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Red Snapper, Red Snapper (Lo)
Pioneering British acid jazz group Red Snapper spent the better part of the past decade revolutionizing the genre, blending electronic music with live instrumentation, creating a jazzy, funked-up, ambient hybrid, with liberal doses of dub, punk, and hip-hop thrown in for good measure. After three quality albums and three EPs, they decided to call it quits; however, on the heels of 2002's remix album It's All Good, Red Snapper has returned, in a sense, with an album consisting of studio leftovers and live and remixed material. That's all well and good for fans of the band, but if they're merely dumping out some excess outtakes, why should anyone but fans of the band even care? What's so surprising about Red Snapper is how good it actually is. The seven new tracks continue in that laid-back, movie soundtrack style Red Snapper was so good at: "Regrettable" has a smoothly swinging beat, with sinister piano, strings, and John Barry style horn accents; drummer/turntable whiz Richard Thair creates a languid mood on "Mountains and Valleys", with his hypnotic trip-hop beats; meanwhile, the more techno-oriented "Ultraviolet" and the Latin-tinged "Heavy Petting" are both driven by Ali G's beautiful double bass. Best of all are the gorgeous Sabres of Paradise mix of "Hot Flush", with its haunting trumpet fills, and especially the two live tracks "Four Dead Monks" and the searing drum-and bass of "The Tunnel". Originally from 1998's Making Bones album, the two live tracks are so slick, so well-performed (especially by Ali G, whose bass playing boggles the mind), that when you hear the cheering at the end of the songs, you can't believe it was pulled off in one live take. A sure-to-be-overlooked gem, Red Snapper is a terrific album for quiet, late nights; that melancholy feeling you get at the end of the record will be due to the realization that we'll never know how much better Red Snapper could have been.
Denison Witmer, Philadelphia Songs (Burnt Toast Vinyl)
With color photos of the city filling the liner notes and references to buildings and neighborhoods scattered about in the songs, Philadelphia plays an obviously central role in the low-key yet emotion-laden folk-pop songs on Denison Witmer's Philadelphia Songs. Yet more than just Philadelphia, the songs reflect people's lives and how they relate to places. The first song sets the hope inherent in a new relationship against the exploration of a new city, while the second reflects the pains of moving from place to place. "Tomorrow I will be/an airplane in the sky/looking down on this place/I romanticize," Witmer sings in a song called "Leaving Philadelphia Arriving in Seattle." Yet more than just romanticize, Philadelphia Songs gets at the role that setting has in our emotional lives: the ways we relate places to memories, to experiences, to feelings.
Jeffrey Osborne, The Millennium Collection (Universal)
Though he is still rated as one of the finest singers in the "Penthouse Soul" mode and despite a very loyal fan-base Jeffrey Osborne's solo work is less well thought of these days than that of the group from which he emerged, LTD. Basically early '80s pop/soul has dated badly whereas the late seventies' sounds seem, if anything, more inventive than they did at the time. Nothing here will change that view. If you are the right age then " The Woo Woo Song" and "On the Wings of Love" and "We're Going All the Way" might stir up a few romantic memories but, to be blunt, this is bland, corporate muzak. If Top Gun is your favourite film and Dynasty your all-time favourite TV programme then rush out and buy this. Otherwise, avoid at all costs. A mixture of over-blown ballads and mid-tempo dancers,no one song manages to fully rise above the scmaltz level. Osborne can surely sing -- but the material and the production are both against him. Even if you are fond of big voiced smoothness then Luther, Peabo and a host of others have left more enduring examples. For true Osborne devotees and the terminally nostalgic only.