Like You (TVT 6980) *
There are some fine tunes on Someone Like You including Van Morrison's title track  and Shelby Lynne's "Dreamsome", but they shine like diamonds amongst the dross. Hindered by pointless remakes, none worse than Tom Jones and the Cardigans duet on the Talking Heads "Burning Down The House" -though London Bus Stop's annoying cover of "Get It On" comes frighteningly close-  "Someone Like You" never gains momentum or involves the listener, coming off like a scattershot collection of random  songs rather than a cohesive soundtrack or listening experience.

OST - Songcatcher (Combustion) ***
Doubling as an exploration of Appalachian music, "Songcatcher" is an impressive achievement that can stand on it's own. With an all star cast including Rosanne Cash, Maria Mckee, and Emmylou Harris, the music wavers between folk and country. Top cuts are either Iris Dement's fiddle and voice lament "Pretty Saro" or Dolly Parton and Emmy Ressum's mandolin drenched "When Love Is New", but it's hard to pick amongst so many great heart felt songs and performances.

OST - Van Wilder - (Ultimatum 466732) ** Night & Day March 2002
Just like most National Lampoons movies, there is little subtle about this soundtrack, with most of the music meant to be played at maximum volume and shouted along with. That said, this works well as a sampler of up and coming alternative rock acts, with just enough variety to keep things interesting. While there is no faulting the powerpop hooks, energy or dynamics of tracks such as Jimmy Eat World's "Bleed American" or American Hi-Fi's "I'm A Fool", the tunes that really stand out are the ones that break out from the pack stylistically, particularly David Mead's shuffling "Girl On A Roof" and Fuzz Townshends dance hall influenced "At Auntie Tom's".

OST - Zoolander (Hollywood)** 
A very schizophrenic dance oriented soundtrack to Ben Stiller's new comedy about a male model. A brace of hard edged numbers from the likes of Orgy ("Faces"), The Crystal Method ("Now Is The Time") and others rub shoulders with some of the eighties most overplayed hits including Wham's "Wake Me Up Before You Go Go " and Herbie Hancock's "Rockit", for a slightly disconcerting listening experience. There is also a batch of remakes on hand, the best track being one of those, the Wallflowers take on the Bee Gee's "I Started A Joke", though Rufus Wainwright's wonderful "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" (originally by the Hollies) comes close. Despite a few nice moments, this is too disjointed for casual listening.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Bart Mendoza's Music Reviews 1990 2004

Unedited Music / Album Reviews by Bart Mendoza, 1990 - 2006. These long out of print writings ran in various publications, including the San Diego Union / Night & Day, Citybeat, Crawdaddy, La Jolla Light, SD Musicmatters, SLAMM, San Diego Romance.com etc. This is: PART I /  A-J

The After Party – Yes Sir – (Rowboat) ***   
With an excellent mix of musicianship, production and especially song writing skill, the After Party’s first album is an impressive debut. The group’s music takes in elements of punk, new wave, glam and powerpop for a sound that’s built around melody, and an album that feels like a collection of singles. Top spot goes to opening melancholy rocker “You Said It,” but there is no shortage of gems here. These are songs meant to be played loud and shouted along to, full of youthful energy and real passion, resulting in an album that you will play again and again.

Richard Ashcroft- Alone With Everybody (Hut/Virgin) - 
Anyone who enjoyed the music of late, lamented UK act the Verve will find pretty much everything in place on ex-lead singer Richard Ashcroft's solo debut, "Alone With Everybody". The  stylistic shift is minor. There is a move away from the jam based electric guitar sounds of his former group, and a new focus on groove oriented tracks and acoustic instruments,  but the overall feel is still the same. No real surprise as Richard Ashcroft in many ways was the Verve. And that's the major problem here. The material is strong enough, but doesn’t break new ground, coming across like a continuation of his former group rather than a progression. Leading off with "A Song For Lovers", already a #3 UK hit, the 11 mid tempo cuts here are full of sweeping strings and reflective lyrics, as epitomized by his former bands massive worldwide hit "Bitter Sweet Symphony". A signature sound to be sure, but one which dulls the effect of an otherwise decent first effort. 

Brian Auger - "Voices Of Other Times" - Miramar
Fans of Brian Augers signature Hammond Organ sound, will find much to like on the  latest album from his group Oblivion Express. Mixing Latin jazz and funk, the group delivers ten tracks, which if not as inspired as his sixties heyday, still proves Brian Auger to be an exciting keyboard wizard. Daughter Savannah takes the lead vocals on the majority of the cuts included, giving the material a sound not unlike a grittier, earthier Basia. However, the best material here are the three instrumentals, notably the cover of  Marcus Miller's "Splatch", which give Brian Auger a chance to stretch out and dazzle a bit with his instrumental prowess.
Backstreet Boys - The Hits, Chapter One (Jive) *
While a few songs on this first Back Street Boys hits collection are certainly catchy, every track here is also faceless radio fodder, and could be by any of a number of acts, it's that generic. This is over produced, ultra slick R&B inflected pop, all by the numbers, with few redeeming qualities. Odds are, if there should ever be a "Chapter Two", it will sound exactly like this: Appalling. – Night & Day

Barenaked Ladies:"Disc One: All Their Greatest Hits 91-01(Reprise 48075)***
Combining a decade of hits along with a few stray tracks, plus a couple of new tunes, this compilation from Canada's Barenaked Ladies, will delight both longtime fans as well as make a wonderful introduction for newcomers to the bands winning pop rock sound. With hits such as "Brian Wilson", "It's All Been Done", and "One Week", amongst the 19 songs included here, this is an indispensable purchase for fans of modern pop rock.

Beachwood Sparks (Subpop) * 
Obstensively a stepping stone between albums, this latest EP from psychedelic country rockers Beachwood Spark's will likely disappoint all but die hard fans. Quirky to a fault, the tunes meander aimlessly, with only the closing "Ghostdance 1492" showing any of the fire that made this group indie favorites. For completists only.

