LISTENING ROOM



 

MATTHEW SHIPP
Sorcerer Sessions: The Blue Series Continuum [Thirsty Ear]

Avant-garde pianist, Matthew Shipp, is in danger of travelling down the Wynton Marsalis road. With a prolific output and a grand plan of charting the future of jazz, Shipp’s vision has overtaken his music.

The future, if you have been following the free jazz scene, was already charted in the '60s. In fact, that future is so potent and so little known, that much of it is getting reissued in the Unheard Music Series on the Atavistic label.

The Blue Series‚ avowed canon of fusing music by fusing musicians from different genres had exciting results in its early releases such as Springheel Jack’s Amassed.

But Shipp’s prolific output has led to many quality releases of less than stunning impact, from Nu-Bop to Equilibrium. On the Sorcerer Sessions, Shipp is trying to open the door between classical and jazz with the inclusion of young violinist, Daniel Bernard Roumain, and Bang on a Can arranger and clarinettist, Evan Ziporyn. Stalwarts such a Gerald Cleaver appear on drums while William Parker is on bass. The post-modern element is electronic programmer, Flam.

The results are nicely textured compositions. Shipp, Roumain and Ziporyn dominate from the beginning with Pulsar, Shipp’s piano chords laying the melody while the violin and clarinet sweetly sing over it. The experimentation begins with Keystroke, which has a computer keyboard being punched for percussive effect while Flam modulates Shipp’s piano pitches, with spirited interjections from the others. The effect is more mundane on Urban Shadows where street noise is sampled as a backdrop for a free jazz workout.

And so it goes, Lightforms, Fixed Point, Particle, Modulate are all variously listenable on the sonic and compositional levels. But there is just no fire in the hole.

The Blue Series is not so much about the future of jazz anymore. It works better as a primer for mainstream jazz fans to dip their toes into the ocean of free jazz. After all, it’s pleasant enough. (6) - Philip Cheah

THE TREAT
In Technicolor [Self-released]

It's hard to resist lumping UK rock band The Treat with the hype generated by the Darkness in the British music scene. After all, any half-serious student of rock history will recognize the early ‘70s classic rock influences that inform the Treat's repertoire: The Who, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Free, Mott the Hoople etc. To be honest, In Technicolor boasts much perspiration but scant inspiration. Back to the drawing board, boys! (5) - Kevin Mathews

 

WILLIS
Come Get Some [679 Recordings]

This is the album to wind down on a lazy Sunday morning. Hayley Willis, 32, has an astonishing voice, soulful yet strong at times, which is partially but not completely realised on this debut album, completely drenched in Mississippi country-soul, at times raw but kept mostly on the leash. Her lyrics are world-weary, often bitter and cynical and packed with heartaches. The one thing that never seems to amaze me is that she originates from London. Forget American Idol, America is the unfortunate country that is lacking singer/songwriters of talent. History appears to be driven back to the true tradition of Rock - Led Zep, The Who, The Beatles, Queen! The Darkness and the rest of the unsung heroes. America - your loss! The arrangements on this collection are designed to bring the best out of that voice - simple, painfully beautiful guitar, piano and violin arrangements act as side-dishes to the main course. - Adam Mohd Yusop

 

JET
Get Born [Elektra]

The Aussie rock scene has been strong in the genres of hard rock, powerpop and garage for the longest time - AC/DC, the Saints, Radio Birdman, the Celibate Rifles, You Am I and the Vines spring to mind. Welcome young quartet Jet to stake its claim with an invigorating blend of The Who's crunch, AC/DC's swagger, the Stooges' energy coupled with the melodism of mid-'90s Britpop (Supergrass, Oasis, the Verve). Good company to keep methinks - from the Motown strut of "Are You Gonna Be My Girl" to the Beatlesque beauty of "Look What You're Done," from the bluesy holler of "Get What You Need" to the cosmic Americana of "Move On," Jet displays promise beyond its tender years. One for the future. (8) - Kevin Mathews

 

JUPITER AFFECT
The Restoration of Culture After Genghis Khan [Orange Sky]

So what exactly is Michael Quercio on?

I mean, are we supposed to take a concept album about Genghis Khan seriously? Especially with song titles like Hymn of the Steppes, Attack of the Hair People and Song Dynasty Requiem. Probably not but in the final analysis, it matters not when you consider the premium psychedelic rock Quercio and co manage to develop around this bare-boned narrative of all things Mongol.

C'mon, just listen to the spine-tingling epic The Leader of All Tribes Living in Felt Tents which moves from folk ballad to acid rocker in the course of its dizzying seven odd minutes and tell me whether you're bothered with what it's written about! Or how about the gorgeous 12-stringed wonder that is Do You Remember, where Quercio waxes lyrical about "Looking on to a simple time/Never really is that simple you will find/It's a lie". Not to mention the freaky love song that is You are Wise in Your Conceit O' Beautiful Woman of the Tartars, where placid mellotrons and crisp guitars transport you back to the original psychedelic era of the mid-‘60s. Like, groovy, man.

Get the drift?

Fans of Syd Barrett, The Byrds, Jimi Hendrix, The Move, Deep Purple, Robin Hitchcock and The Who will absolutely soak in the wondrous painted glory that is Jupiter Affect. (8) - Kevin Mathews

Note: Visit www.dionysusrecords.com

 

NOVI SPLIT
Keep Moving [Sunset Alliance]

These intelligent raw-pop songs were recorded by David J (The Diego Kid) on his laptop in various places around the world. In bedrooms of loved ones in the span of three years. David shows off his multi-instrumental capabilities and artistic leaps throughout these recordings. Sometimes you will sense that these so-called "singer-songwriters" do sound a bit pretentious. But you’ll find that his songs are as much inspiring as they are refreshing. First track, 300 Copies will really touch a nerve in any aspiring band, gotta sell 300 copies to make it even. "Novi Split mixes sad songs with dance songs, almost makes you want to tap your foot at a funeral." A quote from its record label that I find most fitting to describe them. - Adam Mohd Yusop

 

JASON MOLINA
Pyramid Electric Co [Secretly Canadian]

The Pyramid Electric Co is the first album in the long career (since 1995) of Jason Molina, where he is appearing in his own name and not under that of the band, Songs: Ohia. Meant as a companion piece to last year's The Magnolia Electric Co., it is completely unadorned music. It's just Molina with guitars and piano.

The songs are long, stretched-out and personal. Conceived in the dark, Pyramid is also best heard in the dark. That way, you can see Molina's guitar smoking, reflected against a stray shard of light. The long title track opens with Molina's sparking guitar and warns us of the dark journey ahead in his mother's words: "That's just the cold/That's the emptiness/It's being alone in the dark."

