Make The Music 2000
Rahzel, best known for his work as “human percussionist” with prolific hip-hop heroes The Roots, restores credibility to the oft-dismissed art of beat boxing on his debut full-length CD. The boy proves he’s got a gift for lyrics on the first single, “All I Know,” but there’s more to this album than catchy phrases. MTM 2000 also features strong guest performances from Q-Tip on “To the Beat” and Erykah Badu on “Southern Girl,” as well as input from Branford Marsalis and Me’Shell NdegeOcello on the jazzy, psychedelic funk of “Steal My Soul.” Other highlights include the “Wu Tang Live Medley,” on which he masterfully remakes “Wu Tang Clan Ain’t Nothing to Fuck With,” “Protect Ya Neck” (along with an assortment of kung-fu flick sound effects) and “If Your Mother Only Knew,” with Rah simultaneously providing both the beat and the chorus. And if that’s not enough, there’s a hidden track at the end that pits Rahzel against DJ Scribbles. — A.J. Woodson
With music one rung up the evolutionary ladder from Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey’s work as a duo, Vermont’s debut disc is a much-needed reminder that pop songs need not be complicated to be complex. Guitarist Davey VonBohlen and percussionist Dan Didier (taking a break from alternapop’s lauded Promise Ring) have teamed up with guitarist Chris Roseanau to produce this collection of sadly sweet musical miracles, which delights with quirky lyrics and deceivingly delicate melodies. More a folk-rock Rorschach test than a fully realized final product, the album is filled with less-than-perfect harmonies and off-kilter acoustic guitar picking that serve as an outline for listeners to shape and style as they wish. It is the notes that aren’t played and the words that are never sung that give these songs the power to draw in discerning lovers of cerebral college rock. — Valerie Acklin
LIVE IN TEXAS
Recorded at a handful of 1995 shows, Live In Texas gathers together Lovett’s 17-member Large Band for a romp though his considerable canon. Constantly shifting gears, Lovett gets funky (“Penguins”), has some gospel-soaked fun (“Church”) and taps into the spirit of Bob Wills with “That’s Right (You’re Not From Texas).” Through all of these musical travelogues, off-beat characters constantly crop up–whether it’s the hen-pecked husband of “She’s No Lady” or the lovelorn weirdo in the wonderfully brassy “Here I Am.” Balancing things out, this delightful live excursion also includes duets that feature strong female heroines, with Ricki Lee Jones helping out on the heartbreaking “North Dakota” and Francine Reed adding spice to the sassy “What Do You Do.” Such songs showcase Lovett’s capacity to pull together bits of genres to create a singular sound that’s not quite country, not quite rock ‘n’ roll, but definitely brilliant.
— Dave Gil de Rubio
Nothing from NdegeOcello’s previous efforts prepares you for the subtlety and depth of this album. Yes, she’s always been a sophisticated musician, but with Bitter it is clear that she has fully matured as an artist. The common theme in these songs is yearning, and NdegeOcello, along with producer Craig Street, has perfectly matched her erotic, angry, tender and lovestruck musings to insinuating arrangements of uncommon taste and musicality. On “Satisfy,” you’re was reminded of Prince’s early efforts, in which spare, steady funk are illuminated by dissonant waves of strings. NdegeOcello one-ups him, though, with sexuality that is never squirm-inducing and spirituality that is never preachy. Likewise, the string arrangements are concise and astringent, serving as vinegar more often than sugar. — Michael Murphy
With his coffeehouse wit and soft, melodic stringmanship, Northport’s Brendan O’Donnell will stir your java. Chocked with Live-esque realism, unforced solos and haunting vocals, his debut is a finely polished whisper of esoteric pop harmonies. The angelic “Elaine” rides on the surging violin of Marco Vitali, who backs O’Donnell’s determined crooning with progressive harmonic surges. The moody bass action and layered percussion of the alt-tinged “21st Century Love” strips songwriting down to its bare ass, with raw and introspective lyrics. Equally alluring is “Break,” which offers up a rollicking backwoods jam segment, and “These Moments,” which draws its power from snowballed rhythms of shifty backing chords. With an emphasis on lyric poesy and light orchestral motifs, this tunesmith will travel far. For more info call 516-527-9871 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.— Ron Strauss