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Quintron, Are You Ready for an Organ Solo? (Three.One.G)
Quintron is one man and his organ playing a mish-mash of spacey soul, funk and new wave. He is backed by Miss Pussycat (who does her part by shouting over almost every song), but other than that Are You Ready for an Organ Solo? is indeed a solo affair. While Quintron is talented, as his creation of a new instrument, "The Drum Buddy", would indicate, it's hard to tell how seriously he takes songwriting. On one hand the boy can play, and he's clearly paid attention to every record released in the '70s. On the other, he sounds like someone who listened to the Beastie Boys' The In Sound from Way Out!, took a bong hit, and then tried to reproduce it with his girlfriend while listening to Stevie Wonder. So while there are highlights like "Teenage Antoinette", which would indeed make the Beasties proud with its simmering soul funk beat, all too often there are inane cuts like "Place Unkown" or "Mud Bugs". Those two songs sound like something that wouldn't make it to the disco floor in the '70s. The odd thing about Are You Ready for an Organ Solo? is that almost every song features the best and worst of Quintron. It seems that all nine tracks manage to include at least one memorable beat, sound, or groove. Each track also manages to include at least one twenty- or thirty-second segment that will make you cringe. Unfortunately, those highlights are not enough to make Quintron sound like anything other than a bad Stevie Wonder imitator fronting Luscious Jackson.
Various Artists, Slip'n'Slide Ibiza 2 (Slip'n'Slide)
Don't be put off by the Ibiza tag. This is lightweight, dancefloor friendly house with lashings of jazz-funk. In fact, this type of house music reminds me very much of jazz-funk as defined in the late seventies (i.e., quality disco). Blaze, Black Beatniks, DJ Spen, Amira, and Deep Dish are all on hand, so though there are no surprises, there are no real let-downs either. If you like Blaze's "Breathe" (track two), the chances are you will enjoy the whole set. Can't say it's an essential purchase, though. Over-familiarity is starting to breed a little contempt, I'm afraid. And there is something relentlessly "happy" about the project that is more package holiday than Pasha's at sunset. Good for parties and driving away from work but a bit lacking in that something extra which raises it above the crowd. "Sun Will Shine" (Black Beatniks) and Lisa Shaw's "This Time" are worthy records but have sounded more wonderful elsewhere. Pleasant enough, then, but Slip'n'Slide have done a lot better. Try their Jazz in the House 11 for something truly magnificent.
Flashlight Brown, My Degeneration (Hollywood)
Just under 30 minutes and with nearly a dozen songs, Flashlight Brown's sixth album (yes, they are not new!) is brimming with two and sometimes three-chord rock ditties such as the opening "Ready to Roll". Lead singers Matt Hughes and Fil Bucchino, Flashlight Brown waste little time making this a feel good party punk time in the vein of Rancid or a Celtic-less Dropkick Murphys. "A Freak" isn't as melodic but just as catchy, bringing to mind high moments of each Vans Warped Tour. "Patricia" recalls Simple Plan with a jerky stop and start format that is infectious. The middle portion doesn't pack the same oomph, with "Whoa Man" coming off as Weezer b-side material. "Lose the Shades" is much better as Hughes and Bucchino throw in dual vocals into the chorus lead-up. "Praise the Day" has singles material written all over it as the melody, despite the cuss words, is still worthy of airplay. "Looking Away" is also strong, bringing to mind Sum 41. Overall it is a very good if short punk album.
Chantal Kreviazuk, What If It All Means All Means Something (Columbia/Sony)
When she burst onto the music scene in the late '90s, Canadian singer-songwriter Chantal Kreviazuk drew comparisons to fellow Canuck, Sarah McLachlan, for her dreamy, piano-driven pop songs. But Kreviazuk had more of an edge in her voice and piano-playing style, also bringing to mind Tori Amos. Finally, this talented musician has come into her own. Gone are the songs of tortured relationships and confusion; gone is the musical overreaching. If What If It All Means Something is, indeed, the kind of musical diary her previous works were, then Kreviazuk has truly found a deeper contentment that comes through with appealing musical clarity. The songs on What If It All Means Something find the singer-songwriter-pianist at peace with her place in an imperfect world. The opening track, "In This Life", sets the tone with his optimistic lyrics and tight arrangement, while "Time" provides a sense of drama that compliments Kreviazuk's strong voice. Despite one genuine clunker ("Weight of the World"), What If It All Means Something is Kreviazuk's most consistent and radio-ready effort to date.