The songs of hurt and death follow. On Red Comet Dust, he observes: "Endless blue shadow inside you/gathered in you/disappeared in you/into the solid earth." On Honey, Watch Your Ass, he instructs: "I'm finally showing her the switch/how I learned to hold it in my teeth/how she's got to keep the razor-sharp bloody piece of her broken heart/how she's got to use that edge to carve across her new heart/something deep enough to hurt/so it always reminds her."

Then it turns into an admonishment against romanticising death. On Spectral Alphabet, he notes, "Ancestors of the world think it looks great/Their names inscribed by death" but "the empty streets hardly remember you."

The final track, Long Desert Train, is Molina reminding himself, "You got the dull pounding rain/You got the last car of that long desert train/You almost made it/You almost made it again." It's Molina's way of stating just how close to the abyss he is.

Pyramid is undeniably Molina's most personal album. This is the context that he wants to be heard, stark and confidential. It's his way of staring into the abyss together with us. (7.5) - Philip Cheah

 

THE VON BONDIES
Pawn Shoppe heart [Sire]


I listened to this CD right after I stepped out from my last day of Reservist In-Camp-Training. Yeah! It's the right stuff to get that malicious green Rambo aura from my charka. Ahhh! A very uptempo album, with the pace never letting up. These two guys and two gals hailing from Detroit Rock city released one of the brashest albums ever. Songs ranging from garage grind through bubblegum rock to shrieking blues. Jason Stollsteimer, the showman and writer, possesses the wild abandon that recalls glam rock greats David Johansen and Mike Monroe. A delivery of short sharp burst of in-your-face rock. Throughout the album the female members of the band provide excellent backing vocals, complementing Stollsteimer's lead vocals very nicely. - Adam Mohd Yusop


 

NANCI GRIFFITH
The Complete MCA Studio Recordings [MCA]


Not much to add except that if you happen to be a recent Nanci Griffith convert, then this double disc of four albums is value for money. Three titles - Tumble And Fall, Stand Your Ground (both originals), Wooden Heart (a cover) - were unavailable on US pressings before. Of the four albums, one is a classic (Lone Star State Of Mind, 1987), two are good (Little Love Affairs, 1988, and Storms, 1989) and only one disappointment, Late Night Grande Hotel, 1991). From the folkabilly of Lone Star to the country pop of Little Love Affairs and Storms, one then cringes at the lush pop country of Late Night. Nevertheless, Griffith is still a shining reminder to us all of what being a music fan is all about. There is an inherent honesty in her work that's unshakeable. - Philip Cheah

 

SIMON JOYNER
Lost With The Lights On [Jagjaguwar]

Recording furiously since 1992, Nebraskan singer-songwriter Simon Joyner brings it all back home. On the gorgeous opening track, Dreams of Saint Teresa, he even echoes mid-‘60s Dylan. Sample these lines: "I got sick in the rain on some holy day dreaming of St Teresa/And I lost all your pills after they spilled out of the bottle into my possible futures." On the stark Blue, you can just imagine Leonard Cohen singing. But you wish he had the clever turns of phrases of Mark Eitzel or the haunting aura of Nick Drake. That would make him more special. Right now, he doesn't qualify as essential listening but neither is he easy to put away. Joyner remains enjoyable after a fashion. (6) - Philip Cheah

 

DANIEL HOPE
Berg & Britten Violin Concertos [Warner Classics]

The most recorded of Berg's violin works, and dedicated to the memory of a loved one, this work is a sordid tone poem in two movements. It begins gently, developing into a graceful and playful movement, and finally depicts death and transfiguration. Using the tone row, and the much talked-about, but fleeting, borrowing of a Lutheran chorale melody, Berg fills the piece with melancholy and haunting atonality. Orchestration is deliberately cold with blasting brass often battling with a frantic solo violin, or lonely flutes hovering over deathly silences.

As a soloist, Daniel Hope delivers his lines sufficiently well, but a warmer more considerate approach would have made his playing more palatable. As a conductor, Paul Watkins seemed to have run over the soloist with his enthusiasm, his chosen speed a bit too overwhelming, resulting in a combination that seems less than complementary.

More accessible would be the second piece, Britten's Violin Concerto op 15. Its Spanish melodies come alive under the colorful and cautionless violin playing. Much to do with the writing of the violin passages itself, Daniel's playing nevertheless shines through with rhythmic energy, and a much more sensitive and confidant feel is achieved when the orchestra seemed more comfortable and less in a rush. These two works have much to feed the soul and Daniel's style is addictive. - Sarah Tan

 

MUSE
Absolution [EastWest]

When this trio of young men first came out of Devon, England, they were accused of being Radiohead copycats. With lead singer Matt Bellamy sounding an awful lot like Thom Yorke and their first album drawing lots of comparisons to OK Computer, Muse certainly had a long way to go towards developing a distinctive style of their own.

With Absolution, their third album, Muse have finally arrived. Inevitable comparisons to Yorke aside, Bellamy's vocal expression now demonstrates a greater mastery, maturity and self-confidence - attributes which also apply to the band's overall performance on Absolution.

The album immediately grabs your attention with the first track, Apocalypse Please, that starts with the sound of martial drums and marching feet and which gradually builds up into a soaring, urgent plea for the hastening of the end of the world ('It's time we saw a miracle/ come on it's time for something biblical) with histrionic singing and instrumentation of appropriately grand operatic pretensions. Such a song works successfully for Muse, for Bellamy has grown to be a rather accomplished singer with almost faultless control of his voice and the band as a whole have finally gelled together as one tight, technically proficient unit that rises on every occasion to provide the perfect instrumental backing for each song.

Lyric-wise, the songs in themselves offer nothing new under the sun. But Bellamy's impassioned singing and the band's right-on-target instrumental chops, especially on standout tracks like scorching hot radio favourite and first single, Time is Running Out and the rock monster to rival Metallica itself, The Small Print, more than make up for their lack of ingenuity in the song-writing department. This last mentioned track and Stockholm Syndrome (previously available only as a download) may be really great rock songs, but they hardly fit in with Muse's 'new direction' of marrying the classic softer melodic elements of pop with the usual hard rock dynamics as exemplified by the tracks Sing for Absolution and Butterflies and Hurricanes. This last ambitious track, which comprises three parts and includes a little pretty piano segment that Richard Clayderman would approve of, boasts an enthralling tune that promises to transport one to the loftiest of heights. As with the rest of Absolution (as with Muse themselves), the listener is impressed not so much by the stupendous silliness of the track, but by the supreme confidence with which the band pulls off its execution - a confidence that transcends any superfluous characteristics this album might possess.

