Editor’s Note: In Sound Advice, the first Thursday of every month, veteran NEWS entertainment writer Dale McGarrigle reviews new rock, pop, alternative, country, folk or blues albums. Different NEWS writers contribute reviews from other musical genres.
“Nathan Michael Shawn Wayna” (Universal) – Boyz II Men
On this, their first album in three years, these Philly homeboys show why they are true doo-wop descendents, master harmonizers who prove many of today’s boy bands are but pale pretenders.
Not that the quartet are grizzled veterans themselves, breaking into the public consciousness with “MotownPhilly” while still students way back in … 1992. Hits like “End of the Road,” “I’ll Make Love to You,” “On Bended Knee,” “A Song For Mama” and “One Sweet Day,” their duet with Mariah Carey, have made them a force to reckon with.
Now Nathan Morris, Michael McCary, Shawn Stockman and Wayna Morris are back, again espousing the power of love on their first album for Universal, after a successful run on Motown. As is evident from their songwriting and producing, as well as their dynamite vocals, they haven’t forgotten anything during their absence from the scene.
Their new album is, naturally, ballad-heavy, since that’s how they made their reputation. The first single, “Pass You By,” is a perfect example of that. But the group also knows how to get down and groove, as is evident on “Beautiful
Women,” “Good Guy” and “Bounce, Shake, Move, Swing.”
It’s good to see Boyz II Men have returned to uphold the harmonious vocal traditions of groups such as The Temptations and The Spinners. They’ll still be going strong after many of today’s flavors of the month no longer are in sync.
“American III: Solitary Man” (American) – Johnny Cash
After narrowly escaping death twice in the last two years, it is evident that nothing can kill Johnny Cash, making it safe for country music fans everywhere to come out of hiding.
The Man in Black is back with a new album built on the foundation of what country was supposed to be in the first place – raw acoustic instruments and lyrics representing hard living.
“American III: Solitary Man” is a collection of new material and eight well-selected covers. The covers span generations of pop music, but have been stripped of any musical pretension.
Cash begins the album bellowing Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” in his trademark baritone. The song is fitting due to Cash’s battles with illness and his attitude and passion for music that kept him alive.
The most interesting selection on this collection is a cover of U2’s top-selling hit “One.” Cash keeps the formula simple, showing respect for the melody while making the words his own.
Each track is a slice of Cash’s life, and he brings in a number of guests to help get across his message. Petty, Sheryl Crow and Merle Haggard (who plays a stellar duet with Cash on the upbeat “I’m Leavin’ Now”) show respect for Cash not only by appearing on the album, but by not upstaging the man who has influenced hundreds of artists across all genres.
Cash still carries youthful enthusiasm with his senior musician status. As he says in his liner notes, “On the question of youth and old age, I wouldn’t trade my future for anyone’s I know.”
Given his return to the charts for the past decade, that’s a good idea. (By Matthew Paul)
“La Peste” (Columbia) – A3
So who’d have thought it? It appears that those gray clouds that loom over South London are not smog at all, but trail dust rushing from the spurs of A3.
“La Peste,” the second album from acid-house casualties and hellfire-summoners extraordinaire, Larry Love and The Very Reverend Dr. D Wayne Love, swaggers with self-belief, sounds as evil as a bite from Cerberus, and makes you want to dance like Pinnochio.
If anyone doubts the band should be bigger than the blue Dakota skies, it is neither them, nor me.
Despite having oozed out of Brixton, A3 is a band that inhabits a world far from Coldharbour Lane; a frontier land where preachers mutter sermons into whiskey bottles while their daughters lust for cowboys. The Morricone inferences that open “Too Sick to Pray” provide only a rancid fanfare for Larry’s damned growl that hints at horrors no cowboy, or his hoss should ever witness. Then he takes his testimony forward, leaving love songs to flutter like torn paper in the bleached alleys of the town he has left behind.
Strong stuff by the close of Track One. Four songs into the record, you’re reeling. And just when you think the last card is on the table, the band decides to throw in “Hotel California,” reformed into a sweeping, bleeping vision, and easily the best version of the wretched song since Kid With Man Head took a stab at it.
Preaching to the perverted has never sounded so good. (By Adam Corrigan)
“Chipmunks Roasting on an Open Fire” (Atlantic) – Bob Rivers
The king of Christmas parodies has returned with a new, laugh-packed release just in time for the holidays.
Seattle radio personality Rivers is back with his fourth Christmas-themed album. You would think there only would be so much that can be done with such a topic, but he has come out with clever variations on a theme.
One approach Rivers takes in putting new lyrics to old Christmas favorites, which results in the title cut (sung by a Nat King Cole imitator), “Christmas Party Song” and “Flu Ride.”
This album isn’t for the kiddies, as there are more than a few vulgar sections. But Rivers also offers such socially relevant twists as “Carol of the Bartenders” and “Homeless for the Holidays.”
The best songs on the album come when he takes rock classics and turns them into holiday comedies, complete with impressionist singers. These include a Springsteen sound-alike on “Santa Claus is Foolin’ Around,” the Creedence-like “Goin’ Up to Bethlehem” and the Beach Boys takeoff “Decorations.”
Rivers isn’t for everybody. But instead of picking up yet another celebrity Christmas album, take a look for “Chipmunks Roasting on an Open Fire.” It’s worth the effort.