Daniel Bedingfield - "Gotta Get Thru This" (Island) ***
Although Daniel Bedingfield has become known as a dance act, through the hit title track, his first album is actually much more a pop and r&b affair. Recorded largely alone in his bedroom studio, this is a seamless blend of genres that also touches on well crafted funk, rock and electronica, for an ambitious collection of tracks. Clearly influenced by the likes of Stevie Wonder, George Michael and the Art of Noise, cuts like soaring ballad "If You're Not The One" or jangly rocker "He Don't Love You Like I Love You" sound custom made for radio, but there is no shortage of hit potential on this very promising debut

Catheryn Beeks – Songs For Sale (Self released) 
Collecting material recorded between 1998 and 2002, this effectively shows some significant growth in Beeks tunesmithing with the top material coming from the more recent sessions. You’ll find the expected ballads, and also some bar room rock. Best of the songs is probably taut rocker “You Got My Heart,” but even when the band occasionally strays into cliché, Beeks voice carries the moment. Citybeat 03 2004

Adrian Belew“Coming Attractions” – Thirsty Ear 57082   
It’s been said that many performers are multi faceted. On “Coming Attractions” Adrian Belew takes that notion to new extremes. For all intents and purposes a one man various artists compilation, the album gathers up material from six of his different recording projects- works in progress with varied musical styles. Songs range from live solo acoustic recordings (“Inner Revolution”) to the sort of multi tracked guitar acrobatics he’s honed as sideman for acts such as David Bowie, and as a member of King Crimson (“Predator Feast”). Unfortunately, despite the high quality of the material, the sheer variety of musical styles on display here can make for a disconcerting listening experience, not unlike having your radio randomly change stations every couple of songs.

Belly - "Sweet Ride" (Rhino)*** 
Fan's of alternative rocker Tanya Donelly will love this career retrospective for her early 90's group Belly. Collecting the hits alongside a generous smattering of b-sides, compilation rarities and live tracks, the 18 tracks here showing the band's range to have been incredibly varied. High points include French language piano ballad "Judas Mon Coeur" and a cover of Disney's "Trust In Me" from the Jungle Book, but there is no shortage of great rockers such as "Slow Dog" here either. Whether you're a die hard fan or just checking out Donnelly's early days, you'll find "Sweet Ride" to be essential listening.

Berkley Hart – Twelve – (PSB) *** 
Now on their third album, Berkley Hart show once again why this duo is perched at the top of our local singer-songwriter scene. The pair deliver fourteen country and folk tinged gems, ranging from the twangy honky tonk of  “Rodeo Heart” to the rollicking “Big Bad Barbie Doll,” with their trademark harmonies firmly in place. Using some of San Diego’ top musicians, including pianist A.J. Croce, guitarist Gregory Page and multi instrumentalist Dennis Caplinger, the two have constructed a confident album, with material that’s as strong as any they’ve ever crafted. Top cut here is the opener “Across the Rubicon,” with the Beatle-esque “Holding The Sun” a close second, but this collection is as good as it gets, with one sing-along ‘soon to be favorite’ after the other.  (Night & Day)

Better Than Ezra - Closer - Beyond  **
Better than Ezra continue to update the powerpop sound on their 4th album, adding both beats and orchestral flourishes for a polished radio friendly sound. A few cuts fall to cliché, but at it's best, songs like bouncy sing a long "Rolling" and the folk flavored "Get You In" have an inventiveness to their arrangements that are as charming as they are inspired.

Big Mountain – “New Day” (Rebel Ink) ****
Although released just a tad early, with it’s reggae and soul-tinged sound, “New Day” looks likely to be a summertime smash. This is toe tapping festival music at it’s best, full of grooves, and incredibly catchy melodies, custom made for dancing. It’s hard to pinpoint a standout among the gems here, but highlights include “Tierra Indigena”, which features a guest appearance from Los Alacranes, and the dreamy pop oriented “Baby Stay”. With it’s lush production, soaring harmonies, horn section accents, and most importantly solid, hook filled song writing, this is easily Big Mountain’s finest album to date.

BR549 - This Is (Lucky Dog)***
For their 5th album, BR5-49 continue to expand musical boundaries, challenging listeners with their mix of country, rock and pop. From the plaintive ballad "The Game" to the bands driving take on the Everly Brothers "The Price Of Love", the 11 cuts on "This Is" easliy show why BR5-49 are one of the brightest new stars on the Nashville music scene today.

Burnside Project – “The Networks, The Circuits, The Streams, The Harmonies” (Bar None) ***
It would be nearly impossible to pinpoint all the musical influences on this inspired release. At times it’s electronica, at other times it’s indie rock, and it manages to touch on all points in between, always intriguingly inventive. Top cuts include the sample heavy “Repeat After Me”, with the trance flavored“Roll The Credits” a close second, but if you like your music adventurous and beat oriented, then this album will be a quick favorite. 
Butthole Surfers - Weird Revolution (Hollywood) **
Practically a kaleidoscope of influences, the latest opus from Arizona's Butthole Surfers, is. An interesting mix of hip-hop, rock and roll and spoken word social political rhetoric, it's the albums lack of focus, that inevitably keeps "Weird revolution" from being successful. And that's a shame as there are some great dance tracks here, particularly "Get Down", which sounds like a lost classic by 80's soul group Cameo. Ultimately "Weird Revolution" is unlikely to win many converts, but still has it's moments.

Richard Butler – RB (Koch) 4/18 ***
Fans of Butler’s distinctive, gritty voice and penchant for epic choruses will find everything in place here, though he has updated his sound just a bit. Replacing rock with touches of electronica, the strongest tracks echo his work as front man for the Psychedelic Furs, with one of the best tracks, “California,” even revisiting the character of “Caroline,” last heard from on the ‘80s hit “Pretty in Pink.” Full of contemplative lyrics, and mid-tempo beats, this is a solid effort that shows Butler still has more than a few worthy few musical tricks up his sleeve. Night & Day Reviews March 2006

Calexico - "Even My Sure Things Fall Through" (Quarterstick) **** Night & Day
Eclectic would be an understatement for an album that opens with the cool jazz vibraphones of "Sonic Wind", and follows it closely with an authentic sounding Mexican folk song styled instrumental, "Banderilla". This latest album from Calexico has a truly rare depth of influence. With dashes of Mariachi music, jazz, garage rock and even bits of Mancini styled passages throughout, "EMSTFT" almost gives the impression of a particularly great soundtrack or various artist compilation. Well written, brilliantly arranged (a lost art), "EMSTFT" should rightly end up on most critics top ten list for the year. It certainly will on mine. Definitely a group to watch out for.

