Reviews of CDs by Dirtball, Carbon Leaf, Arthur Adams and Metallica 

Now Hear This

Dirtball, "Turn Up the Barn," (Planetary) — Recorded last summer amidst crickets and night sounds in a Goochland barn, this CD finds Dirtball in a typically off-the-cuff mode delving raucously and thoughtfully into its music. Its 10 tunes sketch desperate moonlight talks with God and whiskey, roadside goodbyes of truth and regret, and final toasts to memory and pain. Acoustic and electric guitars, organ, pedal steel, an almost-in-tune piano, drums and bass in turn crash and burn or rock easy. Vocalist Wes Freed with his weary yet soulfully point-blank baritone gets the most from these songs penned primarily by co-producers and band members Joshua Camp and Jeff Liverman. Liverman's wonderfully grim vision of liquor-soaked holiness is delightfully intact throughout and Camp checks in with songs of hopeful resignation; the chorus of "3 A.M." captures a sad kiss-off more succinctly than a boatload of bad poetry. "Barn" reveals a band that can express the mysteries of sorrow and joy in the same breath. The title of the record also gets my twisted vote as one of the best ever. Dirtball will hold a CD release party on Friday, Jan. 28 at the Canal Club, 17th and Cary streets. Call 643-CLUB for details. — Ames Arnold Carbon Leaf, "Ether/Electrified Porch Music" (Constant Ivy Music) — Carbon Leaf's version of Celtic-influenced, plugged-in acoustic '90s rock has its ups and downs. On the plus side, the sound and production are clear, there's a tough instrumental tightness that any band will envy and the shifting rhythms propel the songs in unpredictable twists and turns. But, while this is instrumentally a carefully crafted and well-produced effort, there are some weak links that prevent a full-blown rave review. First, the songs could benefit from editing the lyrics to a few well-chosen lines. Often the words fight with the instrumentation and this dulls the overall effectiveness of many songs. And second, after four or five songs — and certainly by the end of the 12-cut recording — my ears cry out for a change in the relentless mid-tempo attack. A radical switch in dynamics — a ballad, a straight-up rocker, a rhumba-boogie twist, even a cover tune — might make for a more varied listen. But bottom line, "Ether" effectively captures a talented and established band that continues to mature and evolve. — Ames Arnold Arthur Adams, "Back On Track," (Blind Pig) — While Adams is certainly no household name, his recently released CD is a strong effort worth the attention of those who like their blues tempered with a little West Coast urban soul. Throughout the 11 cuts included on "Track," Adams displays his talents as a solid guitarist, singer and songwriter; his single-note solos are concise and his smooth vocals are cutting while remaining tasty and true. His style turns on both humor and heart and he plays it straight down the groove. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Adams' main man B.B. King takes guitar and vocal turns on two cuts. But that said, it should be noted that if Adams' talents are not on par with King's world- class chops, he more than holds his own. Adams' performing résumé goes back to '60s and '70s studio and solo recording but it wasn't until recently that he re-emerged as a mainstay on the Los Angeles club scene. He may not wow listeners with his uniqueness, but Adams is a pleasing and capable artist who deserves a listen. — Ames Arnold Metallica, "S&M," (Elektra) — A metal band and a symphony orchestra? In concert? Remember when Deep Purple hired an orchestra? Dreadful. Or when the Moody Blues used strings? Schlocky. Could Metallica and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra fare better? Surprise. It works. Early on, Metallica spelled the project out: "We don't expect easy listening ... the band will match the 100-piece ensemble with full-on amplification." That they do, rocking like a house on fire while the orchestra whips up a symphonic storm. The result is a combination of Lollapalooza and the Bayreuth Festival. Thank conductor Michael Kamen, a classically trained musician who once fronted the underrated New York Rock Ensemble. He took 22 Metallica classics and wrote accompaniments that enhanced the band's onstage fury. For two hours plus, the two co-exist in some mighty sonic Valhalla. Kamen takes the symphony through bombastic, spaghetti Western/Wagnerian arrangements while Metallica thunders and roils with white-hot intensity. "S&M" won't do anything for the classical bunch, but it will bring metalheads the closest they'll ever get to Shostakovich. — Eric Feber, The Virginian-Pilot

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