Reviews of CDs by Travis, deathray and Allan Bibey 

Now Hear This

Travis, "The Man Who," (Sony/Epic) — If you've even heard of the Scottish band Travis, the next word you've undoubtedly heard is Radiohead. The comparisons between the two are warranted. "The Man Who" might as well be titled "The Man Who Sounds Eerily Like Thom Yorke." Since the producer of Radiohead's masterpiece "OK Computer" also produced "The Man Who," comparisons are unavoidable. Simply replace Radiohead's dark themes of technological isolation and desolation and longing for alien abduction with themes of romantic isolation and desolation and longing for love, and you've got Travis. But this is not Radiohead Lite.

These are songs that stand very much on their own, and if they were given the time of day on radio would feel like a refreshing breeze among the stifled air of so many Goo Goo Dolls and Matchbox Twentys.

"The Man Who" offers song after song rich with melody and achingly good pop hooks. If you are impervious to the hooks on songs like "Writing to Reach You" and "Why Does It Always Rain On Me?" you are truly made of wood. Fran Healy's vocals and Andy Dunlop's guitar (along with tinges of piano and even harmonica at times) blend into gorgeous, delicate arrangements that wash over you quietly, but powerfully, like an ocean wave.

But amid all the loss of love and moping (as in "Why does it always rain on me? Is it because I lied when I was seventeen?") the boys of Travis do have a sense of humor, especially about pop music. They ponder (in a song that charmingly mimics Oasis) "and what is a wonderwall anyway?" It'll take you three-and-a-half minutes to get to the three hidden tracks (don't even get me started about hidden tracks), but they are worth the wait.

Travis have had the faint whiff of Next Big Thing about them with "The Man Who." They're not that yet, but they are filling in the blank quite nicely.

— Janet Giampietro

Deathray, "deathray," (Capricorn) — I keep trying to put this in the massive pile of CDs that fills up the back recesses of my closet, but the darn thing just won't go away. Full of catchy pop-rock hooks, sunny harmonies and crunch, deathray's eponymous release gets better with each listen. The brainchild of two former members of CAKE, this California-based quintet plays a straight-up, accessible brand of rock that's full of melody and charm. The songs are short and to the point, and sometimes can recall Elvis Costello without the sneer. "Lunatic Friends" buzzes with fun while "What Would You Do?" is a two-minute and 40 second blast of pure pop pleasure. When studio effects get in the way or when synthesizers replace guitars — as they do in too many spots — the project takes on a strangely detached feel. But, overall, "deathray" paints a musical portrait of a band with promise.

— Ames Arnold

Allan Bibey, "In the Blue Room" (Sugar Hill) — Mandolin player Allan Bibey's first solo album, "In the Blue Room," has all the right bluegrass parts and some unexpected ones as well. Bibey picked up the mandolin at age 5 after showing interest in the instrument at a Bill Monroe concert. Since then, he has been winning awards, playing in the bluegrass circuit, and listening to jazz guitar legend Django Reinhardt. Speckled among the more traditional bluegrass songs of Bill Monroe's "Evening Prayer Blues" and reels by bluegrass mandolinist Hershel Sizemore, Bibey slips in an energetic gypsy-jazz interpretation of "Wild Fiddler's Rag" and ends with an outstanding blend of all of the above in "Sure Fire."

But "In The Blue Room" is foremost a bluegrass album, and Bibey is playing with some of the best. New-grass legend Tony Rice and dobro player Jerry Douglas jump in for a few tracks, and Del McCoury shows up for "Country Fool." Bibey is also backed by some amazing guitar work by Tim Stafford, and gets the much-needed vocal assistance from Ronnie Bowman and Dan Tyminski. Bibey is a competent singer, but not a unique nor a strong one. But this is a minor flaw compared to his fastidious, and sometimes breakneck finger work. And although Bibey's mandolin influences extend to the jazz sounds of Dave Appolon and Jethro Burns, he does not focus the album on creating another bluegrass hybrid, like the somewhat repetitive jazz-grass projects of Bela Fleck. The distinctions between the two forms stay respectfully clear, and when the gypsy-jazz styles do mix with traditional bluegrass, the result is refreshing.

— Kevin Finucane

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