Absolution is the work of a band finally finding its own voice in a wilderness strewn with a plethora of similarly hungry up-and-coming modern rock bands struggling to find their own unique 'groove.' Muse will probably win more new fans with this album than with their earlier two, and probably more so when Absolution is played 'live.'

This might not be the first or last time you'll hear this, but judging from the impressive effort they've put into Absolution, Muse could very well turn out to be the next biggest thing to come out of England after Coldplay. [5] - Ivan Thomasz

 

BMX BANDITS
Down At the Hop [Shoeshine]

With seven years between Down At the Hop and preceding release - 1996's Kim Fowley-produced "Theme Park" - it's comforting to know that the Bandits are still able to deliver sun-kissed Beach Boys-obsessed pop like they've never been away.

Now reduced to the core of Douglas Stewart, Francis MacDonald and Gabriel Telerman, it's a great pleasure to see the Bandits carrying the flag of Scottish pop high in the absence of the late great Eugenius and the AWOL Teenage Fanclub.

And it's a terrific comeback as the trio with the assistance of, inter alia, David (Pearlfishers) Scott and Norman (Teenage Fanclub) Blake produces an album of witty and melancholic sunshine pop songs that never overstays its welcome.

The Landy-era Brian Wilson-channeling I'm In Such Great Shape where lines like She gets naked, I go ape get the attention, the hilarious over-the-top Miss Nude Black America, the wistful Love At the Hop, the wry jaunty Bacharach-evoking Death and Destruction, the breezy cautionary The Road of Love is Paved with Banana Skins, the widescreen Spector-ian Back In Her Heart and the lovely Sunflower referencing Back in Your Arms confirm Down At The Hop as the vibrant pop treat every like-minded enthusiast can only ignore at their grave peril. 7.5 — Kevin Mathews

Visit: www.shoeshine.co.uk

 

VARIOUS
School of Rock [Warner OST]

The best movie of 2003, second only to Return of The King, anyone who knows Jack Black knows that he’s an avid fan of rock and roll. He seemed to be perfect for the role of a teacher who cranks things up a notch with a little rock and roll education.

If the Ministry of Education were to set up an Alternative Music Academy (for the Rockers) I’ll be the first to teach the youngsters. So dump that sports academy idea and churn out some Rock history at 8 am, Rock appreciation at 10 am and jamming the old and new classics from 11 to 1 pm. And jumpstart the local music industry! Hehe some wishful thinking eh? The soundtrack to the movie will be one of my imagined Rock school major curriculums. This rocks out with some old school classics and some vintage sounding new blood with The Darkness and their track Growing On Me, which is not featured in the film. Even Jack Black and his students are in here too. The soundtrack takes full advantage of the movie’s quotes, and we are treated to three excerpts. They’re short and amusing, not too heavy and should appeal to a wide range of people.

To me, soundtracks serve as an introduction to different listeners, If one was brought up by Korn and Sum 41, it’ll be good for them to rediscover Led Zep and The Ramones and Cream. A quick lesson in old school rock as you cover such classic favorites as the timeless Sunshine of Your Love by Cream, Stevie Nicks’ Edge of Seventeen and Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, plus T-Rex, The Doors and The Who to round out a very classic rock vibe. But we can’t forget the forefathers of punk The Ramones with My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes To Bitburg). My only gripe is the non inclusion of some songs in the movie. (Smoke On the Water, Ironman, The Wait, Back in Black, etc) but if you don’t have all of the songs, this purchase should be perfect. - Adam Mohd Yusop



RORY MERRITT STITT
Harlequin [Self released]

Oh goody! A concept album, which credits Rachmaninoff on the sleeve! Stitt is a songwriter that weaves strands of jazz, Broadway, opera and yes, rock into a challenging tapestry. Taken as a whole, there is much to test the brain matter and those of you out there looking for more than your three-minute silly love song will thrill to Stitt's skilful efforts on Harlequin. Just don't expect a concept album that works - trust me, they never do. (6) - Kevin Mathews

 

DAVID BOWIE
Reality [ISO/Columbia]

Isn't it just like David Bowie to regain and revisit former glories in the twilight of his astounding career?

After spending the '80s and '90s trying his best to permanently damage the legendary reputation he had built up in the '70s, it was a bit of a shock to witness Bowie's slight return to form with Hours, his final album of the last century. Gone were the endless meandering stylistic shifts - the shameless drum 'n' bass posturing of Earthling, for example - to be replaced by a renewed confidence in his classic material. I mean, after all, everyone else was plundering his archetypal back catalogue, so why not Bowie himself?

2002's Heathen, produced by Tony Visconti, the man who helmed those wonderful '70s albums, carried the promise of Hours to its logical conclusion and confirmed that Bowie's rehabilitation was complete.

Reality, coming on the heels of Heathen, proves that Bowie's muse is firmly on track with a collection of songs that continues to emphasise his revived creativity. Visconti is back on board again and, while blatantly artier and less visceral than Heathen was, there are genuine moments of sheer inspiration on Reality.

The opening New Killer Star would not have been out of place on any recent Blur album. Armed with an insistent rhythm and a driving chorus, Bowie, not for the first time, deconstructs attitudes towards fame and stardom. The bouncy Never Get Old is almost a rewrite in reverse of Townshend's My Generation as Bowie encapsulates the nightmare that is new millennial living - "Never gonna be enough money/Never gonna be enough drugs/And I'm never ever gonna get old/Never gonna be enough bullets/Never gonna be enough sex/And I'm never gonna get old." The poignant The Loneliest Guy finds Bowie in a desolate place and oddly reflecting, "All the pages that have turned/All the errors left unlearned, oh."

Bowie near the peak of his powers is a wonder to behold.

Dynamic interpretations of Jonathan Richman's witty Pablo Picasso and George Harrison's cynical Try Some, Buy Some, not to mention a spine-tingling version of the Kinks' Waterloo Sunset (a bonus track on the Aussie tour edition) all icing on this rather sumptuous cake.

