The Churchills, "You Are Here"; Shawn Colvin, "Whole New You"; Delbert McClinton, "Nothing Personal"; Eric Taylor, "Scuffletown"; Rehab, "Sample This"; Atom and His Package, "Redefining Music."
Now Hear This
The Churchills, "You Are Here" (Abrupt/Universal Records) Looks can sometimes be deceiving. While the album graphics of The Churchills' new release "You Are Here" screams "music for raves," the group actually plays a fresh mix of pop and alternative rock. The band has been featured in various ways on television shows ("Spin City" and "The Sopranos") and in independent films ("Too Tired To Die" and "Surrender Dorothy") even while Billboard magazine was calling them "one of New York's best unsigned bands." Since then, The Churchills have been picked-up by a major label. They've also received production help from ex-Crowded House member Mark Hart and Steve Dudas (songwriter and current guitarist for Ringo Starr's band) for their new effort.
While guitarist/singer Ron Haney handles the bulk of the vocal duties with "Gonna Take a Lot to Stay" and the Beatlesque "Cars" being particularly of note second guitarist Kim Henry also makes a welcome lead-vocal appearance on "Headstrong" and "Maybe Make Me Okay." Over the course of the album the two share soaring harmonies that are as catchy and beautiful as the pop music The Churchills create.
Shawn Colvin, "Whole New You" (Columbia Records) There seem to be two Shawn Colvins at work on her latest CD: The poppy Colvin, who wants to build on the breakthrough success of her hit single "Sunny Came Home," and the folkier, incisive and more understated Colvin, who immediately made an impact on the folk scene with the 1989 album "Steady On." Fortunately, both sides of Colvin are pretty good.
With songs like "Bound To You," "Anywhere You Go," and "Whole New You," Colvin gives radio programmers what they want. These songs, with their likable, easygoing melodies, and arrangements that are tastefully fleshed out with drums, keyboards and electric guitar, all sound like they could be hits.
The other half of "Whole New You" seems less concerned with reaching the masses. On "Another Plane Went Down," "One Small Year" and "Mr. Levon" Colvin lets her weighty and smartly crafted lyrics, and the understated charm of her melodies do the work. But even with these contrasts in style, "Whole New You" doesn't sound schizophrenic. Colvin shows she can have her music both ways and succeed quite nicely.
Delbert McClinton, "Nothing Personal," (New West) "Nothing Personal" is a departure from the expected rhythm-and-blues vibe Delbert McClinton has mastered during his decades in the music business. This release was co-produced with longtime partner Gary Nicholson and released on his own label, so McClinton was able to do things exactly how and when he wanted. The result is a tasty blend of original blues, country and pop.
At age 60, McClinton shows he can still rock with the best as he blasts along on the rowdy roadhouse tunes "Livin' it Down" and "Squeeze Me In." Things turn a bit swampy for "Gotta Get it Worked On," and McClinton heads south of the border for the lost-love story "When Rita Leaves." McClinton hits full-country stride for the regret of "Birmingham Tonight," and greases a Jimmy Reed groove for "Nothin' Lasts Forever," before showing off a jazzier side on "All There Is of Me." McClinton's road band Kevin McKendree, Todd Sharp, Lynn Williams and George Hawkins provide much of the instrumental juice, but McClinton also employs such stellar guests as Johnny Lee Schell and Benmont Tench. McClinton doesn't play enough harp to suit these ears, but that's a small quibble.
"Nothing Personal" may not be autobiographical, but as a labor of love, this project is personal, revealing more sides to one of America's grittiest and soulful performers.
Eric Taylor, "Scuffletown," (Eminent) - Artists such as Nanci Griffith and Lyle Lovett name Taylor as an influence, and one listen to this collection reveals why. Shrouded in spare acoustic guitar arrangements and serious intent, Taylor's nine folk-style originals strike directly at the heart of the matter. The song's characters might be "the uptown fella' with the alligator shoes," the hardworking family scuffling for a living, or the haunted devil-child "clean as gospel blood," but, in the end, everyone has a broken heart. Taylor' s finely detailed and carefully crafted songs hold urgent truths and unyielding questions to raise at the final, serious sunset. Included in the set are two classic Townes Van Zandt songs, "Where I Lead Me" and "Nothin'." The latter tune wraps this excellent CD in the appropriate cloak of sacred and horrible solitude.
Rehab, "Sample This," (Destiny Music/Epic Records) This sampling of songs from Rehab's forthcoming debut album, "Southern Discomfert," reminds me of all the things I hate about suburban white boys who try to rap. These are bored teen-agers with only the slightest bit of musical worldliness, using as their yardstick faux rap bands that don't even measure up an inch. Gone are the days of the fun "Rapper's Delight," angry "Straight Outta' Compton" and the festive call to arms, "Fight For Your Right," which were all written by talented artists.
Unfortunately, garbage like Rehab is here to stay. Their generic guitar licks supplement whack raps, rotten background samples and embarrassing lyrics about how many asses they've kicked and drugs they've ingested. The Southern spin they put on their persona doesn't sweeten this tainted stew either. If record companies used some sense and stopped releasing trash like this the music world would be a better place.
Atom and His Package "Redefining Music" (Hopeless Records)- Take a punk rocker, a Yamaha sequencer (the "package"), a lot of angst, and goofy and clever lyrics and you have Atom and His Package, one of the strangest acts on the East Coast.
On "Redefining Music," Atom's fourth album, there's more guitar, more backing vocals from his friends and quieter bits of sequencing. From the opening chords of "Undercover Funny," to his fingernails-on-a-chalkboard yearnings on his cover of Madonna's "Open Your Heart," everything rocks in Atom's own special way.
Humor is what makes Atom worth hearing. He picks on a business partner in "Undercover Funny" and rips off "Shopping Spree," a song by a surrealistic bar band, the Dali Llamas. Here, he keeps the chorus and rewrites lyrics telling how the band stole the song from him.
Atom's more than a clown, he's quick to make a blunt social statement. "Anarchy Means I Litter" picks at music fans who don't want to pay for tunes. The vilest statement is "If You Own The Washington Redskins, Then You're A Cock" where we find Atom detests the use of Native -American sports mascots. If you cringe at the title of this song, then you might want to avoid Atom. If not, it will be everything you expect.
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