Paul Carrack - It Ain't Over (Denon 17270) ** 
Best known for his work with Squeeze, Carrack's latest album does indeed sound similar to the beloved British pop institution, only with tunes that don't quite match that groups great songwriting. Opening strong with "She Lived Down the Street," the album quickly loses steam degenerating into cliched blue eyed soul. Fans of latter day Nick Lowe or even Hall and Oates may find a few moments here to set the toes a tapping, but overall, the album's lack of strong material hinders it. (Night & Day)

Eva Cassidy - "Imagine"(Blix Street) ***
It's a testament to the late singer Eva Cassidy's talent, that 5 years after her passing, her music continues to top charts around the world. This latest posthumous collection gathers up demos, live cuts and outtakes for a surprisingly cohesive set sure to delight long time fans. Top cut is easily "I Can Only Be Me", a Stevie Wonder penned ballad, with gospel overtones, that shows off her voice beautifully, but it's a tough choice. 
With tunes ranging from the cocktail jazz of "You've Changed" to the near cliché standard "Danny Boy", there is something here for just about any discerning pop fan.
(Night & Day)

local jazz aficianados will be thrilled with trumpet virtuoso Gilbert Castellano’s (Websters Last Word 9901) eponymous new release. Now clearly at the fore-front of the local jazz scene, Mr. Castellanos latest is a wonderful mix of compositions from jazz legends, including tunes from Lee Morgan and Joe Henderson, and original material steeped in the classic tradition. His Hammond B-3 Quintet is a marvel as well, particularly guitarist Anthony Wilson – just check out his tasteful solo on lead cut “Roll Call”. But it’s Mr. Castellanos show all the way, and the nine cuts here are all top rate. It’s just a matter of time now before the rest of the country discovers this home town talent… La Jolla Light

Charlatans UK - Wonderland (MCA) ****
Fans of The Charlatans patented Brit pop sound will be in for a major shock from the first track of their latest album. Gone for the most part are the sixties focused keyboards and groovy, swinging London vibes, replaced by a dance sensibility and a new found love for soul music, circa the late seventies. Surprisingly, it's quite successful. The influence of Sly Stone, and especially Prince abound, and the band is up to the task. While it's a bit disconcerting at first to hear Tim Burgess's falsetto vocals, the sheer strength of the material makes this an unqualified triumph. Top track here is easily "Love Is the Key"- as hook filled a dance floor filler as you're likely to find- but there are many gems to choose from here.

Chumbawamba - "Readymades" (Republic) **** 
Longtime fans will be in for quite a shock on Chumbawamba's 10th album, "Readymades". While the band still tackles political subjects, gone are the rock touches, now replaced with breakbeats, pop influences, and especially notable, samples of traditional folk music. In the process they have produced their best body of work to date. The 13 songs have a touch of whimsy to them missing in previous efforts, which make songs like "Jacobs Ladder" about the loss of 1591 sailors during a WW2 campaign, an incredibly catchy history lesson. An airy orchestrated production gives the album a dreamy quality, but what truly makes this album stand out is it's seamless melding of olde world music with modern pop and dance music. 

Chumbawumba – Readymades And Then Some (Koch) *** Always changing, this eight piece band’s 11th album finds them mixing break beats with folk music. It’s a surprisingly seamless meld, with songs like “Jacob’s Ladder” and “Don’t Try This At Home” taking on a spiritual feel, albeit with a downtempo dance beat. The addition of a bonus DVD disc makes this a must for fans of the band or even folk afficianados who like to see musical boundaries stretched a little.

The Church - "After Everything Now This" (Thirsty Ear)-** Night & Day Feb 2002
The Church 's moody psychedelic pop sound has held up well through the decades, and this album is a welcome addition to their cannon, if not quite up to the peak of "Starfish". Top track is easily opener atmospheric rocker "Numbers", but the album is full of gems. A welcome return to form from this long running Australian group.

The Church - "Forget Yourself" (Spinart 134) ** 
Now entering it's third decade, The Church show no sign of letting up in the slightest. On the contrary, their latest CD is the prolific bands finest in quite some time. The quartet still offers up a dense, guitar feedback laden sound, but this album rocks a little more than usual, upping the energy level on a terrific batch of songs. Catchiest tune here is the appropriately titled "Song In Space, " but the whole album ranks with their best work.

The Church - "Parallel Universe" - (Thirsty Ear) ***
An interesting experiment, this latest 2 disc offering from the long running Australian group, the Church, mixes 10 adventurous mixes of songs from their "After Everything, Now This" album with a half dozen outtakes from the same sessions. While their signature dreamy pop tinged sound is still at the forefront, the new song versions are far more dance oriented than anything the band has attempted before. New fans should check out the original album first, but die hards will need this in their collections regardless.  (Night & Day)

The Churchills- "You Are Here" (Abrupt/Universal) -
East coast quartet The Churchills deliver an eclectic collection of energetic powerpop ranging in style from the music hall aspirations of "Cars" to the slightly funky and radio friendly "Beautiful". However while the first half is certainly pleasant listening, it's the closing 6 cuts that elevate the album from simply pretty good to truly inspired. "Gonna Take A Lot To Stay" comes across like prime era Cheap Trick fronted by the Knack's Doug Fieger, while the glam flavored album closer "Maybe Make Me Okay" is hands down the power pop anthem of the year. Easily one of the best power pop albums in recent memory.  (Night & Day)

Leonard Cohen - "The Essential" - (Columbia) ***
This comprehensive, career spanning anthology, is the perfect introduction to the work of poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen. Ranging from simple recordings of voice and acoustic guitar, such as his 1967  classic "Suzanne", to a synthpop "First We Take Manhattan", the scope of the material is simply breathtaking. Fans of the singer songwriter genre will find this to be a worthy collection that really does live up to it's title, "Essential".  (Night & Day)

Phil Collins - "Testify" ** Night & Day
It's not that Phil Collins latest album is particularly bad, it's that it's bland. There is no spark, no sense of passion, a matter only highlighted by the albums dated production and cliched melodies. Lead track "Wake Up Call" at least kicks up the tempo a little, but the album soon descends into morose balladry with some truly cringe worthy lyrics, making this an album strictly for diehard fans. (Night & Day)

