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March 18, 2008

CD Reviews for 3-19-08

Everywhere At OnceLyrics Born(ANTI)Rappers and punks have a lot in common. They both share an amazing talent for the DIY mentality. They both have a very distinct sense of style and fashion that is instantly recognizable, then just as quickly co-opted by mainstream followers seeking a vicarious thrill. So when a label like Epitaph (through its Anti- subdivision) enters the rap business, it doesn’t come as a shock, or an ill fit. In fact, these forays have included some of the most acclaimed hip-hop albums of the last few years: The Coup’s Pick a Bigger Weapon, Michael Franti and Spearhead’s Yell Fire, and DangerDoom’s The Mouse and The Mask. Lyrics Born’s Everywhere At Once continues this trend. Funky as hell, the album, though strongly “indie,” borrows heavily from the early 1990s “g-funk” of his California home. This is also his first album to use his great live band, and it shows in the energy and drive infused in every track. While upon multiple listenings it may appear a bit overlong, you will easily miss this because you’ll be too busy dancing your ass off. —Damien McPhersonWarpaintThe Black Crowes(SILVER ARROW)America’s most underappreciated rock ’n’ roll band has returned triumphant.While The Black Crowes have yet to put out a disappointing album, this record certainly feels more urgent than their last two studio efforts: 2001’s Lions and 1998’s By Your Side. Obviously the time off has served the band well. They’ve mended some fences personally and professionally, and returned to the creative well they know best: raw, blues-based, unadorned rock ’n’ roll.    On Warpaint, the songs are gritty slices of the American experience as seen or imagined by soulful singer Chris Robinson. The first single, “Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution,” is one hell of an album opener for this or any other record, really. “Locust Street” is a touching portrait of Anywhere, America, where anything can happen, but nothing usually does. And their rough-and-tumble blues rendition of the gospel classic “God’s Got It” ends up being one of the most inspired covers in years.    If the lyrics and Chris Robinson’s vocals don’t do it for you, the dance going on between guitarists Rich Robinson and Luther Dickinson’s instruments is well worth the price of admission. —Brent OwenDreaming of RevengeKaki King(VELOUR)King’s an instrumental ace whose interests stay mostly in inventive folk-rock. And she doesn’t seem to think about chords a whole helluva lot. But she’s got a great ear for detail, and her work has been heard on a couple of recent film soundtracks.Now, on her second full-length, she sings a few tracks. There’s not much of precision, power or sustain in her voice. But before starting up the conveyor belt toward the cutout bin, listen closer. When she judiciously sprinkles effects on top of multi-tracked finger-picking, or gives a wispy reading of lyrics that gradually accumulate in bitterness, King demonstrates marvelous command of dynamics, plus surprising ease at composing for vocalists.Her airy-center-and-odd-harmony singing may seem leagues behind all the instrumentalist quality, but it’s effective if you think of it as just more imperfect studio noise — that happens to convey clever words. Some stronger melodic stretches would’ve made this an idiosyncratic little masterpiece. Instead, it’s a highly interesting affair that doesn’t get sufficiently far away from meandering. —T.E. LyonsS/TRetribution Gospel Choir(CALDO VERDE)Alan Sparkhawk and Matt Livingston might want to think about building those ships that people put inside bottles. They seem to want to have a hobby. For most people, being in Low would be enough. Even after almost 15 years, Low remain one of the most beautiful bands around.With this side band, presumably formed in the garage, the boys go back to the basics and just play some pretty basic rock music. Nothing special.It’s well played by experienced professionals, but lacking in blood, spirit and heart. When Sparkhawk’s wife, Mimi Parker, occasionally pops in to add her vocals, they become Low, and all is forgiven. Producer Mark Kozelek does a fine job of recording the band, but one also misses his songwriting abilities.I’m not mad, just a bit disappointed. I might be less forgiving if I’d had to pay for my copy, though. —Peter Berkowitz“Body of War” SoundtrackVarious Artists(SIRE)How do you argue with a collection of songs compiled for charity by a paralyzed Iraqi war veteran’s documentary about himself?For starters, I wouldn’t include Flavor Flav, of all people, repeatedly chanting that George W. Bush is “the son of a bad man.” Lupe Fiasco, Spearhead and Dilated Peoples fill the first disc of this soundtrack with equally ignorant platitudes. Not to mention Serj Tankian, the most obnoxious voice in rock, who shows up not once but twice on disc one. Even Eddie Vedder’s original song “No More” seems creatively barren, seeing as it’s the only original song to pop up on either CD.It picks up after disc one, though. Bright Eyes offers up the incendiary “When the President Talks to God.” Kimya Dawson, who has recently received much attention on account of her considerable contributions to the “Juno” soundtrack, adds the wonderfully bleak “Anthrax.” Classic protest anthems by John Lennon, Neil Young and Tom Waits are also thrown in.This would have been a great single disc collection, but since you’ve heard it all before it comes off as little more than a bad anti-war themed mixtape. —Brent OwenThe UnfairgroundKevin Ayers(LOMAX)Scores of modern indie rock groups can’t shake their fascination with ’70s prog and ’60s psychedelia (small wonder: Many of the best-sounding records were made then).    That’s why Soft Machine founder Kevin Ayers’ return from a 16-year hiatus feels like perfect timing.    In its heyday, The Soft Machine helped usher in the British psychedelic movement, and it gigged with Syd-Barrett-era Pink Floyd, though it never Floyd’s legendary status.Known for his expansive, and expensive, recordings ($32,000 for 1974’s Confessions of Dr. Dream & Other Stories — a big sum then), Ayers’ eye for smooth, shimmering details shines through (“Friends And Strangers” and “Cold Shoulders”) is matched only by the lengths he’ll go to achieve it. Unfairground features no less than 26 guest musicians.Ayers’ voice sounds world-weary and solemn, but thankfully his “reap what you sow” mentality stands apart from the record’s lofty, spot-on structures. If that isn’t enough, members of Teenage Fanclub, Neutral Milk Hotel and Architecture in Helsinki appear in fine fashion. —Mat Herron