Back in 1983, Bowie made his way to our little island during the Serious Moonlight Tour in support of Let's Dance, and one could sense during the gig that all was not well for the commercial-friendly Bowie. Two decades later, Bowie returns to our shores and the timing could not have been better for fans of the man as the excellence found on Reality indicates. It promises to be a night to remember... till then, time to face Reality and enjoy! - Kevin Mathews

 

DREAMTHEATER
Train Of Thought [Elektra]

Opening track As I Am is Dream Theater’s best in years and most worthy of airplay since Pull Me Under from 1992’s Images And Words album. The song starts slow and within 90 seconds, kicks into high gear with a monster riff and bass line. The lyrics of this song are quite telling of Dream Theater’s position towards their critics. "Don’t tell me what’s in, tell me how to write/ I won’t change to fit your plan, take me as I am". In other words, no trends or fads and they will continue to write songs the way THEY want to as they have been doing for almost 15 years. The new album contains enough wankery and soloing to keep the prog heads happy but without any dull points to inflame prog-haters. The album is heavy as hell, without LaBrie’s vocals extending too much into the glass-shattering octaves.

The drums are heavily felt and the guitars are also mixed high. Except for a few tracks, the keyboards are surprisingly low-profile. The new CD is a much more condensed effort. While seven songs stretching almost 70 minutes is hardly considered "condensed" to most bands, compared to last year’s two-disc behemoth featuring the 40-minute Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence track, and the concept album Metropolis, this IS a scaled-down affair. They have also taken a noticeably heavier approach here. Most probably the heaviest song on Train of Thought, the intro to Honor Thy Father almost reminds me of Morbid Angel’s Chapel Of Ghouls, (which is funny... especially when LaBrie gives his rendition of "fool" and "reality" - a rap section in a Dream Theatre song?) that this is one pissed off song, as Mike Portnoy has more than willingly acknowledged. In any case, it chugs along pretty well through some very interesting vocal lines until giving way to one of Dream Theater's favorite things: movie samples. Although they aren't the most pleasant things to listen to (good bit of cursing, and a bit repetitive), they do work admirably in the context of the song. Unfortunately, Honor Thy Father does end on a low note, with another rendition of a bridge-chorus section followed by a slightly pointless solo section to round out the song.

The 11+ minute instrumental, Stream of Consciousness, allows each member of the band to step forward, if only for a brief moment, during this extended jam session. The album closer, In The Name Of God, attacks blind faith and religious fanaticism, asking "does following faith lead us to violence?" Jordan Rudess’ keyboard outro is perfect. Train Of Thought is also an "enhanced CD" which allows us access to weblinks and video clips entitled Writing The Record and Recording The Record. The clips run eight minutes and 17 minutes, respectively, and feature behind-the-scenes footage of the band recording the album with narration by Mike Portnoy. Now is that great or what? - Adam Md Yusop



 

THE DISTILLERS
Coral Fang [Sire]

Some major labels want artists perceived as revolutionaries, but don't want them to incite real revolutions. Since Alanis Morissette, we've had a lot of company-sponsored female Next Big Things, with varying degrees of artistic and commercial success.

Artistically, they've ranged from the rebel (Peaches), the okay (Avril Lavigne) to the overhyped (Pink) to the "O, Britney, Britney! Wherefore art thou, Britney?" dreck (Michelle Branch, Kelly Clarkson?).

In that sense, Brody Dalle - guitar, vocals (ex-wife of Tim Armstrong - Rancid) is fine with the better of that diverse company: she's not much of an innovator, but she plays old forms with a lot of verve. Drain The Blood is like a power motor fueled Chevrolet! I hate comparisons, because so many female rockers -- especially if they have raspy voices, play loud, and are brunettes -- are compared to Joan Jett and that is like a thoughtless rite of passage for any pissed-off female musician. Here, though, and I really mean it, Dalle sounds a lot like Joan Jett. Musically, Nirvana seems to be the safe way of comparing The Distillers to.

The strong vocal similarities is what makes Dalle so much like Jett. Not since Jett has such a potentially iconic female rocker emerged from the punk scene and played heavy metal with such abandon. The Distillers like The Donnas, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, are the art-rock projects because music sounds good played loud - heavy metal that splits the difference between stupid and stoopid and doesn't give a shit either way. Coral Fang has more of a typical punk hostility towards pop happiness. Ryann Sinn and Andy Granelli (bass and drums respectively) provide the aggressive beats. Even the love songs here, Beat Your Heart Out to Love is Paranoid to For Tonight You're Only Here to Know, are about giving in to those rushes of blood to the head (both) rather than any long-term relationship. Primed for commercial breakthrough, and with Brody visually one attractive (imagine a younger looking gothic Joan Jett) rock chick, I think they might be getting it real soon. - Adam Mohd Yusop


AQUALUNG
Still Life [Warners]

There's enough to suggest on Still Life that Matt Hales (the brains and talent behind Aqualung) will be a force to be reckoned with in the modern rock arena. Sure, there's always the element of post-Radiohead syndrome in Hales' approach but with healthy intelligent pop residues of ELO, the Zombies, Paul McCartney and erm, U2, there is still hope for the pop fundamentalists among us that the good ol' days of the ‘60s and ‘70s may just yet return. (7) - Kevin Mathews

 

SPLITSVILLE
Incorporated [Houston Party]

Discounting the Beatles-Beach Boys pastiche cum tribute that was The Complete Pet Soul, Incorporated is actually Splitsville's first album of all-new material in close to five years (since 1998's Repeater in fact).

On the personnel front, Matt and Brandt Huseman and Paul Krysiak have recruited guitarist Tony Waddy to "fill-up" the Splitsville sound and the results are terrific! Unlike Repeater, which came across too much like vignettes of the band's favourite albums, there is a mature assurance, an originality about Incorporated that marks Splitsville's return as a quantum leap.

This sophistication is never more evident than in the country-poppish The Mentalist where wistful melodies, trembling guitars and melancholic tone almost make Splitsville sound erm adult. Don't get me wrong, this isn't a putdown but the highest compliment as Splitsville takes its place among the greats in the history of rock and pop music.

Take the opening White Dwarf with its soft-rock power chords and ruminations on black light particles, dead stars and heaven as metaphors for love. Waddy turns in a virtuoso solo that will have you pressing 'repeat' incessantly. Speaking of guitar heroes, Heart Attack actually communicates an acid rock meets power pop vibe, like Hendrix playing guitar for the Raspberries! Very cool.

Headache is a bit of a throwback, evoking the Huseman's time with the seminal power pop outfit, Greenberry Woods. The Next One is a flight of big ballad fancy Splitsville style with epic guitars and throaty vocals detailing a 'cold turkey' experience of addiction withdrawal. Sasha channels the Zombies and John Lennon simultaneously, a love story gone horribly wrong. California is the Knack dancing with XTC, polar opposites of libidinal excesses as the boys deconstruct the West Coast fantasy.

