- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 7, 2001

CHITLIN' FOOKS
Self-titled
(Parasol Records)
American country music receives homage from the Low Countries in this new release. Chitlin' Fooks is primarily Carol van Dyk, lead singer of the Dutch indie-pop band Bettie Serveert, and Belgian Pascal Deweze from the band Sukilove. With about 30 of their Belgian musical friends, the two have compiled a sincere collection of original and classic country standards. The original songs tend to be more of the crooning, contemplative type, perfect for Miss van Dyk's trademark soft, seductive and matter-of-fact vocal style, with the clever "Not Enough Tears" and Mr. Deweze's "You Dream of Him" mining traditional country themes of lovelorn loss.
Although the majority of songs are pleasant, they don't break new ground. This, of course, is the nature of the beast when making such an album. Similar to Elvis Costello in his string quartet phase, Chitlin' Fooks is a case of artists wanting to perform a style of music they enjoy. Whether the listener likes the sound is a secondary concern. Nevertheless, it's hard not to enjoy the warmth and earnestness these Euros bring to our good ole American music, best expressed in two golden chestnuts, Washington Phillips' "Mother's Last Words to Her Son" and Jimmie Rodgers' "Mississippi Delta Blues." Chitlin' Fooks plays at the Black Cat tonight.

— Joe Schaeffer

SCANNERFUNK
Wave of Light by Wave of Light
(Sulphur Records)
Some would argue that music without rhythm is just noise and that "new music" artists such as Scanner, aka John Rimbaud, may produce interesting sounds, but are not creating music.
With side project Scannerfunk, Mr. Rimbaud is definitely making music. Stepping lightly from ambient to techno and back, "Wave of Light by Wave of Light" is a lush, danceable mix that brings intelligence back to a genre which has become soulless rote.
Comparisons have been made to Kraftwerk, but Scannerfunk is not cold, just crisp, with a funk infusion to keep it simmering. The album, distributed stateside by the Beggars Group, is a must for any dance maven.
London-born and London-based, Scannerfunk plays the 9:30 Club Wednesday during a whirlwind nine-day, eight-city tour of the United States.

— John Godfrey

POINT OF GRACE
Free to Fly
(Word Records)
Nearly three years after this Christian pop quartet's last studio album, their seventh album evidences more than a few virtues. Loyal fans will appreciate the consistently positive and uplifting message of faith in God, but potential new followers may be deterred by the unsophisticated lyrics and pop tendencies unbecoming to a group well beyond the teen-age era.
Despite these minimal drawbacks, the vocal talents of these four women are indisputable. The four have garnered several Dove awards, multiple Grammy nominations and an impressive rack of 21 consecutive No. 1 hit singles. Those singles include six from the group's debut album, a feat still unmatched by any artist in any genre. The signature sound of Point of Grace that blends four voices into one sound and features each member trading lead vocals continues to prove itself in this recent release.
Reflective of the foursome's recent yearlong sabbatical, "Free to Fly" has several gems demonstrative of hard work such as "Blue Skies," "Praise Forevermore," "Begin With Me" and "Yes, I Believe."
"Blue Skies," undoubtedly the best song of the project, lifts one powerful voice of absolute, adoring worship. Sending an emphatic message of hope in a powerful God, this fifth cut plays a central role in the project's organization and flow.
The fourth cut, "Praise Forevermore," has the same mountaintop belting quality characteristic of past gold albums and highlights well-written verses of unashamed faith, powerful vocals, tight harmony and abundant joy. The upbeat "Begin With Me" has definite sing-in-the-shower potential with appealing verses and a catchy chorus. This song could motivate Joan Rivers to work for a living.
With the exception of the eerily bizarre computerized vocals randomly scattered throughout the song, "Free Indeed," the seventh cut, ends strong vocally, but again disappoints with weakly composed lyrics. Much like the first few offerings of the CD, "Something So Good" needs something else, other than beginner lyrics and maddeningly repetitive guitars.

