CD Reviews

JOSEPH ARTHUR
Come To Where I’m From
Real World/Virgin

   Ever have those 3 a.m. blues? You know the feelings, the desperate awareness that hope is nearly gone. Joseph Arthur knows those feelings well, as “Come To Where I’m From” shows. The Akron native has made a name for himself in the U.K., and “Come” is his U.S. breakthrough.
Eerie effects from Arthur and producer T-Bone Burnett create an aura of isolation on “Invisible Hands”, a breathy, morose meditation on love and consequences. The effects used on “Hands” are one of the album’s key elements.
The various beats and loops deployed by Arthur and Burnett contemporize the folky arrangements, butthese touches never compromise Joseph’s vision.
The pretty waltz “Tattoo” and the elegiac set closer “Speed Of Light” are prime examples of the maturity of his songwriting.
Both songs return to the theme of love lost, but Mr. Arthur never settles for easy reassurances. His insecurities are balanced by a self-mocking wit, as the psychedelic folk of “In The Sun”, and the desolate blues of “Ashes Everywhere” make clear.
Joseph Arthur is a talented, articulate musician. It’s no wonder that Peter Gabriel signed him to his label. He has the makings of a singular artist.

Bill Lopez

BROTHER
This Way Up
Rhubarb Records

   The press kit cover says, “Brother, Bagpipes & Rock `N Roll” and they weren’t kidding. I don’t think I’ve heard anything quiet like this. The mixture of the ancient bagpipes and electric guitar is what a real everlasting gobstoper must taste like. Wonderful, yet disorienting at the same time. Oh yeah, and just for that multicultural feel they also use an Australian didgeridoo. Whew.
Spawning from the land down under Brother has been building a big American fan base with live shows selling out LA venues like Rusty’s Surf Ranch and The Coach House, where this CD was recorded live.
The opening track, “Thetimeisnow” promotes improved blood flow and a definite alignment with the forces of the eclectic. Starting out with powerful guitar licks, the soulful song of the bagpipe comes in to make the listener feel both elated and sorrowful at the same time. Very odd, yet addicting.
The two singers, Angus and Hamish (I’m not making this up), produce marvelous harmonies and I thought on first listen that they were at least a trio. The group has been recording since 1992 and this live album shows that practice, practice, practice has certainly made them a smooth moving bagpipe blowing machine. Track 5, “The Unknown,” written by what must have been all of the MacLeod brothers including Pipe Major Donald, is a fabulous and full blooded mini-bagpipe symphony. Overall this is a mighty enjoyable album.
Brother will be in LA again, November 29th, at the UCLA Universe Festival. I, for one, will be there with bells on.

Carlye Archibeque

RED RADIO FLYER
Gettin’ Somewhere
Mother West

 

   If Chris Isaak were four guys from New York who formed a band, he would be Red Radio Flyer…with a little Jackson Browne thrown in for a calming effect. The opening track, “The Story of Angel”, a ballad about a young transvestite who dreams of going somewhere where he can be himself is striking both for the mix of folk ballad sound contrasting with big city content, and the ease with which the great music and singing blend together.
Much like Browne and Isaak, the boys in Red Radio Flyer make everything sound so easy that you are tempted to overlook the high level of talent present. The whole album is recorded analog, which means no software went in a smoothed out the edges after the recording. What you hear on the album is what the band sounds like.
Starting with mournful, “The Last Time”, chronicling the end of an abusive relationship, going to the more pop, “Leave Right Now”, written for a friend while she suffered with cancer, and ending with the rockabilly heights of, “Jack Henry”, a damning, spiteful song to the lead singers father who deserted the family when he was young, Red Radio Flyer manages to keep a 12 tracks fresh. Well worth a listen.

Jane Hinde

VARIOUS ARTISTS
After The Fair: 21st Century Women
K-Tel Records

 