Where's the punk-pop you're wondering? Well, Brink and Trouble should sate that urge quickly before I Wish I Never Met You comes on sounding very much like a Pet Soul outtake as heavenly 12-stringed acoustic guitars and an angelic tune lifts us into Byrdland.

A complete and perfect album that begs to be heard from start to finish, Incorporated, is a testament to Splitsville's belief in the power pop ideal that you can still touch hearts and intrigue minds with music that is melodic, vibrant and texturally dense. Let me just say that if you had to listen to one power pop album this year, it would have to be Splitsville Incorporated. (9) - Kevin Mathews

For more http://www.splitsville.com/

 

TENEBROSUS
The Fall of The Worthless Morals [Metal Mind Productions]

This is guaranteed to whet those B-grade horror zombie flicks maniacs. Makes a perfect soundtrack. Worm Tongue (based loosely on the Lord Of the Rings character) fits the bill as the screamer in this Black Metal outfit. With trollish like features, he conveys his aggressive wrath and passionate lyrics rather eloquently. If you were to break down the storming fast guitars and drums of every song, you could hear it has a symphonic feel to it. The Fallen Arrive and Red Tears On The Face of Saviour, the two short interludes, are actually the hightlights of the album with sound effects and dark ambience. What is interesting though is not the worshipping of Satan but actually denouncing Christians as hypocrites via their massacres, Inquistions and Crusades. "Pagan, Waldenes, Cathari, Hussites, they were sacrificed and burnt at the stake in the name of Christ." - Adam Mohd Yusop

 

STOMPIN’ GROUND
Vector Prime [Dies Irae Records]

If Impiety (a Black Metal cult band here that enjoys considerable admiration even overseas) raised their goblets to the horned Prince of Darkness, Stompin’ Ground give the demonic figure a fearsome poke in the eye and the middle-finger! A palette of sludge, melancholic and powerful dirge that serves mouthfuls of grim reality. They sound darker. No longer just a positive hardcore outfit, a tag they assumed 10 years ago, they have evolved, wiser in applying sonic textures in their material.

No one could see this coming, after nearly eight years of silence, the grand-daddies of hardcore are back with an "In-Your-Face" amalgamation of everything left in the underground scene! The younger soon-to be-converted should be informed that there are no three-minute happy songs or old school nostalgic tunes. What you get is a mature and independent band bold enough to explore new dimensions.

Treading within the lines of wrath and destruction, some of the tracks are transparent and straightforward in speaking its contents. Though at times the listener feels like he is maneuvering a rugged terrain, but once you pass the scrutinizing of lyrics, you will be floored by the strong rhythm section. It is sad that some metalheads have overlooked this release as not Metal enough. The hardcore scene is one of the most open-minded that embraced every music genre, with the intention of spreading its message to the masses. The vocals are a bit more prominent than they were in the previous album. In all, Imran’s vocals are very powerful, as when he fronted Paranorm and FourSides. The drums are excellent, reaching a rhythmic quality that is strived for in metal/hardcore bands. Double bass has never been a problem for Stompin’ Ground and Suhaimi (who also plays the bass) provides excellent rhythm for guitarist Zahid’s conjurings of wicked distortion.

Stompin' Ground now comfortably plays apocalyptic MetalCore. A term that suits their chaotic and layered music. The band started around '87 and have been around until the present. They don't have many albums. This is only their second. The first album was released back in '95. All previous Stompin' Ground releases are out of print.

Pressing is limited for the Asian release. Just 450 copies made. I doubt there'll be a repress for this. You can either get it from Ayong, the drummer, for S$13 or at Roxy Records (Funan Centre) for $15. It is currently available in Asia (including Australia, New Zealand and also Japan) only. The international release-date has yet to be announced. It will have a different layout and it won't be sold here. — Adam Mohd Yusop

CLICK HERE
to order the CD at S$15.

 

SUPER FURRY ANIMALS
Phantom Power [Sony]

I simply adore this band, probably the best rock 'n' roll outfit that has ever come out of Wales! SFA have never kept still - from the glam-punk-pop of debut Fuzzy Logic to the sophisticated Love-influenced Radiator, from the electro-futurist Guerilla to the widescreen pop epic Rings Around the World, SFA have managed to stay ahead of the pop game while their Britpop contemporaries have somewhat languished, SFA have flourished, even if they remain cruelly underrated and ignored.

Phantom Power, SFA's latest deserves all the hype and attention currently being lavished on Irish whiz kids, The Thrills. Without taking anything away from The Thrills, the same people should be drowning SFA with the same floods of acclaim.

A little more downbeat and rustic than previous outings, the spectre of Neil Young looms large on this illuminating collection as pedal steels gleam, Jack Nietzsche strings hover and environmental themes simmer softly beneath the surface.

In songs like the ominous The Piccolo Snare, the bright Hello Sunshine, the deliberate Bleed Forever, the pounding The Undefeated and the chirpy Liberty Belle, SFA continue to deliver a Molotov cocktail of winning pop tunes and Syd Barrett-like whimsy. Well, at the moment, nobody does it better. (9) - Kevin Mathews

 

RONALD ISLEY & BURT BACHARACH
Here I Am: Ronald Isley Meets Burt Bacharach [Dreamworks]

The title track is an amazing piece of music. It reminds me, literally, of a "theme in search of a movie", to quote Eddie Harris. All I can think of when I hear it are harps and fountains and swirling dresses — with Isley’s falsetto frayed at the edges but still amazingly pretty.

This pairing of Isley with Bacharach is significant. Isley is the only artist of the truly old school to be a real star in hip-hop [as Mr Biggs]. For him to bring this music into their world [directly, not as oldies] will doubtless have an effect, for the hip-hop crowd rarely embraces one of the hallmarks of the rhythm and blues music of black men — its sweetness.

Sweetness is the weapon of courtship, courtship is the dance of love, love implies something more than "a little bump and grind". The Motown-era music of Smokey, Ruffin and Stubbs was the music of young black men moving into Detroit’s expanding workforce with words of love, bolstered by the conjugal possibilities that money, great cars and some of the best housing stock in the US could provide.

The hip-hop generation has come to maturity in the midst of profound industrial dissolution. The lowest strata rages at their inability to bring finances to the table of love and has, of necessity, rendered Smokey-type songs the stuff of a fairy tale existence of their parents and grandparents.

Hip-hop’s creed of "Big Pimpin’" is not merely evidence of a declining, decadent morality, but the economic reality of men without jobs, futures, or any safety net other than women.