Chucho Valdes, Fantasia Cubana (Blue Note)
Another solo marathon from the maestro. Here he takes on Debussy, Ravel, and Chopin, as well as tackling some interpretations of Cuban folk material. Chucho's robust piano style has come in for some criticism (ignore the quibbles on Amazon, I think they are politically motivated) but he always wins in the end, this time on points rather than overwhelmingly. The classical pieces are still recognisable as such but the personal stamp is strong. So don't expect some Loussier-plays-Bach "lounge" affair. This is full-blooded piano jazz (Valdes can never serve up anything else). It is that mixture of muscularity and exquisite beauty that marks him as one of the contemporary scene's most individual talents. That and a formidable technical range. Whether these gifts are best suited to this more European project is a moot point. The classical re-workings are fine, but the best tracks on the album are "Sunrise", "My Reverie", "Fantasia Cubana", and "Tumbao" -- all more obviously Cuban in inspiration. If you are already a fan of the Valdes approach, alternately intense and delicate, there are all the usual pleasures here. Less committed fans may want to start elsewhere -- the previous live solo album for instance.
Paul Taylor, Steppin' Out (Peak)
This is absolutely orthodox smooth jazz, which means that the critics will hate it, anyone who already despises the genre will have all their prejudices confirmed, and saxophonist Paul Taylor's fans will lap it up. It's wind down from work music, whether from car stereo or expensive home hi-fi. Comfortable, suburban, and, within the limits it sets itself, highly successful. Taylor has a light, romantic tone; there is a lyrical quality to the tunes and a post-fusion aesthetic that stresses gentle rhythms and easiness of mood. "Steppin' Out" and "Let's Go out Tonight" have a softened-Crusaders feel and should suit FM radio particularly well. "Speakeasy" is a little tougher and more soulful. "Hacienda" and "Cantina" are mildly Latinised, and the statutory vocal track "Someone Watching over You" is rather wet. Yet individual tracks hardly matter. Either you like losing yourself in the dreamy, undemanding ethos of Taylor's (always accomplished) playing or it is just so much banal tosh. Though it is certainly background music, I found Steppin' Out pleasantly soothing rather than merely irritating, and so wish it and Mr. Taylor well.
Lou Dog, High Speed Secrets (Home Brew Jams)
Philadelphia-based indie rocker Lou Dog's latest, the five-track EP High Speed Secrets, is exactly as shaggy dog-friendly as his stage name would suggest. Intended as an appetizer to the forthcoming LP, 61 Old Depot, and recorded at the same time as the full length, High Speed Secrets isn't just the chaff from that session. Opener "Strangled by the Same" may be the best of the (small) bunch, with its perfect balance of Lou Dog's raspy vocals and his roots-rocky guitar (he played every instrument on the album), but there's no weak link in the chain, either. The titular track is, of course, slower and half-sung, but it lets Dog's beat lyrics shine through: "Most of the time I feel illegally parked" -- and it namechecks Joe Strummer's 1989 Earthquake Weather. "She's Like the Sea" favorably calls to mind Beck and features the watery guitar that is de rigeur in any water-themed song. Along those lines, album closer "Why Don't You Call Me" ends with a telephone busy signal; no one will accuse Lou Dog of excessive subtlety. Five songs aren't enough to get a full indication of Lou Dog's abilities -- though tracking down his 2002 debut Slowly Drifting might help -- but if this Fall's 61 Old Depot fulfills the promise laid down by High Speed Secrets, then indie-rock roots rocks fans will have reason to rejoice.