Artist: Album (label, release date) 1-5 stars
Dead Can Dance: Momento: The Very Best of Dead Can Dance (Rhino, October 25, 2005) ****
Josh Joplin Group: The Best of the Josh Joplin Group (Artemis Nashville, October 18, 2005)***
Susan Tedeschi: The Best of Susan Tedeschi (Tone Cool, October 18, 2005) ***
Boy Sets Fire: The Day The Sun Went Out (Equal Vision, October 18, 2005) ***
Dead Can Dance: Momento: The Very Best of Dead Can Dance
In some respects, I’ve always been resistant to Dead Can Dance. I always thought of them as exotica more than anything else; languid grooves with a smorgasboard of sounds and textures copped from the world; worldbeat for people who can’t take the real thing undiluted. However, after encountering them in enough sets and settings in a variety of situations, I’ve come to appreciate their experimentation and their studio obsessive fusion of eastern and western motifs. So “The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove” is sultry and sinister, and Brendan Perry’s vocal has some soul. “Enigma of the Absolute” is wrapped around chiming keyboards and a string quartet, buried like ghosts under layers of studio haze. “The Song Of The Sibyl” benefits from Lisa Gerrard’s vocals, which mixes middle-eastern call-to-prayer touches with Gothic European. “Neirieka” offers a stew of eastern cues that is ominious and invigorating, with its cutting vocal and forward leaning percussion. It all still adds up to a lot of signifying that probably means nothing. But it ain’t pop music, and its studio accomplishments are pretty breathtaking. And nothing wrong with exotica either, you just have to be in the right frame of mind. Momento: The Very Best of Dead Can Dance is a handy fifteen-track sampler, probably all a non-convert needs. For those wanting more, Rhino’s earlier multimedia box Dead Can Dance 1981-1998 offers a complete portrait at a heftier price tag.
Josh Joplin Group: The Best of the Josh Joplin Group
If R.E.M. deserves credit for inspiring many 80’s roots-rock and jangle-pop bands, they should also be credited, for better and worse, for inspiring many 90’s adult alternative acts, too. Josh Joplin’s (no relation to Janis, nor Scott, for that matter) voice is almost a ringer for Michael Stipe, and his group has the guitars-with-muted-textures-in-back of 90’s era R.E.M. The lyrics tend towards impressionistic and vague, and the production is always tasteful. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The semi-hit “Camera One” is an excellent piece of radio fare; “Human” is an acoustic epic with a lilting melody and nice guitar work on the fills that builds into an almost psychedelic crescendo, the lyrics are overambitious but don’t trip themselves up. However, “I Am Not The Only Cowboy” opens with a ridiculous spoken rap over acoustic guitar before Joplin, sounding like Stipe again, sings the opening of the first verse, earnestly, “I am not the only cowboy in this one horse metaphor”. Then, the ridiculous rap returns after the verse. An enormous-sounding strings production wells up before the third rap. The rest of this displays similar pros and cons; some good vocals, some bad ones, some good ideas, some bad ones. The playing is solid throughout, even if the production gets a little corny. An apt comparison might also be Dave Matthews, who is a lot better. Best of Josh Joplin Group is kind of a misnomer; it collects only material from two of his five albums.
Susan Tedeschi: The Best of Susan Tedeschi
Tedeschi has been a somewhat controversial figure among blues aficionados since her debut album appeared in 1998. A white woman from a Boston suburb, her biography doesn’t read like a blues musician’s. She went to Berklee and was in a gospel ensemble; she formed her first road band in 1991 with singer/guitarist Adrienne Hayes. However, she’s played many blues festivals since then, and has remained true to the form. As a performer, she sounds a lot like a younger Bonnie Raitt, a good guitar practitioner and possessor of a rich, expressive voice. Like many 90’s-00’s blues performers, Tedeschi’s arrangements have a vaguely ornate, pop-oriented lilt to them and can tend towards wistful more than blue. Still, it’s pretty good stuff, the best being “Alone”, with its soulful horns, and the vaguely 50’s flavored “It Hurt So Bad”. Her version of Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” gets a gritty vocal and nice accompaniment by Tedeschi on guitar and a gospel-inflected organ solo. The Best of Susan Tedeschi is a 13-song sampler from blues lable Tone Cool that features 11 highlights from her two Tone Cool albums plus a pair of live cuts. It doesn’t include her more recent work for Verve.
Boy Sets Fire: The Day The Sun Went Out
Boy Sets Fire, from Delaware, is one of the many progressive punk/emo bands that emergered in the latter half of the alternative rock era. They made their full-length debut in 1997 with Day The Sun Went Out on Initial records. Like all emo, Nathan Gray’s vocals are a little on the histrionic side; however, he mixes things up enough to keep things fresh. Instrumentally, the band sounds like any number of punk post-grunge bands; on “In Hope” we get some good metallic riffs and plenty of tempo changes, “Pure” has propulsion and convincing rage, “Another Badge of Courage” is a pounder in the style of Rage Against The Machine. The band’s best assets are the twin guitars of Joshua Latshaw and Chad Istvan which play off each other or pummel in tandem. Matt Krupanski’s drums are crisp and always busy, bassist Darrell Hyde gets some good solos in. Their politics generally keep with emo culture; self-awareness, personal responsibility, independence without getting too specific. They get it all together on “The Power Remains The Same” which is also the closest they get to true punk, which has great guitar and drums, and Hyde’s most acute singing. In short; a pretty good record, but not one that stays with you long. Boy Sets Fire recorded another album for Initial in 1998, before going major. Their most recend disc, Tomorrow Come Today, came out in 2003.
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