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Steely Dan, "Two Against Nature"; Liz Mandville Greeson, "Ready to Cheat" 

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Steely Dan, "Two Against Nature" (Warner Bros.) — After a busy, two-decade break during which they produced each other's solo projects, overmastered their studio-centric temperaments to embark on a few tours, and otherwise assiduously avoided making a new Steely Dan album, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen have, at last, succumbed. It is impressive as a study in session musicianship but utterly unengaging: preemptive Muzak of the first order from a pair of aging pop-jazz hipsters.
We who regard their seven previous albums as among the most absorbing in classic rock will be especially unsettled by this effort. While, on the surface, "Two Against Nature" more or less sounds like Steely Dan, 20 years later, that distinctive surface is all that remains. The songs themselves are but arrangements of their constituent instruments, and any heft or hooks they once bore have been refined to the point of insubstantiality. This is not Steely Dan at all, but Becker and Fagen indulging a peculiar jazz-and-funk fetish few will appreciate. Steely Dan — polished, anomalous, catchy and suffused with cool — is gone. — Rob Morano


Liz Mandville Greeson, "Ready to Cheat," (Earwig) — Throaty and sassy white-women blues singers for the most part tear me up. A little attitude and some great female vocal chops can sometimes do wonders, so I was curious about Greeson's second solo CD. But despite some good, down-in-the-bedroom-groove moments, the recently released "Cheat" never really takes off. The attitude is too relentless and strained, the band never gels and the singer's self-penned reefer-and-whiskey, sex-till-you drop tunes get old. There's nothing wrong with all this "reet petite ... you know what I want … got ta, got ta have those kisses" stuff, but just give me something more to go along with it.
The liner photo of an attractive, hip-swinging, tousled hair, black bra-clad Liz, her Mardi Gras beads flying, Fender Stratocaster dangling saucily from her neck sums up this effort in a colorful nutshell. That the woman has a voice is undeniable; she sells the ballad "How Could I Not Love You" with conviction and ends the set in church with "Goin' Home." But give me the soul of a Marcia Ball or Lou Ann Barton any night of the week. — Ames Arnold

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