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Music Reviews 12.24.02

The Cynics

Living Is The Best Revenge
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C'mere junior, let daddy show you how it's done. After seven long years, The Cynics are finally back with Living Is The Best Revenge, easily their best album ever and my pick for top 10 of the year. OK, OK, so maybe that's a little bold, but these granddaddies of garage, who helped set the tone for fuzzy slop 'n' sleaze in the first place, haven't missed a beat.

The renewed fascination with garage rock that's sweeping the nation is fantastic. But I'll hear one of these new bowl-cut Romeos touted as one-of-a-kind and I just laugh and laugh and laugh. The Cynics did it first and did it better. Still do. And unlike a lot of recordings, Living Is The Best Revenge comes damn close to the sonic howl that the band's capable of unleashing in live settings.

From the first blood-curdling scream on the opening track, "Turn Me Loose," the relentless, stompin' mania of "The Tone," to the quasi-folk psychedelia of "The Ballad Of J.C. Holmes," The Cynics blast out 12 classic garage rock tunes steeped in melody and power. Recording with producer Tim Kerr in Austin, Texas, these vets took only three days to get on with living... the best revenge.

--- Frank De Blase

Loose Fur

Loose Fur
Drag City

Jeff Tweedy becomes an interesting subject if you're relatively new to the whole Wilco phenomenon, especially if your ears are unaccustomed to actual lyrics and actual vocals. I've heard a fair amount of griping about his inability to craft lyrics that are literal, not merely evocative. And I've heard similar complaints about Wilco's all-too-obvious attempts to subvert its rather traditional roots-rock structures in misguided stabs at innovation.

I suppose these tendencies reach their apex on that band's latest release, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot --- a record that enlists everyone's favorite sonic adventurer, Jim O'Rourke, for mixing and overdub detail. O'Rourke and Tweedy reunite as Loose Fur, and for their debut they are joined by percussionist Glen Kotche, who they are both familiar with.

Musically speaking, there are some subversive elements here --- electronics on the opener, "Laminated Cat," and a clever use of dissonance to eventually draw out the more beautiful layers of "So Long." Much like Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, these are perfectly fine songs that have been disassembled and rebuilt from an entirely new slant. They're not so much the product of serendipity as they are the product of the intellect.

Ever since recording his first album of proper songs (1999's Eureka), O'Rourke seems to have become a master at crafting sweetly caustic lyrics. Loose Fur is his first recording to include lyric transcriptions in the liner notes. And they're worth repeating: "If I said I love you, I was talking to myself." "A slip of the tongue is all it takes (it seems you need a helping hand), to find yourself in someone else's place (back in the saddle again), and don't pretend you don't know where it's heading for."

These cheeky sentiments are countered by Tweedy's writing, which, as the old complaint goes, remains oblique. (In an intriguing slight of hand, some of it is reprised from Yankee Hotel.)But it's hauntingly suggestive. Any album that opens with the line "Springtime comes and leaves are back on the trees again, the snipers are harder to see (my friends)" must be somewhat special on a lyrical level. I'll leave the deconstruction to the grad schoolers.

--- Chad Oliveiri


Electric Circus

Common has always been more literate and philosophical than his radio peers. His last album, Like Water for Chocolate, was perfect Sunday afternoon HipHop: smooth beats, a sustained chill throughout, and "The Light," a track that seems to define the artist's transition from Common Sense to just plain Common.

Common's new album has bounce. Where Chocolate was a cool breeze, Electric Circus is a full summer day, complete with amusement park. Circus contains Common's increasingly peaceful vibe --- song three is titled "Aquarius," there's a nifty Doors-esque keyboard part at the end of "Electric Wire Hustler Flower," and he mentions his faith more than the Pope on a Sunday.

But don't let all the hippie talk fool you: Common hasn't gone soft. He's an artist with a brain just trying to grow up in a world of bling and short-lived rap careers. On "I Got a Right Ta" --- The Neptunes' finest beat in a while --- he says: "I'm the only cat in HipHop / that'll go to a thrift shop" and later, "I'm a grown man / I'm too old to fist fight." It's this kind of enlightenment that will have the "gangstas" taking aim, and true HipHoppers infatuated.