The Color Red - "Clear" (RCA 68080) ** Years in the making, The Color Red's major label debut is also sadly lacking. Highpoints include "The Other One" with a particularly catchy chorus, and "Intro/Season", which switches gears midway to good effect, but after a while the similarities between the songs and droning tempos wear thin. While certainly performed with energy, conviction and skill, little of the music on The Color Red's "Clear" truly stands out. (Night & Day)

The latest by A.J. Croce, “Transit” (Higher Octave 48753), can basically be summed up with one word- “Wow” and don’t forget the exclamation point. This could very well be the album to make AJ Croce a household name. He keeps his rich soulful voice at the fore and there are still hints of New Orleans in his music, but his range now extends soulful rock with dashes of classic pop. The killer here is lead off cut “Maybe” with it’s chiming descending chorus, but the 12 tracks here all add up to the finest album of  his career….. (La Jolla Light)

AJ Croce – Cantos (Seedling) ***
With his first release on his own label, Croce has hit a home run. Much more focused on his piano playing than some of his previous albums, Cantos dozen tracks show his songwriting to have taken major strides, with everything coming together superbly on tracks such as “I Should’ve Known.” The album includes a version of Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed,” which is certainly well played and performed, however Croce’s original material easily overshadows it. Night & Day Reviews March 2006

 Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers - "Sonoran Hope and Madness" (Emmajava 18776) ** Night & Day Feb 2002
Arizona's Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers continue to pull from a stylistically broad palette of influences on their second studio release. From Mariachi, folk and country to pop and straight ahead rock and roll, "Sonoran Hope & Madness" covers a lot of ground resulting in a challenging but ultimately rewarding listen. Although there is no shortage of uptempo radio ready numbers, the band seems to work best with the quieter folk inspired tunes, but that’s a minor quibble. Highpoints include the sweet melodic "Sleep Like A Baby" and the anthemic "Smaller and Better Things", but each listen will reveal new things that'll make you smile.

Cosmologic – III
Improvised music is not for everyone, but jazz fans will want to give this a listen. The quirky tempos and occasional free-form segments, not to mention songs that can top eleven minutes, will likely drive away casual listeners, but those who like their music on the adventurous side will love it. The focus here is on the saxophone work of Jason Robinson, who turns in the album’s best track, fuzz guitar based “Blacon (Beyond the Divide),” and trombonist Scott Walton. However, the group’s MVP is easily drummer Nathan Hubbard, who in addition to percussion is credited for composing half the album. - Citybeat March 2006

Davenports  "S/T" (Mother West ) **
A dozen cuts of excellent power pop from the New York quartet who recently added transplanted San Diegan and bassist Thomas Ward to their group. "Heather's A Genius" is easily the most radio friendly track here, with the lush orchestral setting of "You're On Your Own" a close second. From the lush Beach Boys styled harmonies of some songs to the Cheap Trick type power chords of others, this is as strong a collection of tunes as the genre has produced in some time.  (Night & Day)

Sammy Davis Jr. – “Sammy & Friends” – Rhino 75934 
Twenty cuts of Sammy Davis Jr. at his Rat Pack prime, covering the years 1960- 68. Amongst the friends referred to in the title are Frank Sinatra, Sam Butera, and Bing Crosby who join in, but don’t overshadow, although Dean Martin’s vocal interplay on “Sam’s Song” comes close – they must have had a lot of fun in the studio. The songs on this collection consist primarily of his “showstopper” type material, complete with Las Vegas big band arrangements, conducted by the likes of  Mort Stevens, Nelson Riddle and Benny Carter. Among the tracks included here are such standards as “What Kind Of Fool Am I” and “Straighten Up And Fly Right”, the material being culled not only from various albums and singles, but from such key movie soundtracks as “Oceans 11” and “Robin And the Seven Hoods”. Not a career overview, but a glimpse an artist at his peak and easily the one essential Sammy Davis Jr. CD to own.

Dead Meadows – Feathers (Matador) *
While this group’s brand of heavy psychedelia hits all the right marks for authenticity, including plodding drums, fuzzed out guitar and lots of reverb, unfortunately, their songs are lacking. Despite a few decent moments such as the opening to “Stacy’s Song,” the absence of good melodies makes this an album unlikely to make it to a second listen. Night & Day Reviews March 2006

Death Cab For Cutie – “We Have The Facts And We’re Voting Yes” (Barsuk Records) 
 “We Have The Facts”, the second release from Seattle quartet Death Cab For Cutie, is a fascinating indie album. Built on quirky rhythms, introspective, personal lyrics and melodic sensibilities, the tone of the album is conversational, almost as if main songwriter Benjamin Gibbard  were confiding in the listener. The end result is a well balanced 40 minutes of dreamy pop, heavy on reverb and atmosphere. From up tempo songs like “Company Calls” to the reflective “The Employment Pages”, the group infuse's their tunes with an intricacy, sadly missing in much of today’s music. The only problem with Death Cab for Cuties latest  is that at 10 songs it’s far too short.

Departure Lounge - "Too Late To Die Young" ** Night & Day Feb 2002
On Departure Lounge's sophomore release, "Too Late To Die Young" quirky rhythms and folk instruments blend with samples for a sound somewhere between Tom Waits and Ennio Morricone, courtesy of their new producer DJ Kid Loco. Although originally from the UK, the bands love for Americana saw them recording in Nashville, joined on a "Alone Again, And" by Robyn Hitchcock and ex-Cocteau twin Simon Raymonde. It's unlikely that this album will have much impact, as it just may be a little too off center for the average listener, but for the adventurous music fan, there is wealth of great material here.