Hip-hop music has reflected this harsh reality and, in the transformation to a more percussive, less "melodic" sound, lost much of its sweetness. A reason for Michael Jackson’s endless popularity is that, growing up in the sweet centre of Motown’s chocolate sound, yet maturing in the new beat-driven world, he represents a bridge between the two.

Ronald Isley, having established his Mack status in the eyes of hip-hop, is secure enough to return to romance, to revel in being "grown", and to take a stand against the death of Cool as a social phenomenon.

The teaming of Isley with Bacharach — both masters of sweetness [some say saccharine — I’m not among ‘em] — is an homage to the love music of R&B’s past, a declaration of the return of The Grown Man. This is an important CD. — Marsha Cusic, Rock & Rap Confidential

 

SACRIVERSUM
Mozartia [Metal Mind Production]

Yup! I just couldn’t help it. I saw this album sleeve and simply dismissed it as another b-grade Metal wanking disc. Boy, was I wrong. The album as the band describe it themselves is melodic, gothic death metal with traditional heavy metal influences. What is definitely interesting is that it’s a concept album based on the life of Mozart. An intelligent and untypical approach of a Metal band. Fans of Maiden, Evanescence, Dream Theater, Napalm Death and those who appreciate a bit of classical music would be jumping with joy when this album is played.

Young Traveller, a track that chronicles the young composer’s plight on touring the lands to get his music played, the rejection that he faced from jealous peers and the rules set by the authorities to undermine him. I can see a rather similar situation happening with some of the bands here. Credits should be given to the man who is responsible for writing the lyrics, Remo, the bassist and the one handling the growling vocals.

And did I mention about Kate on vocals and Annie on keyboards? These two maidens sure look good in Black. My wife caught me winking at the CD sleeve the other day, gave her an excuse that I’ve developed some inner sense that the GST increment would be drawing nearer soon. The great part of listening to this album is that the keyboards and female vocals keep you from being bored with the riffs, yet at the same time it gives you that Alice in Wonderland feeling as you reel from different tempos and patterns within one song. A solution for drug addicts wanting to stop the habit huh? One of the better releases from Poland! - Adam Mohd Yusop

[NOTE: This was written late last year.]

 

THE STILLS
Logic Will Break Your Heart [Warner]

And the fallout of Radiohead's The Bends and Coldplay's Parachutes (not to mention the long shadow of U2) continues unabated. Hey, I am not complaining if this trend throws up good bands like The Stills who have managed to skillfully assemble a group of songs that stand up to most of what charitably passes for modern rock - and please don't get me started on Busted *ugh*. Robust mellifluous basic rock music should be encouraged (at all costs) and never mind if singer-guitarist Tim Fletcher appears to be yet another dead ringer for Chris Martin, the upside potential far outweighs any lack of originality.

I mean, you cannot really argue against songs like Of Montreal, Lola Stars and Stripes, Gender Bombs and Let's Roll that excite the heart, thrill the melody bone and move toes to tap generously, can you? No. (7.5) - Kevin Mathews

 

AZRA-EL
A Prayer From The Lips Of Sin [Trishul Records]

A killer debut!!! If a band can hypnotize me into listening to four tracks in a row without skipping a song, then, they have done a great f***ing job! Opening with the Celtic-like Widowed Faith, then stomping into A Prayer From The Lips Of Sin, slowly grooving mid paced with Diabolical Awakening and then moving on to the atomic storm of Heaven Denied. Cry Of Innocence is a good track that reeks of majestic glory. Vivek is a good lyricist and growler. He brings the song to another level of added heaviness by cleverly filling the screams and deep growls within each song, thus creating the dynamics.

Vignesh is also responsible for bringing life to the songs. The guitarist not only made it breathe but it has Azra-el stamped all over it. When my band was playing at a Temasek Polytechnic Blowout gig (late '90s), I noticed this guy with a big mullet of a hair headbanging to Havohej who was on stage. Now, he's playing guitar in this killer band. Azra-el will no longer be the name of a cartoon cat from the '80s Smurfs, but a darn good Death Metal band from $ingapore! - Adam Md Yusop

 

KINGS OF LEON
Youth & Young Manhood [RCA]

Everything old is new again! For anyone who has listened to rock music long enough (and I have been doing so since the ‘70s), I had to let out a loud laugh when I first heard the opening track (Red Morning Light) of this debut from The Kings of Leon. I mean, it's the Rolling Stones circa Beggars Banquet (or Let It Bleed, c'mon...) and yeah, I dig it! Which is a small comfort to me that at least a major label like RCA has seen something in this band of brothers (viz. Nathan, Jared, Caleb and cousin Matthew Followill) to sign them up and endorse their brand of Southern Fried Rock (think: The Allman Brothers, CCR and Lynyrd Skynyrd and a dash of Dylan & the Hawks) - there's still hope for good ol' rock 'n' roll yet! Certainly gritty stuff like Wasted Time, Joe's Head, California Waiting and Spiral Staircase provide cause for celebration. Rock on! (8.5) - Kevin Mathews

 

NINA SIMONE
Emergency Ward [Camden 2CD]

Last week, we offered a review of Emmylou Harris’ Stumble Into Grace recorded during the start of Iraq War II. Clearly, Harris didn’t care to provoke or crusade but rather to offer as she put it the "cup of kindness" and the promise that hope is eternal and calming grace the best posture to take. This week, we offer another album that was recorded in time of war. Emergency Ward was recorded in 1971 and released the year after in the midst of America’s Vietnam War. It was to be Nina Simone’s last outspoken album before she bade farewell with the subsequent It Is Finished and retreated from the spotlight, her record label and America. Nina Simone passed away last year, this album was reissued in 2002 but has taken us almost a whole year to find. The review below is by MIKE BUTLER.

Personal and political torment had escalated by the time of Emergency Ward [which is, strictly speaking, only half a live album]. The newspaper headlines that adorn the original cover scream ‘Laser-Guided Bombs’ [nothing new under the sun, it seems] and ‘Viet Push’, and fix the 1972 album firmly in its time. The Vietnam War is the unspoken fact that dominates the album. The live segment was recorded at Fort Dix, a military base in New Jersey, before an audience primarily composed of black GIs. The tone is apocalyptic: an expectation of the imminent end tends to concentrate the mind on spiritual matters.

Emergency Ward is a reckoning, a one-sided dialogue between Nina and her Creator. "Isn’t it a pity, My God?" is her message.

In 1971, empowered by Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On [and Sly Stone’s more disturbing There’s A Riot Goin’ On] soul music had entered a new phase: serious enough to expose the ills of the nation, and powerful enough to dispense spiritual healing.