Electric Circus is more textured than Chocolate, and while "Come Close" doesn't sound quite as legendary as "The Light," Common has created an album that will long outlive its contemporaries.

--- Tim Goodwin

Luciana Souza

Brazilian Duos

In an age when records are elaborately produced, sometimes simplicity wins the day. Luciana Souza's latest album, Brazilian Duos, showcases her gorgeous voice against the austere accompaniment of solo guitar.

Three of Brazil's top guitarists have crafted exquisite arrangements, using a seductive Brazilian blend of classical and rhythmic styles to perfectly compliment Souza's performances, by turns emotional and ebullient. The result is pure magic; Souza has no need for English lyrics to enchant, and her accompanists are superb.

If it seems like Marco Pereira is squeezing a little more than usual out of his guitar on the three-song "Baiao Medley," he is. His instrument is an eight-string guitar with a larger bass range, which he also employs to play a counterpoint composed of harmonics on the album's final tune, "Saudade de Bahia."

Souza's parents, Walter Santos and Tereza Souza, both respected Brazilian songwriters, are a strong presence here. Her father was coaxed out of retirement to perform three of the songs with her, including the lovely "Suas Maos," Jobim's beautiful "As Praias Desertas," and his own lilting "O Bolo." Romero Lubambo executes some of the fanciest fretwork on "Amanha" and "Documente," two wonderful songs by Souza's parents.

--- Ron Netsky

Pearl Jam

Riot Act

Pearl Jam is the best illustration of Chris Rock's heroin joke: somebody's doing it, but nobody wants to admit it. Here's a band that's been tossed and forgotten by the majority of critics and music listeners, but still sells out tour after tour without the help of TRL or The Neptunes.

Riot Act is a great rock record. Following a career path similar to Neil Young's, Pearl Jam will have good albums and bad albums to the untrained eye, but always manage to keep fans interested. Where Binaural failed to deliver the promise of Yield's Revolver-esque quality (i.e., Binaural had a good chance at being Pearl Jam's Sgt Pepper's), Riot Act continues Binaural's aversion to experimentalism. "Love Boat" opens with a nice, delicate organ part, but instead of exploring that avenue, it falls back into Pearl Jam's comfort zone of rock. "Arc" is a phenomenal piece, and just when you're waiting to see how Pearl Jam will conquer this untested territory, it's over. Come on, guys. Take a chance.

The triumphs, though, overshadow the naff moments. "1/2 Full" has Mike McCready fingering old guitar wails from Ten, "Cropduster" is an exceptional tune, and "All or None" should be on your next mixtape. Again, this is great, great rock music. But now that they're two albums away from their best album yet, Eddie and the boys need to move on to the next phase, or they'll risk everyone admitting that they don't do Pearl Jam anymore.

--- Tim Goodwin

Cannonball Adderley

Radio Nights

When Joel Dorn starts a new label, jazz fans pay attention. His latest, Hyena, has re-released four out-of-print albums that he first released on Night Records in the 1980s. His eclectic liner notes give you a sense of the heroic digging and listening Dorn engaged in to compile these albums; the results make the effort worthwhile.

All of the recordings --- featuring Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Les McCann, Eddie Harris, and Cannonball Adderley --- were taped "off the board" during live performances. They bear the unmistakable stamp of nights when the performers were on and their audiences were tuned in.

To focus on one, Adderley's sets were recorded in 1967 and 1968 at New York's Half Note Club. His all-star bands consisted of his brilliant brother, Nat Adderley, cornet; Joe Zawinul (later a founding member of Weather Report), piano; Sam Jones, bass; Roy McCurdy and Louis Hayes, drums, and, on four tunes, Charles Lloyd, tenor sax. Adderley's solos are especially lively, beginning melodically and occasionally venturing off into avant-garde territory. Tunes are well-chosen, from the familiar ("Work Song"), through the sublime ("The Song My Lady Sings"), to the unexpected (Adderley's wonderful take on "Fiddler on the Roof").

--- Ron Netsky