Neil Diamond - Three Chord Opera (Columbia) **
Still going strong after more than 35 years as a pop icon, Neil Diamond's latest opus, "Three chord Opera" is a collection of songs as strong as anything he's released post "Jonathan Livingston Seagull". There are no surprises here, just exactly what you'd expect: a smattering of horns, occasional strings and Mr. Diamond's patented over the top vocal style. Unlikely to make many new converts, but fans are going to love "Three Chord Opera".
(Night & Day)

Donna's - Turn 21
Live they're an awesome act, but file this latest album under "almost". You often hear the Donnas compared to the Ramones and while their music has some of the same energy and even spirit, that comparison also points out the problem. This sounds rather antiseptic. Oh "Turn 21" rocks hard enough, but the album distills down to song after song of monotone guitar drone, with straight down the middle double tracked vocals. Everything to a minimum. Every part exactly where you'd expect it. This comes across like a bunch of demos before even the barest of overdubs. Shame as there are some great songs here- just check out "Do You Want To Hit It".  (Lookout)- BM (Night & Day)

Dressy Bessy - "Singles 1997-2002" (Kindercore 80) **
While the title is a bit of a misnomer - this compilation actually gathers album tracks and demos, in addition to a couple of singles- it's a wonderful showcase for some of the band's best songs. Dressy Bessey excel at mixing sixties pop, with modern, if lo fi recording techniques, with lead singer Tammy Eadon's vocals adding an innocence to the tracks, particularly the dreamy "Lipstick". Indie rock fans will love this, but sadly despite some fine songwriting and great song hooks, the recording quality will likely be a detriment to many.

Will Edwards Band – If I Did Anything Right (Self released) Singer-songwriter Edwards has a great voice, world weary beyond his years, and a vocal phrasing that places him squarely between Jim Croce and Jason Mraz. Recorded with a variety of different backing configurations, this album suffers from too many of the songs being less than upbeat, but still contains some quality material. The clear stand out here is the title track, a radio friendly tune in the guitar and congas mode, but “Out On The Line,” a seventies styled soft rocker, sounds like a lost lounge classic. And I mean that in the best possible way.

Elbow - "Sleep In The Back" - (V2-2711) ** Night & Day Feb 2002
Anyone that remembers the early 90's musical trend "shoegazing", will find a relative time warp on Elbow's highly hyped debut album, from the sometimes mumbled lyrics to the dense, lush production. While this is certainly a well crafted collection of dreamy ethereal pop, the sameness and slow tempo of much of the material make it little more than aural wallpaper

FacesGood Boys…” Warner Archives 75830 
Considering this group contained ¾ of the Small Faces, as well as Rod Stewart, and future Stone Ron Wood, the sum of the parts is a bit disjointed. Their legend is as one of the 70’s top live bands, however the majority of these studio  tracks often come across as a bar bands boogie styled noodlings, seemingly caught mid jam session. Of course,  “Stay With Me” (recently resurrected by A.J. Croce) is a deserved hard rock classic, and Stewart, at this point not long from his stint as frontman for the Jeff Beck Group, sings the tunes with an aloof conviction. An interesting history lesson.
Marianne Faithfull - "Kissin Time" (Virgin)****
For her first album in 3 years, sixties icon Marianne Faithfull has collaborated with some of modern rock's most celebrated musicians and emerged with her finest music in decades. Among the contributors are Beck, Damon Albarn and Billy Corgan, the result being an electronica driven collection of often dark, often contemplative songs, perfectly suited for Faithfull's distinctive gritty vocals. Top cuts include "The Pleasure Song" with it's dance coda, and the gorgeous autobiographical ballad "Like Being Born", but all ten originals here are fantastic additions to her canon. The biggest surprise here is the left field inclusion of British Invasion hit "I'm Into Something Good", in a brilliant recasting, a perfect closer to an album of heartfelt music. An excellent return to form. (Night & Day)

Neil Finn - "7 Worlds Collide" (Nettwork 30258) *** Night & Day Feb 2002
 Recorded live at a homecoming concert in Finns native Te Awamutu, New Zealand, "7 worlds Collide covers his entire career. Supported by an all star group which includes Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, The Smiths Johnny Marr, Lisa Germano, members of Radiohead and his brother Tim, material from both of his former groups Split Enz and Crowded House is covered to great effect. Interestingly the best song on this disc is a cover, The Smiths "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out", Finns subtle restrained performance an early highpoint. The 17 songs here are a wonderful reminder of what a talented and under rated performer Neil Finn is, as well as a memento of a once in a lifetime group of performances.

The Fleshtones - Do You Swing? (YepRoc 2050) ** One of the most prolific indie bands ever, New York retro rockers the Fleshtones' latest album is cut from exactly the same cloth as every one that has preceded it. In this case, that's a good thing. Frozen in a time warp, after 25 years, the group still consistently writes great songs that all sound like they could've been the soundtrack for any frat party, circa 1966. While there are certainly no musical surprises here, if you're a fan of garage rock this is essential listening.

Rosie Flores - "Speed Of Sound" (Eminent)**
Although best known for her rockabilly and country stylings, Rosie Flores branches out a bit on her seventh solo release. Though the focus is still on her signature sound, notably on covers of Buck Owens "Hot Dog" and Skeeter Davis's "Rock A Bye Boogie", there is a lighter jazzy touch as well. Billie Holidays "Don't Know If I'm Coming Or Going" is done to good effect, but a few of the other tracks don’t fare quite as well, particularly the title tracks wash of synthesized strings, which come across a little too close to new age music. It's a bit unsettling amongst the more down home selections. Despite that minor misgiving "Speed Of Sound" will still appeal to all fans of Americana, another gem along the long career path of this former San Diegan.

Ben Folds - "Speed Graphic" (Epic 90647)***
The first in a series of five song EP's set to culminate in a new album next year, this disc finds the piano pop favorite in superb form. Top marks here go to the groove laden "Protection," with the melancholy ballad "Wandering" a close second, but the biggest attention getter here will likely be a rocking version of the Cure's "In Between Days." If you're a fan of Folds in the slightest than this is an essential purchase, while a novice will find it the perfect introduction.

Ben Folds - "Sunny 16" (Epic 90663)
Disc two in a series of EP's, "Sunny 16" is a more varied proposition than the first. Edgier and more classic rock oriented, this time out Folds covers U.K. group The Divine Comedy's "Songs Of Love," but pick of the five songs is easily quirky rocker "There's Always Someone Cooler Than You." The only blemish on the EP is "All You Can Eat," which uses profanity to make it's point, though still sets it amongst some of the best melodies and piano playing you're likely to hear on radio today.