Nina had anticipated the change. Backlash Blues from Sings The Blues [an earlier album], to give one example, offers an important analysis of black politics and the white world. The overlooked masterwork Nina Simone & Piano transcends black politics to address the concerns of the entire human family.

Vindicated by the new spirit, Nina’s response was to return to her gospel roots. Emergency Ward documents her collaboration with the Bethany Baptist Church Junior Choir of South Jamaica, NY. The main item on the programme was to be an extended My Sweet Lord, the neo-gospel anthem by George Harrison. Advance reports suggested a restatement of the simple faith of Nina’s upbringing [as the sixth child of a preacher’s family in rural North Carolina]. Advance reports were wrong. Nina Simone, like the Lord, moves in mysterious ways.

Handclaps and massed "Hallelujahs" accompany Nina as she yearns for spiritual union and declares impatience with the slow pace of mystic revelation. The groove is disrupted and the choir is quelled as Nina introduces a second theme — her setting of a poem by David Nelson, Today Is The Killer. This develops [after a reprise of My Sweet Lord] into a meditation on the contrast between the innocence of nature and a rapacious, man-made world.

The link between Harrison’s uplifting spiritual and Nelson’s sombre poem isn’t made clear until the final moment, and Nina declares "Today, who are you Lord? YOU ARE A KILLER!" as the choir chimes with a grand, affirmative "Hallelujah".

It is a staggering moment, with more impact because of the sacred context. To co-opt the Bethany Baptist Church Junior Choir of South Jamaica, NY, into this act of blasphemy is a masterstroke of subversion. Nina is known for her wilfulness and feats of audacity, but this surpasses everything.

Note: This 2CD reissue includes two other Simone albums, It Is Finished and Black Gold. It Is Finished was released in 1974 after Emergency Ward.

 

NARASIMHA
Narasimha [Trishul Records]

Last week, I happened to watch Lagaan, Amir Khan's movie about a group of villagers made up of a Singh, a Muslim, a member from the lower caste and others who defeated the English in a game of cricket. I liken it to bands of different genres fighting and upholding a common stand; which is that multinational corporations commit abuses. But when I read the lyrics to this release, I was not angry but disappointed at some of its views - "But what's India now?/ Never like before/ Terrorized by the circumcised! They will just come and they will just kill/ Never let in those dogs again who spread diseases!/ A disease, which has no cure, slaughter those dogs!" (Jai Bharat). Circumcised = Muslims?... Dogs eh?

I am reminded of incidents when the metal world was rocked by issues of racism and prejudices. When Mille (frontman of Kreator - a Thrash Metal band) wrote something like No Thanks to faggots and homosexuals for spreading the Aids virus on their album or the ex-bassist of Malevolent Creation (US Death Metal band) wore a White Power t-shirt on stage and Billy Milano of SOD wrote "Speak English Or Die" — slagging off Vietnamese/Korean shopowners in the US who can't speak English, it was derided as a joke.

Musically, Narasimha plays an average mid-paced Metal. The band photo with the scowling face of vocalist Deva reminded me of the villainous horde in those Rajinikanth movies (Muthu rules!) The riffs do get repetitive after a while, though Seelan plays the drums like a seasoned pro. Gnomic Revelations, an instrumental sounded eerily like Nirvana's remake of Bowie's The Man Who Sold the World. I know that they are capable of making more well-structured songs in the future. - Adam Md Yusop

 

EMMYLOU HARRIS
Stumble Into Grace [Nonesuch]

Her generation was in motion. Although she turns 57 in April, Emmylou Harris is just as active and involved as she was back in the ‘70s. So it’s unsurprising that she would offer a comment on this new war. Stumble Into Grace was recorded in Nashville, February to June 2003, right in the middle of George W Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq, so the war is the music’s undercurrent. You can hear it when she sings "Little Boy Blue come blow your horn/ The crows are in the corn/ The morning sky is red and falling down/ The piper’s at the till/ He’s coming for the kill/ Luring all our children underground in Babylon" [Time In Babylon]. Iraq’s historical name is Babylon.

What’s different is the passive activism. The album’s first song Here I Am is the timelessness of hope that it springs eternal. "I am the promise never broken/ And my arms are ever open/ In this harbor calm and still/ I will wait until you come to me." Stumble Into Grace is a peaceful agitation for common sense to rule. As the word grace implies, beauty and elegance is a simple, unhurried state of mind that all can achieve.

Harris turns to old friends to make this album. She writes all the songs with the McGarrigle sisters, Jill Cuniff and Malcolm Burn. Daniel Lanois who transformed her from cowgirl to new age country is back as well with three collaborations, the best being Lost Unto This World, where he evokes his trademark otherworldly vibe. But it’s Harris’ lyrics that touch on this song: "I was tortured in the desert/ I was raped out on the plain/ I was murdered by the highway/ And my cries went up in vain/ My blood is on the mountain/ My blood is on the sand/ My blood runs in the river/ That now washes thru their hands…/ Can I get no witness this unholy tale to tell/ Was God the only one there watching? "

For the final song, Harris offers Cup Of Kindness to connect back to the album’s first song. "You hear the vandals howlin’ down your walls/ And arm yourself against the ones who want to see you fall/ Till some Holy Grail reveals the grand design/ Well it was in a cup of kindness all the time". Give grace a chance. — Michael Cheah

Note: Emmylou Harris supports the Campaign For A Landmine Free World. Go here to read more http://vvaf.org/campaign/index.shtml. The US and $ingapore are among the countries that have not signed this treaty.

 

ELYSIUM
Feedback [Metal Mind Productions]

A very thrashy (meaning Thrash Metal - not trash) album from the only band in the Polish scene whose art is more inclined towards the early Swedish melodic Death Metal (Dark Tranquility, At The Gates & In Flames) movement. But while their West European counterparts have the melodic sense, they have disregarded the twin guitar approach and gone for the throat resulting in the well-controlled technical rhythm guitars pacing the straightforward songs. Lyrically, standout tracks are 4.48 For Sarah, an anthem for all the homeless of the world and Departure Fresco — about a junkie who in turn becomes an entrepreneur for death as he becomes a dealer. Formed in 1997, they have just finished their stint as the second stage headliner at Metalmania - the biggest metal music festival in Central-Eastern Europe. Elysium have sharpened their wares and started writing for their fourth album. - Adam Mohd Yusop

 

STONE TEMPLE PILOTS
Thank You [Warner Music]

The early '90s rock scene was strange. There was a clear gap between the "old" school hair metal rockers and the new crop of "grunge". One band that stood out from the crowd wasn't either - Stone Temple Pilots represented good ol' fashioned hard rock. Their songs were equal parts heavy guitar rock and melodic introspection. It was clear from their debut that STP (as they are affectionately known) were special. They were lauded as Pearl Jam wannabes yet they have proven to be consistently good - their rock 'n' roll is exactly the kind that I so long for today. Years passed and further albums were released but it is with 1994's Purple and 1996's Tiny Music that STP really came into their own. Purple was full of sparkly-clean hard rock anthems. More years passed and Weiland did some time in jail for drugs. But the band didn't stop for him - they continued making music and, eventually, with his help, recorded No. 4 - another impressive hard rock album.

