Ben Folds Five ... The Nighthawks ... Jon Dee Graham 

CD Reviews

Ben Folds Five, "The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner"The Nighthawks "Still Wild"Jon Dee Graham, "Summerland"(Click on a CD title or cover to order that CD from Amazon.com)
Play These Songs"Narcolepsy""Don't Change Your Plans""Mess"

Real Audio RequiredBen Folds Five, "The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner" (550 Music) — This gem of a recording is another monster artistic step for this talented trio. The lyrics of the CD's 11 tunes deal with the gorgeous panorama of loss, regret, failure and hope that's accumulated along life's course, but they do so with a wit and a simplicity that's both smart and beautiful. The boys made the arrangements a little bolder and broader on this go 'round; sometimes they're cacophonous and dramatic, at other times they're minor-key dreamy or full of dynamic shifts.

Ben Folds sings about the loss of innocence with a simple, uncluttered voice that manages to reveal wistful, angry, cheerful and depressed moods within the space of a few phrases. There's still some welcome smarty-pants attitude rolling around that pokes fun at the maturation process, but for the most part, this is a thoughtful project. "Biography" is a striking effort from a great group of strange and talented cats.

— Ames Arnold

Play These Songs"Tiger In Your Tank""The Wild One""Cry Like A Man"

Real Audio Required The Nighthawks "Still Wild" (Ruf) — Though this hard working rock 'n' blues band is going into its 27th year, "Still Wild" shows the 'Hawks still cook. Mark Wenner's harp tone simmers and smokes, Pete Ragusa and Jan Zukowski lock the groove and Pete Kanaras plays a fine, tasteful guitar. There's a good mix of tempos and tunes and the effort should please longtime fans.

The disc's shortcoming, however, is a familiar one. Though "Still Wild" is better than the band's '80s recordings, it just doesn't capture the excitement and energy longtime fans fondly remember from those butt-kicking shows in sweaty little East Coast clubs and bars nationwide.

The 'Hawks have always been a great live band and certainly earned their rep as "World's Greatest Bar Band." It's just a shame they never reached the heights of contemporaries Stevie Ray and the Fabulous T-Birds because they deserved it. Nevertheless, "Still Wild" is a satisfying record from a band that's still swinging.

— A.A.

Play These Songs"A Place In The Shade""Half The Time""Big Sweet Life"

Real Audio Required Jon Dee Graham, "Summerland" (New West) — On "Summerland," Jon Dee Graham draws on his punk and rambling troubadour past to create an impressive array of tunes both compact in lyric and arrangement yet full of the complexities found in life's hard knocks. With a spirit that's influenced by folk and rock and a style that's always rough and real, Graham's 12 tough yet tender tunes portray a guy who embraces his fortunes at the same time he yearns for the unreachable.

Graham spearheaded the early-'80s Austin punk scene before teaming with Alejandro Escovedo to form True Believers. After the Believers went down in flames, Graham spent time in Los Angeles and Europe performing and writing. Eventually he returned to Austin and hooked up with Kelly Willis and others before he finally decided he was ready to make his own records.

"Summerland" is Graham's second solo disc and a promising indication that he's got plenty to say in a very real way.

— A.A.

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