Drifting Through, "Spell;" Gipsyland, "Viva la Musica;" Ray Wylie Hubbard, "Crusades of the Restless Knights" 

Now Hear This

Drifting Through, "Spell" (Turning Norman) — For its first full-length CD, this Raleigh-based band ostensibly cut their jam-happy tendencies short in favor of shorter radio-friendly tunes, and at the onset this plan works. "McMurphy" and "Sweetest Thing" rock with plenty of punch, dynamics and sense of tone. Bandleader, lead singer and featured songwriter Randall Kirsch sings with plenty of urgency. The songs are not particularly unique, but there's a style about it all that stamps Drifting Through as a band with its own groove, full of fire and spirit.

Keyboardist Brian Werner shines on B-3 and piano adding plenty of rumbling, lush drive to the sound. Musical layers build dramatically during the tale of broken love told in "Suggestion;" guitars conjure images of howling storms in "Hatteras." But somewhere about halfway through the 12-song disc, there's a shift and the band slides into Allman Brothers-wannabe mode. The band remains remarkably tight, if overly percussive and predictable, and if it were 1970, these guys would have something. But here in 2000, Drifting Through is a musically talented group that will appeal to post-college listeners who are hooked on a sound that passed its heyday decades ago. Drifting Through plays Alley Katz March 9.

Ames Arnold

Gipsyland, "Viva la Musica" (Hollywood Records) — On a recent trip to Spain, my husband and I spent an average of two hours per day driving though the countryside. This gave us plenty of time to tune in to Spanish radio, and we soon realized that despite a plethora of stations, we had two listening options: bad European pop music with laughable lyrics like, "There's a brand new McDonald's on Sunset Boulevard," or contemporary flamenco-styled sounds. Although the pop provided some comic relief, we mostly stuck with the flamenco, a fitting accompaniment to the olive-grove studded vistas.

Even if you've never traveled to Spain, Gipsyland's "Viva la Musica" will transport you to this culturally rich land. Fronted by former Gipsy Kings touring vocalist Kiki Motos, Gipsyland melds the trademark percussive guitars of traditional flamenco with modern drums, bass and keyboards for a worldly sound. The lyrics may be sung in Spanish, but the appeal of this music is universal — you don't need to understand what is being said to feel the joyful urgency of Gipsyland's nuevo flamenco. And Motos strong, keening voice adds an exotic emotional element to the mix. This is great music to put on when you need an escape from the daily grind. It almost makes me wish I had bought those castanets ...

Jessica Ronky Haddad

Ray Wylie Hubbard, "Crusades of the Restless Knights," (Philo) — Texas singer-songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard has a great sense of humor and he's no doubt needed it through the years he has spent knocking around the Southeast. Like many a contemporary in the cosmic cowboy/barroom bard tradition that grew out of the late '60s, Hubbard takes an independent look at the spin on life's merry-go-round. And like the best of those contemporaries, Hubbard has recently emerged to wider critical acclaim.

"Crusades" shows why this tough and weary character is finding new fans with his folksy tunes. Each cut here is a look deep into a questioning soul, a soul that's seen some delicious, if not particularly recommended, bends in the road. With tactile and taut poetics, Hubbard talks with the devil and sings of women in red. His drawling dreamscapes take listeners into lands of fear and warmth, and his vistas invite with a wary smile. Both hilarious and somber, "Crusades" is highly recommended; it may take a listen or two but the rewards are well worth the time. —A.A.


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