Folk Implosion -One Part Lullaby”- Interscope 3362
Folk Implosion are that rare commodity these days- a group with a sound all it’s own. Essentially the duo is Lou Barlow, who’s main group is alt rock faves Sebadoh, and John Davis, with assistance from assorted friends. Staples of their sound include double tracked vocals and sloppy skip beat drums, both live and computer. Along with the group’s obvious knowledge of pop hooks, this forms the foundation for the Folk Implosions dreamy mid tempo urban pop.
“One Part Lullaby” is packed with instantly hummable songs. “Serge” takes its cue from, and includes a sample of the late French composers music.  “Free To Go” marries a playful tune, with a tale that culminates in the chant “You Have To Leave”. This gives an idea of one of the interesting juxtapositions within the bands music. There are stories here.  Insightful, occasionally depressing lyrics, combined with a tune that will have your head sub-consciously bobbing to the rhythm on the first play.
With  “One Part Lullaby”, Folk Implosion have created an album that is a worthy successor 1997’s “Dare to be Surprised” and their surprise hit, “Natural One”.  Of the 13 songs here, well over half deserve airplay, a ratio few seem to hit these days. Not bad for a side project.

Steve Forbert "Live At The Bottom Line" - (Koch) **
Singer- songwriter Steve Forbert returns with a collection recorded live, with a full band,  at New York's famed Bottom Line. At 20 songs, this is a generous look at a career now in it's fourth decade. You won't find many surprises, but from the snippet of Chuck Berry's "Nadine" to his signature "Romeo's Tune", this is a spirited, inspired performance. Hardly essential, but fun nonetheless.

Steve Forbert - Young Guitar Days (Rolling Tide) ***
Recorded between 1978 and 1981, this trawl through the archives turns up a number of gems to add to the country/ folk rockers repertoire. The jaunty "Planet Earth Song" is a stand out, but top track is a take on "Suspicion", which easily surpasses Terry Stafford's original hit. Unlike most archival reissues, the 20 tracks on display here work as a cohesive whole, the end result a great lost album, from the very beginning of the performers two decade plus career.

44 Double D - Sex Is Evil *7*
goes well with the Cramps, Fleshtones. Sex and drugs and rock and roll. Well I don't know about that middle item, but this album positively drips with the other two. With a name like 44 Double D and with the album on a label called "Panty Raid", you'd be correct in assuming that the baser instincts are on the group's minds.44 Double D has become infamous for their over the top performances, which include fetish dancers and a look that mixes a bit of sleazy, kitschy glamour with a 50's vintage sensibility. Stripped of the trappings and left with the music, they still come up with a winner. Produced by the legendary Mark Neill, the album captures their live, reverb drenched sound marvelously.Even the most cursory listen would show Sun Records era Elvis and the Cramps to be major influences, but despite being in a field that is sometimes known for cliché, 44 Double D manages to stamp out their own identity, producing primitive, pounding rock and roll. No small feat. True enough, titles like "Devil's Dance", "Heavy Petting" and "Sex With A Demon", leave little doubt to their subject matter. However the band's energetic playing and most importantly, some pretty killer tunes, make "Sex Is Evil" solid listening from start to finish. (Citybeat)

Gordon Gano – “Hitting The Ground” ****
Best known as front man for the Violent Femmes, Gordon Gano’s solo debut, recorded as the soundtrack for the movie of the same name, features an eclectic batch of collaborations sung by artists ranging from PJ Harvey to John Cale. Highpoints include wistful ballad “Oh Wonder” with Mary Lou Lord and a frantic “Run” helmed by Frank Black, but the whole album is an inspired and wonderful testament to Gano’s splendid songcraft.

Gomez Liquid Skin – Virgin 48218 Despite several chart hits in their native UK, Gomez remains best known for their gritty rendition of “Getting Better”, inescapable on a recent series of TV commercials. Their releases are marked with a trademark sound of quirky instrumentation and liberal trance beats. Add in a delivery that has the band coming across like Bob Dylan fronting Pink Floyd, and it’s easy to see why Gomez is one of the few bands left standing after the demise of the Brit. pop scene of a few years back.
“Liquid Skin” is an impressive sophomore effort.  The albums defining musical traits would be overdubbed acoustic guitars, and especially, lots of echo. The groups use of strings and exotica such as sitar is to be commended as well. However, the key here is the songs. And the 11 here flow together as too few albums today do. Whether it’s the opening cello on the melancholy “We Haven’t Turned Around” or the sing along nature of “Hangover”, the tunes are well crafted and the production is impeccable. “Liquid Skin” will be a tough album for them to follow.

Grandaddy - Concrete Dunes (Lakeshore) ***
If there's one word that could describe acclaimed British alternative music act Grandaddy, it would be eclectic. This collection of rarities, b-sides and unreleased material works wonderfully as a taster for the band, ranging from acoustic folk numbers such as "Gentle Spike Resort" to more traditional rock numbers such as "Wretched Songs". Music fans who like their tunes on the adventurous side will find this new compilation to show remarkable cohesion and depth, especially considering the myriad of sources.

Gwen Mars - "Driving A Million" (See Thru 006) ****
For their sophomore release, Los Angeles trio Gwen Mars continue to hone their space age powerpop sound to perfection. Occupying a sonic place somewhere between the Cure and Cheap Trick, the 11 songs here brim with both harmony and song hooks, all with an amazing production style. Not only are there great songs here, this is the kind of CD headphones were made for. It sounds great. Best track is a toss up, either the haunting, string laden "She Hung The Moon", or the sonic blast and beats of "Lisa Candy", but pop fans will find a solid hook laden album, pretty much every track a winner.

Daryl Hall - "Can't Stop Dreaming" - (Liquid 12109) * While little on this album comes even remotely close to his Hall and Oates eighties prime, Hall himself is still in fine voice. The material is the problem here, for the most part generic by the numbers songs molded on classic seventies era Philly Soul and light r&b. Only the title track stands out, a hook filled gem set amongst cliches. Diehard fans may enjoy this, but others will find the sameness of the material frankly boring

Richard X Heyman - "Heyman, Hoosier & Herman"  (Turn Up Records)
The cover art certainly won't win any awards, but the latest release from powerpop hero Richard X Heyman, finds the acclaimed singer song writer in fine form. High point is the lead cut, with Heyman teaming up with Peter Noone, former frontman with sixties favorites Herman's Hermit. Turning over the lead vocals to Noone on the opening cut "Hoosier Girl", is an inspired move. Peter Noone turns in a great vocal, the result a wonderful dreamy mid tempo pop song, with an infectious minor chord chorus. The remaining cuts don't quite reach the lofty heights set by that lead song, but pop fans will find a treasure trove of melody on this worthy new release from an old favorite.

