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Semisonic "All About Chemistry," Various "Wintertime Blues — The Benefit Concert," The Glands "The Glands," Circuit Riders, "Deed of Trust" 

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Semisonic, "All About Chemistry" (MCA Records) — When Semisonic scored a major hit with "Closing Time" in 1998, it was a long-overdue reward. Band members Dan Wilson and John Munson had been kicking around the scene for a decade, first as key contributors to Trip Shakespeare, a band that had released a string of fine albums in the 1980s and early '90s. Following that group's breakup, Wilson and Munson reemerged in 1996 fronting Semisonic and made a solid debut. Now they front a whole new challenge — delivering on the expectations that come with having had a double-platinum CD. "All About Chemistry" meets the challenge by showing a new depth and maturity in the band's songs.

On the whole, "All About Chemistry" isn't as immediately catchy as the first two Semisonic CDs because many of the new songs explore an understated mid-tempo sound. But songs like "I Wish," "Follow" and "She's Got My Number" feature sturdy melodies, plus multihued arrangements and instrumentation that make them blossom with additional listens. Even songs that kick up the tempo slightly — such as "Bed," "Who's Stopping You?" and "Get A Grip" — show that Semisonic has taken a significant step up in its ability to pack songs with sonic and melodic delights.

Of course, by creating a CD that lacks some of the immediacy of "Feeling Strangely Fine" and "Great Divide," Semisonic may have a harder time catching the attention of radio. But for the patient listener, the new CD suggests that the musical chemistry enjoyed by this group has only grown stronger.

— Alan Sculley



Various, "Wintertime Blues — The Benefit Concert" (Evil Teen) — This two-disc project is a jam-band lover's dream. Recorded live at Warren Haynes' 11th Annual Christmas Jam benefit for Habitat for Humanity, this set features guitar-heavy tunes from players including Gov't Mule, Edwin McCain, Col. Bruce Hampton and the Derek Trucks Band. North Carolinians Cry of Love reunite for the first time in five years and Susan Tedeschi also drops by to add her voice and guitar. Even Little Milton makes a surprising appearance. But with the exception of Milton, the performers crank out one over-long, hybrid-blues assault after another. Trucks and Tedeschi do add a touch of dynamics on "Just Won't Burn," and Tedeschi offers a change of pace with "Angel From Montgomery." But basically what's here is plenty of swooping slide attack and upper-register guitar indulgence.

But by the sound of the crowd noise on the recording, there were plenty in attendance that would disagree with those sentiments and, bottom line, this is a worthy effort if only because it benefits a good cause. I just wish McCain had at least tuned his acoustic guitar for the opening two cuts, but I guess that detail slipped by.

— Ames Arnold



The Glands, "The Glands" (Capricorn Records) — The alternative-music mecca of the 1980s, Athens, Ga., still proves itself virile in producing quality musical acts that adhere to the ways of old. One such band is The Glands. While its music falls into the same class as Pavement and Dinosaur Jr., The Glands have also borrowed heavily from the sounds of 1960s pop. Dare I compare them at times to The Beatles. All of the components are here: upbeat songs with catchy choruses; tight harmonies coming from backing vocals; and the occasional string section as a finishing touch. Likewise, slow moody numbers rear their heads when called for, as with the opening cut, "Livin' Was Easy." The group's straightforward pop songs like "When I Laugh," "Lovetown," "Swim-Prelude" and "Work It Out" sit best with me, but the whole of the album is a fairly sound creation. What this group is trying to accomplish with its newest self-titled effort is great, since so few bands are reviving the '60s in such an inventive way. No carbon copies here, only a unique interpretation of what might have been.

— Angelo DeFranzo



Circuit Riders, "Deed of Trust," (Planetary) — If every tune on "Trust" were like the last cut, this project would really score. By song's end, "Midnight Traffic" rocks with intensity and passion as it grabs the ear and makes you hungry for more. Instead, what we have here is a batch of story songs that are fine enough, but that aren't terribly compelling either musically or lyrically. Most of the tunes lope along in an amiable mid-tempo mode, creating an overriding sameness that keeps the fire from igniting.

Musically, snatches of the Byrds, Bob Dylan, a little Tom Petty and a lot of Jerry Garcia's boys circa "Workingman's Dead" abound as the songs kick off with a guitar figure, drums and cymbals. But somehow it all comes across sounding a bit too pat. Likewise, the lyrics and stories are full of visual and tactile touchstones, but they don't really engage. "Ballad of Caleb James" — the story of a Rebel soldier hung for desertion on the eve of Lee's surrender — does unfold with a certain irony. But too many of the other songs rely on the difficult trick of capturing an authentic sense of time and place. How successfully that works here is debatable.

— A.A.
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