So now here we sit in 2003, and STP are back again. This time, instead of feeling like a comeback it feels like an unfortunate swan song. I was told that the US pressing has an added bonus CD/DVD which includes a separate disc which houses not one, not two, but in excess of 30 live performances, music videos, and bootlegs spanning the band's career. It is more than I could have even dreamt for. STP are clearly, as the name of the disc implies, thanking their fans for years of support.

The CD itself holds a humble 15 songs. As always with a greatest hits album, there's a new track included (All In The Suit That You Wear) and there's the classic acoustic version of Plush. The songs are all familiar. There are songs on Thank You from each of the band's five studio albums. But the omitted ones are their excellent covers of The Beatles, The Doors and Led Zeppelin which are missed! The new song isn't quite up to par in comparison to the other 14 songs, but it's a gift to have a new song from the band. The guitars are great, Weiland sounds as perfect as always, but somehow the melody just isn't as good as a Plush or Lady Picture Show.

I was told by my U.S. friend the DVD is the fantabulous chocolate icing on the cake. It includes 14 official videos. You get for your money everything from the earliest images of the band from Sex Type Thing and Wicked Garden. It's wonderful to have all the videos arranged chronologically in one place and easily accessible by a simple click. Fans will also be pleased by the selection of official live performances including a stellar acoustic version of Plush from MTV's Headbanger's Ball. Meat Plow (a fantastic track from Purple), and the pensive Zeppelin-esque Army Ants. There are a total of 16 live performances. But the fun doesn't stop there, it also collects 12 bootleg videos from various performances over the years. Included are special ones like Weiland's surprise performance of Sweet Emotion with Aerosmith and the band's performance of Wichita Lineman with Glen Campbell. - Adam Mohd Yusop

Note: The special edition of STP's Thank You is not available in $ingapore. Warner Music $ingapore did not release it here.

 

CASTLE PARTY
Dark Independent Festival [Metal Mind Productions]

This is their 10th year in celebrating this unique Goth/Metal/Electronic festival kind of Woodstock. Initially started in 1994, it was supposed to be a one off thing but the positive feedback was overwhelming, the organisers decided to make it a yearly event. Held in Grodziec, Poland, bands, labels and other merchants from all over Europe set up their stalls. Some of the bands that participated in this event are Garden Of Delight, hailing from Germany. Sounding a bit like Depeche Mode with a heavy Goth element, they are the darlings of their hometown. Scianka offer a musical style that's best described as Beck singing in Polish.

Sweet Noise, Poland's answer to MC5, delight. They have the Metal power riffs yet at the same time embrace the infectious Goth keyboards and Paula's voice makes them comparable to Evanescence. Closterkeller have released eight albums! And I have never heard a single one of them! Yet it's best to say that they are veterans to the scene. Man! That's really remarkable! No local bands or solo artiste can match that! L'Ame Immortelle are ABBA reincarnated with a tinge of darkwave. And I love to hear the lead vocalist, Sonja Kraushofer, singing almost to the point of wanting to go to bed with you. A two-day gathering of the Gothic-at-heart souls to rejoice and revel in all carelessness. Highlighting various kinds of different music, it has since become the most important independent music festival in Central-Eastern Europe. - Adam Mohd Yusop

 

RICKIE LEE JONES
The Evening Of My Best Day [V2]

Can The White Stripes' Elephant be more important than this album? Uh-uh, I don't think so. Elephant is regurgitation and not reinvention, and that's a critical difference.

Whereas Rickie Lee Jones' The Evening Of My Best Day leaves the most heartless among us moved. Musically rich, like a timeless tapestry that she has woven since her last studio album six years ago, Evening mines the mother lode of jazz, blues, folk and even bossa nova. Since her debut in 1979, Jones has given us many classic albums - Pirates (1981), Magazine (1984) and Ghostyhead (1997).

More than anything, she has given us her Christmas gift, the gift of epiphany, that blinding moment of truth and recognition, that the meek are truly blessed. It's just that they won't be silent anymore.

Prompted by "the election of George Bush, the passage of the Patriot Act, the monopolies of media and their misuse of language," Jones said that, "I began to realise that someone had to speak up. There is a tradition of protest music, from Woody Guthrie to Bob Dylan and I'm naïve enough to believe that a song actually can change conditions." (For Singapore readers, take note that free speech is enshrined in the US Constitution, not for us though.)

George Bush weighs in on four tracks. The warm jazz melody of Ugly Man underpins a scathing mockery of Bush: "and he'll tell you lies/he'll look at you and tell you lies/he grew up to be like his father/ugly inside." Just imagine what would happen if something like this gets recorded in Singapore. The Bill Frisell trio, with Tony Scherr on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums, provide that subtle jazz groove.

Bush gets Jones going on Little Mysteries, a cryptic conspiracy song that hammers at Bush's fake presidential victory: "for a certain brother down in Florida/famous for his cake/and when the boys came over from Texas/they said 'we'll take everything we can take'."

On Tell Somebody (Repeal the Patriot Act Now), a folk blues number, she reminds us of just what Bush did with the Patriot Act: "I want to know how far you will go/to protect our right of free speech/because it only took a moment/before it faded out of reach." The Patriot Act gave super-powers to FBI anti-terrorism surveillance. And there's the bluesy Lap Dog, which could be about Tony Blair. After all, he deserves at least one track.

On Evening, one realises that Jones' cool jazz inflections owe a lot to Steely Dan (than to Joni Mitchell) and the smart catchiness of Second Chance, has their mark on it, even a lyrical reference to their early album, Countdown to Ecstasy. And the tuneful It Takes You There reaffirms for Jones just what keeps her real. But it's the title track that could be the angriest. And yet it's couched in a ballad, a lonely, crying melody.

This is protest with a lot of love. It's about fighting violence with non-violence. It's about believing in your self once again. - Philip Cheah


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