Pete HamGolders Green – (Rykodisc RCD 10481) Crawdaddy
KingfishSundown On The Highway – (Phoenix Rising 201) Crawdaddy
These two CD’s have been the biggest surprise adds to my “keeper” racks. Originally simply 2 more albums in a pile of items for possible review, what drew me to both was the one thing they had in common. They both include previously “unfinished tracks”, originally recorded over 25 years ago, from artists who passed away before their time -now completed with the benefit of modern technology.
I’ve always considered myself a purist. I want the music to be heard as was originally created- as the artist intended before his or her untimely passing. The gray area comes with the music being created with scattered elements that the artist left behind. Demos, guitar warm up’s, guide vocals and all kinds of things that wouldn’t see the light under normal circumstances, are now starting to be used in the construction of new performances.  Part of me wants things left the way they were, as history, and part of me is thrilled to be able to listen to a previously unheard song or snippet in a state of completion. Blame it on the Beatles “Free As A Bird”, but the floodgates have well and truly opened now.
There are 2 huge differences between these two albums as well. First off has to be the fact that Kingfish is the epitome of the classic early seventies American west coast sound, while Pete Ham, of Badfinger, is about as Beatle-esque and English as possible. More importantly – all of the tracks on the Pete Ham release are of an archival nature, while only one song on the Kingfish CD has that distinction. But when the artist revived in question is Jerry Garcia, that song can, and in this case does, carry the album.
“Sundown In the Forest” is  Kingfish’s first studio release in 20 years. Long a Bay Area concert favorite, and still fronted by Matthew Kelly and the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir, Kingfish offers up an energetic time warp of 70’s acoustic rock. Nothing too challenging, although pleasant enough. The 14 songs range from gospel to blues concoctions, and include a spirited take on “My Baby Left Me”. Maybe the production is a little too clean, but  “Eyes Of Night” for example, featuring vocalist Jenni Muldar, is quirky and not too far from what Sam Phillips would do, given the same material.
The true highlight here however, is “Ridin’ High”, a song that utilizes previously unheard 1973 lead guitar and chunky rhythm tracks from Weir’s longtime cohort in the Dead, Jerry Garcia. Thing is, even without Garcia’s playing, this is a great song. Besides Garcia, standout contributions include vocalist (and the song’s writer) Bill Cutler, Robert Powell’s pedal steel and Matthew Kelly’s plaintive harmonica. By the time you get to the Gospel tinged outro you’ll swear this is a long lost classic. Sadly the song does stand out on the album, with the other efforts coming off a bit on the pedestrian side. Still, on the merits of “Ridin’ High”, do search this album out.
“Golders Green”, on the other hand is the second collection of posthumously completed demos, taped by the late Pete Ham, that have been released by Rykodisc. Due to a long term relationship with Apple Records and his occasional stints as Beatle sideman, (let’s see- for trivia buffs, Pete Ham’s first hit with Badfinger -“Come And Get It” - was written and produced for them by Paul McCartney. He also played and sang in the backing band at The Concert For Bangladesh and played on John Lennon’s “Imagine” and George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” albums.), Pete Ham’s gift for songwriting often gets overlooked.
His hits, such as “No Matter What” and “Day After Day” were just the tip of the iceberg.   Only 27 at the time of his unfortunate passing, he left behind a treasure trove of demos. The producers of “Golders Greens” are purposefully vague as to exactly what work has been done to the tracks. However, a quick glance at the list of musicians on the album shows involvement from many of the current Los Angeles pop scenes luminaries, including guitarist Jonathan Lea (of the Jigsaw Seen), bassist Derrick Anderson (of the Andersons) as well as the multi talented Chris Von Sneirdern.
The key is the material of course, and here we have 20 cuts, some as short as 39 seconds, recorded between 1966 and 1975.  Surprisingly, the songs make a cohesive album with the first 6 tracks as strong an opening collection of tunes as one is likely to hear. More than likely the demos were simple guitar with voice concoctions (though “When The Feeling” is just voice and drums), which makes the completed overdubbed versions that much more of an accomplishment. Most amazing of all, although you may guess at the overdubs, the mix and most importantly the ambience of the tracks is uniform, resulting in a song that doesn’t sound fiddled with. The spirit and intent of the music comes through. In particular, the track “Dawn” with it’s muscular bass line and incredibly catchy jangly hooks perplexes me – I know there are edits in there, but the song sounds so great, I can’t tell where.
High point of the album is a simple electric piano demo for Pete Ham’s best known song, “Without You”, here with a different middle section. But it’s a hard choice – from the bluesy strolling fuzz guitar of “Pete’s Walk” (drenched in Hammond B3!) to the Kinks-ish over tones of the acoustic “Hurry On Father”, there is much to recommend on this disc. Funny enough, after a listening session for these two CD’s, my initial thought was “How long can they keep unearthing great music like this?”   Well, to be sure, I don’t know - but I hope they never stop.

Hot Club Of Cowtown "Dev'lish Mary" (Hightone)
This Austin Texas trio continues their wonderful blend of western swing and hot jazz for their third Hightone Records release. The group's line up consists of fiddle, guitar, bass and vocals, with particular emphasis on the virtuoso playing of fiddler Elena Fremerman, shown to great effect in the opening cut "Devil's Dream". The material here is primarily made up of standards, from the traditional "Little Liza Jane" to the tin pan alley classic "Stardust", but the fresh arrangements and inspired performances keep even the most familiar interesting. Other songs of note include the two original songs, "I'd Understand Why", which balances humor and romantic lament, and "More Than A Dream", an uptempo dance number, complimented by muted coronet. There really isn't a bad cut on "Dev'lish Mary", a solid effort from start to finish. These are 16 tunes pretty much guaranteed to set your toes a-tapping.

Hot Rod Circuit - "Sorry About Tomorrow" (Vagrant  364) **
Yet more angst ridden powerpop, from this Kansas trio. At it's best on such upbeat tracks as the brash, pounding "When I'm With You I'm Okay", this is infectious hook filled stuff, with bubblegum, glam and punk on their list of obvious influences. The only real downside is a bit of obviousness to the lyrics, a point which is particularly evident on the one truly dire track, "Girl, Here's Another Lie".  That said eleven of the dozen tracks here are as catchy and melodic a bunch of rock songs as you're likely to hear this year.

