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Roy Jones, Jr., Body Head Bangerz Volume One (Universal) Rating: 6
There's nothing like listening to a punch-drunk boxer, known for having a big mouth and the boxing skills to back it up, dish out some jabs of the lyrical variety. Especially when his name is Roy Jones Jr. and he's not bad enough that you'd slam your headphones down in disgust. Body Head Bangerz Volume One is a hype-filled crunk fest, littered with well-known durrty south MCs Juvenile, Petey Pablo, and Lil' Flip. But remarkably, Jones' gruff delivery holds his own as evident on album opener "Can't Be Touched". Courtesy of Timothy "Fingerz" Spencer, the production is all sinister synth lines and calculated drum beats. It has the texture of the trash-talking banter boxers engage in when they're on the ropes ("Don't Start It"). This album has more energy than 10 servings of Crunk Juice and no nasty aftertaste. A flurry of punchy singles is what Jones delivers and in the end, it's more than enough to knock your ass out. [Amazon]
Kate McGarry Mercy Streets (Palmetto) Rating: 4
Folksinger McGarry is blessed with a technically accurate yet vulnerable voice. She would've made a perfect indie chanteuse in the early 1990s. As it is, this covers-heavy set shows off her jazz background; it would sound just as at home in a cocktail lounge as a coffeehouse. Norah Jones's success may have opened a commercial door that singers like McGarry, with her tastefully mellow arrangements, can step through. Some interesting cover choices (Peter Gabriel on the almost-title track, Björk's "Joga") share space with some obvious ones (Joni Mitchell, Irving Berlin's "How Deep Is the Ocean"); but, over an hour, the tastefulness gives way to tedium. [Amazon]
Aqui, First Trip Out (Ace Fu) Rating: 4
There's a Jekyll & Hyde thing going on throughout Aqui's First Day Out. On one hand, you have well crafted, blown-out spaceship explorations populated by otherworldly beats. On the other, you have a car crash of grind and prog, with massive dreams and ear-shredding riffs. Unfortunately, Aqui can't bring the two opposing musical forces together into one any sort of cohesive sound, and tend to succeed in their more cerebral efforts. "Dawn" is a fine dubbed-out foray into trip-hop; "Open!" is a blissful two minutes of Prefuse 73-styled electronica, while the theatrical "Under the Wake" sounds like a ballad stolen from a '70s concept rock album. These tracks are breaths of fresh air between the tracks where Aqui crank the amps to 11 and dish out their tired brand of metal. Tracks like "Eye of the Battle", "Action!", and "There as It Bleeds" are forgettable and dull and no doubt serve as ample fodder for their famed live show. There is a half a good album here, you'll just have to work you're way through some mediocre pap to find it. [Amazon]
The Violents, Baby EP (self-released)
The Violents are a band whose aspirations never quite lived up to their reality. You can hear how badly the all-female trio wants to be Sleater-Kinney, but the sad fact is they never even got close. The band's Baby EP, while only their second recording, is the Champaign-Urbana, Illinois group's swan song, as the band broke up shortly before its release. It's a glaring example of hype over substance, and an over-reliance on played-out "Grrl" shtick that honestly made me cringe. It's 2005, not 1992.
Baby EP is not an easy listen, as the band is so limited by their rudimentary skills in playing their respective instruments and singing that I have to wonder if they're really deserving of a review here at all. There is absolutely nothing here to speak of musically, and the lyrics are full of tired and infantile rock clichés that are, quite frankly, embarrassing. Swagger can only get you so far, and then you have to be able to back it up with your songs. Again, there's nothing here.
There is a difference between wanting to be in a band and being driven to make music. Clearly, the three members of The Violents fall into the former camp. While I applaud their moxie, and I'm sure it was a fun ride for all of them, the fact remains that this is really amateurish stuff. From the silly songs to the lame banter that peppers the cd (including the "hidden track," which is nothing more than the band members laughing stupidly at their own ineptness; who wants to listen to this?), it's not terribly surprising that the band never made any headway. Comparisons to Sleater-Kinney, The Breeders, and Juliana Hatfield are there simply because the press release is trying to make the most of the fact that The Violents are women, and nothing more.
I love punk rock. The Baby EP is not punk rock. It's sloppy, silly and immature high school type of stuff set to repetitive one-string guitar riffs. I'm a little bothered by the fact that a band like this would garner this much attention while also being mentioned in the same breath as Sleater-Kinney and Chrissie Hynde merely because they share the same gender. Taken on its own merit, The Violents' Baby EP doesn't even deserve mention next to these other innovative musicians. If you want something by an all-female punk trio, go buy an old Babes In Toyland album instead and skip this one.
Bryan Adams, Room Service (Mercury) Rating: 6
Twenty years after his career blossomed, I got to see Bryan Adams in the flesh last summer. It's a rite of passage for a Canadian -- you see Adams, you see the Tragically Hip, you see Blue Rodeo and you're not deported. All the hits were there but unfortunately his sound and set seemed so custom-made for the casino circuit that it left an odd, unsatisfying taste in my mouth. "East Side Story" is standard easy going radio fare that doesn't jump out at you but doesn't really make you gag. Safe. Very, very safe. "This Side of Paradise" is basically the same -- soft, sappy pop rock that sounds like Adams is willing to ballad-ize his future albums to a science. It has a bit more bite, but a bite like that of a Dachshund with false teeth. "Nowhere Fast" is a song Rod Stewart has wanted the last 10 years but never got. "Not Romeo Not Juliet" has a roots-y Wallflowers-ian slant to it yet is only okay. There's nothing fantastic here, nothing really very good, although "Flying" does have its moments as does the lead single "Open Road". The highlight might be the understated "I Was Only Dreamin'" which is pop done with a well-used orchestral slant. [Amazon]