   Well, if this ain’t the prettiest damn liner art I’ve ever seen come off of a K-Tel album–a wide-open woman’s green eye against a background of eglantine flowers and ribbons in autumnal smudges. Mind you, I take a dim view of K-Tel, recalling that the compilation albums my little sister bought in the ’70s (with names like Sound Explosion! Music Machine! Mind Bender! Wallet Lightener!) often cut off such songs as 5,000 Volts’ “I’m On Fire” and Sammy Johns’ “Chevy Van” before they were completely finished (and, in the case of the latter song, that might not have been such a bad thing). I’ve always felt that Rhino handled the nostalgia market with far greater reverence and respect for the artists, throwing in a juicy dollop of information about the performers, as well as pictures, while a K-Tel album, if you were lucky, featured a white paper sleeve, and that was about it.
My sole criticism of “After The Fair” comes from having to slog through this familiar K-Tel marketing territory. Sampler approach be damned! Who are these women? The CD comes with no photos, no credits (beyond songwriting stats), no bios, no lyrics. Granted, the songs are their best calling cards, but I want to know more. The only names I recognize are Julianna Hatfield and Lucinda Williams.
As for the music, the collection is a pleasant surprise. Refreshingly, there’s not a damn diva in the bunch, and my fears of a homogenous-sounding collection were assauged by the distinctive voices and styles of the sixteen talented women represented.
You have Lisa Germano, who sounds like a Japanese boomu pop sensation and whose “Sexy Little Girl Princess” would make perfect music for a club scene in a cyberpunk thriller set in the not-too-distant future. Matcha Atlas’ “Mon Amie La Rose” is the world music entry, sung entirely in French, delivered with flavorful Iberian touches. Leah Androne’s forlorn, street-waif style on “It’s Alright, It’s OK” recalls one of my early ’80s’ faves, Kim Wilde. N’dea Davenport ushers in the R&B; with an irresistible number called “Bring it On.” Those hungry for raw fare can sup on the punky strains of “The End of You” by Sleater-Kinney (Are they a duo? One woman doubling her vocals? Thanks for the info, K-Tel!), who sound(s) like she(they) could blow bands like The Seeds off the stage any day. For a slice of country-folk, there’s Kelly Willis’ done-me-wrong sound on “What I Deserve.” While “Close Your Eyes” by Dot Allison is a little over-produced and overwhelms her voice, the song is both hard-driving and exotic in the Sarah Maclachlan mode.
The following were my favorites. Perla Batalla’s beautiful “Morning Star” has some nice, melodic surprises, and her voice is a great cross between Des’ree and k.d. lang. Elini Mandell’s “To Dream Of Sarah” serves up a real mid-’60s charmer a la the Mamas and the Papas, blending Cass Elliot with Fiona Apple, sprinkled with some loopy chimes. With “Echo,” Kristin Hersh pours us a cocktail groove, a song with one foot in the previous century and one foot in the new one–quite unlike anything else on the album. Lucinda Williams’ bluesy “Changed The Locks” could either be about a bad affair or a stalker who has forced her to change her name, her dress, her car, her hometown so that “you can’t trace my path and you can’t hear my laugh.” In either scenario, the outcome–that it is almost always the women who have to rework their lives in the wake of a bad man–is dead on and chilling.
For my money, the best cut on the album is Amy Rigby’s rockabilly wonder “20 Questions.” Amy Rigby catches her man creeping home from the cheatin’ side of town–“smelling like a perfume insert from a woman’s magazine”–and drills him rapidfire with 20 questions. The woman has a voice like a branding iron–hot, steely, perfect for delivering a searing line like the one about how he “left the conversation dangling like the lightbulb in some cheap motel.” Part of me wanted to believe that the guy Amy was grilling was the lead singer of the Nails.
Rounding out the collection, we have Juliana Hatfield’s catchy rocker “My Sister,” Jen Wood’s “Ride” (the song is unremarkable, but her singing is dewy, smooth, and fresh), Tara MacLean’s “Let Her Feel the Rain” (a serviceable ballad with some mournful country touches), and Heath Duby’s “Judith” (her voice a brave, tender sentinel against a bass-heavy arrangement). There is not a single song on “After The Fair” that wouldn’t make a successful single, given the right promotion and airplay. I’ll take any one of these artists for every 2,000 Eminems.

Amélie Frank

FOREIGNER
Jukebox Heroes, Anthology (Minibox)
Rhino Records (Atlantic Masters)

 

   Rhino, friend to all things retro, has just released the Foreigner ANTHOLOGY, a double CD set in a mini box (you know the slide in sleeve, more than a cover less than a box thing that fits on your shelf.) Also included is a very extensive set of liner notes in booklet form with a history of the band and mucho pics. The contents fit marvelously well into a quad fold, (including a pocket for the liner booklet), purple case that slides neatly into its cover. Need I say more?
Well, OK. Some might dismiss Foreigner as one of the first successful music machine rock `n roll bands. I would have to dismiss this view as sour grapes from bands who never studied music or learned to sing. Just because you can hear the words and distinguish the instruments doesn’t make it bad. In 1977 they lost out as best new artist to Debbie Boone. `Nuff said.
The most memorable hits are here: “Feels Like the First Time,” “Long, Long Way From Home,” “At War With The World,” “I Want to Know What Love Is,” “Urgent” (with a scathing sax solo by Junior Walker) and the list goes on. If you look at the back of any Foreigner album and point out the songs you liked, they are here. For those of us who had to abandon our record collections to get out of our crazy husband’s house and are now replacing everything on CD, this is the collection for you…regular Foreigner fans will love it too.
I don’t know about anyone else, but the opening notes of “Long, Long Way From Home” still gives me chills. In 1977 when Foreigner came out with its first album I was 13 years old, so you’ll forgive me if I wax nostalgic a bit when reviewing the Foreigner ANTHOLOGY. Many may scoff, but someone had to be buying the millions of records that allowed Foreigner to play for 23