Dave Howard – Into the Wind (Psuedocool) 
The most covered songwriter in San Diego, Howard roams the stylistic map on his latest album. Maybe it’s a “catalog” for other artists to pick over? Most of this is typical acoustic material, though a notch above the usual coffeehouse fare. However what really stands out here are the numbers that branch out a bit, particularly “Almost Angeline,” a twangy rocker which comes as close as to the sound of vintage Nick Lowe as you’re likely to come across. It’s a testament to Howard’s way with a melody that even a tune with a lyric as silly as “Fifty Foot Woman,” still manages to annoyingly ingrain it’s hook in your brain. Citybeat 03 2004

Dave Humphries – Years Away From Yesterday (Self released) Maybe it’s the fact that Humphries is originally from England, but the best tunes on his sophomore release have a distinct Beatle-esque flavor, albeit mixed in with country and seventies AM pop. This is catchy stuff, particularly “It’s O.K.,” a dead ringer for prime era Badfinger and the soul tinged “You Don’t Have To Worry.” The downside is a few cliched rock tracks, and a couple of obvious lyrical couplet’s, but despite the recordings slightly less than high fidelity sound, melody fans will enjoy this. Citybeat 03 2004

Iguanas - Plastic Silver 9 Volt Heart (Yep Roc 2038) *** 
Now over a decade old, New Orleans quintet the Iguanas continue to expand their boundaries on their latest disc, with a brilliant encyclopedic mix of bi-lingual musical influences that makes their sound impossible to pigeonhole. From the swampy rhythm and blues of the sax driven "Flame On", to the down tempo Latin groove of "Mexican Candy", and all points in between, the album covers all bases splendidly. Stand out track is easily the dance friendly "Zachatecas", but if you like your music rhythmic and wildly varied then this CD should be mandatory listening .

Irving Klaws - "Pajama Party" 
Primitive garage punk edged rock and roll, with most of the songs about sex, just as you'd expect from a group with a song called "Pervasonic". Luckily, the songs surpass that, notably on the albums best track, ode to a prostitute, "Turned Out USA", which despite it's questionable subject matter, comes in like RFTC before settling on a cross between the Ramones and the Beach Boys. (Get Hip 1094) - BM

Ivy - "Long Distance" (Nettwerk) ***
For their sophomore release, Ivy delivers 13 tracks of light breezy dance oriented pop. While their debut album seemed a tad overproduced and rushed, "Long Distance" shows real growth particularly in arrangements. The album abounds with radio friendly material, with top nod given to the horn drenched "Lucy Doesn't .Love You", but there is no shortage of winners here.

Ivy - "Guest Room" (Minty Fresh)***
Fans of classic pop rock will love East Coast trio Ivy's latest album. Built around a collection of their favorite cover tunes, the band reinterprets each in their signature dreamy pop sound to wonderful effect. Vocalist Dominique Durand turns in an inspired performance, particularly on a dance re-interpretation of the Cure's "Let's Go To Bed", but there is no shortage of highlights, featuring as it does both great performances and classic material from a wide range of artists including the Ronettes and Papas Fritas. Hardly essential, but still a lot of fun.

Jackpot – “Shiny Things” (Surfdog) ***
Going from strength to strength, the latest from Sacramento’s Jackpot continues the groups wonderful voyage through the sounds of Americana, pop and alternative rock.” Driven by lead vocalist Rusty Miller’s plaintive voice, the album opens strong with “Far, Far, Far” and continues through a dozen more should be radio friendly tunes. Already hailed as one of the best indie bands in America, “Shiny Things” could well be the crossover hit the band deserves.

Joe Jackson Band - Volume 4 (Ryko/Restless 10638) ***
Long ago written off as a purveyor of pop tunes, Joe Jackson makes a welcome return to the sound that first brought him to fame. Reuniting the original band from all those early eighties classics, Jackson actually succeeds in recapturing his radio friendly magic with a slew of tunes that could easily stand alongside any of hits. The only downside is a slightly muddy production, and some occasionally trite lyrics, but with tunes as catchy as the farfisa inflected rocker "Dirty Martini" or the ska gem "Thugz 'r' Us", those are minor quibbles indeed.

James - "Getting Away With It" (Sanctuary) ** 
Taped at the band's farewell concert, this past December, as expected this 2 CD live set is filled with the groups biggest hits, as well as appearances from band members throughout the group's career. With such great tunes as their melodic sing along "Getting Away With It All" or soaring pop gem "She's A Star", it's hard to go wrong , and the crowd is clearly having a wonderful time. Casual fans are directed to any of their worthy studio recordings, but as a souvenir of the group's last stand, "Getting Away With It" is a worthy document.

Jesus and Mary Chain - "21 Singles" (Rhino) ***,
Although never commercially successful, Jesus and Mary Chain have been hugely influential. Helmed by the Reid Brothers, William and Jim, from 1984-98 and hailing from Scotland, Jesus and Mary Chain specialized in garage rock, often drenched in droning feedback, distortion and reverb. This collection features all 21 of the groups singles in chronological order, and lined up like this they show amazing growth. A clear high point is the sixties imagery in the Velvet Underground influenced "Come On", but from the early lo-fi experiment "Upside Down" to the later dance inflected numbers such as "Reverence", this highly under rated band makes for captivating listening.

Freedy Johnston - Right Between the Promises - (Elektra) ****
The acclaimed singer song writers pop roots have never been clearer than on his latest album, "Right Between the Promises". From the -better than the original-  cover of 70's pop charmer "Love Grows" to the bouncy, infectious "Save Yourself, City Girl", this lush, wonderfully produced album will have you tapping your toes and humming along from start to finish. Easily the best of his four albums to date.

Judas Priest - Demolition (Atlantic) **
Original vocalist and area resident Rob Halford may be long gone from the fold, but new comer Ripper Owens, once amusingly of a Judas Priest tribute band, more than holds his own on the British quintet's 14th album. Particularly noteworthy are such pounding anthemic rockers as "Metal Messiah" and "Bloodsucker", which would easily fit in with the bands earlier albums. This is classic hard rock, with sledgehammer subleties, at it's best. Although there are few surprises, fans of the long running heavy metal quintet, will welcome this return to form of one of the founders of the "New Wave of British Heavy Metal".