— Jennifer L. Piccolo

SUGAR RAY
Self-titled
(Atlantic Records)
The pop metal pranksters of Sugar Ray take self-deprecation so seriously they named their last album "14:59," a cheeky nod to the waning tick-tocks in their 15 minutes of fame. But the band brandishes pop hooks with such alacrity that it keeps overstaying its welcome in the short-lived pop market.
Its new, self-titled album should earn lead singer Mark McGrath and company an extension on their allotted time. The disc opens with a pair of tracks destined for Top-40 glory, then decelerates into a run of pleasant, unassuming rock ditties glazed with the band's frat-boy veneer and the random DJ scratch. But what more does a Billboard-bound album need these days than twin singles and pretty-boy posing?
"Answer the Phone" opens the album, and it's as fiendishly radio-friendly as modern rock gets. Mr. McGrath's imperfect vocals evoke a lump-in-the-throat mood the otherwise bland yarn of a man reaching out for a romantic lifeline might not create.
The first single, "When It's Over," follows, providing another dose of Sugar Ray's engaging, playful choruses. It's instantly appealing, with Mr. McGrath assuming the familiar role of the heartbroken lad pining for a lost love.
Once the delirious, sugarcoated rush of those tracks subsides, the album settles in for a consistent skein of sweet-and-sour heartache.
"Under the Sun" might alienate younger fans with its 1980s nostalgia drenched in the band's CliffNotes-brand of hip-hop. "Ours'" similar rap sensibility, combined with the reggae lilt of "Stay On" and the pedal steel guitar rock of "Words to Me," prove the band members aren't content to rest on the laurels of their previous hits.
In its early days, Sugar Ray recorded a cover version of a song Howard Stern wrote as a teen-ager and sang lyrics that required warning labels. Now, it's no stretch to imagine parent and teen alike singing along to "When It's Over" and its ilk.
It's hard not to like a group that puts pictures of the band members' dogs inside the CD booklet. "Sugar Ray," with its occasional points of invention, also hints that the band might be willing to grow up sometime soon. — Christian Toto

VARIOUS ARTISTS
Breathe: The Bluegrass Tribute to the Songs of Dave Matthews
(CMH)
Tribute albums are a genre unto themselves. The best ones expand the original artist's vision with revamped arrangements, transposed instruments or inventive melodic stylings. They recast aural perspectives on old, familiar tunes by breathing new life into them. "Breathe" falls a few gasps short of that goal. It's more exhausted than inflating.
It's not that the musicians are poor or the music is bad. On the contrary, the musicianship evident on "Breathe" is impressive and the players are first-rate. But one has to wonder whether the "tribute" is to Dave Matthews or his commercial success. Dave Matthews Band is not dead or disbanded; it recently released an album, "Everyday," and "Breathe" seems timed to tailgate the group's popularity.
The album isn't very innovative. It successfully translates 11 quirky, jazz-inflected Dave Matthews Band tunes to bluegrass, but that's not such a stretch. Matthews' unique sound already incorporates acoustic elements, such as fiddle and guitar. Its freewheeling compositions are well-suited to the bluegrass style. In form, "Breathe" is pretty faithful to the originals; it doesn't deconstruct the songs' structures.
When popular music is radically reinterpreted, the byproduct can be revolting — think of your favorite Beatles' tune as Muzak, subtly piped through overhead speakers in the grocery store. Recall William Shatner's "Mr. Tambourine Man."
It can also be awesome, like Kronos Quartet's classical take on "The Star-Spangled Banner," paying homage to Jimi Hendrix. "Breathe" falls somewhere between. I can't help missing Mr. Matthews' plaintive, sonorous vocals, but the banjos and Dobros are an attractive twist. Hits such as "What Would You Say?" and "Ants Marching" retain their vitality but lose their intensity.
"Breathe" is the perfect album for bluegrass fans who enjoy the Dave Matthews Band or want to familiarize themselves. Fans of Dave Matthews who are interested in bluegrass may find "Breathe" a pleasant introduction. Outside that marginalized market, the album may suffocate. It's a good gimmick, but I would rather listen to "Everyday."
— Bruce Hamilton

EDWIN MCCAIN
Far From Over
Lava/Atlantic
South Carolina acoustic popster Edwin McCain finally claims his music as his own in his fourth offering for Lava/Atlantic, "Far From Over." Despite Mr. McCain's amazing voice, flair for storytelling and talent-rich band, fame has eluded the cherubic yet goofily sexy musician, a Greenville native who remains the best pure ballad singer — and funniest frontman — that no one really knows.
On his latest effort, Mr. McCain thumbs his nose a bit at industry directives, takes charge of his sound and records an album that best represents the runaway joy the band consistently produces at live shows that have drawn a faithful following across the country. So committed to making a record true to the band's power acoustic, low-country rock vibe, Mr. McCain brought in longtime road sound engineer Phillip Ducker to assist in the studio; his band, including the gifted but underutilized saxman Craig Shields, shares producing credits along with Greg Archilla.
On the disc's first radio track, "Hearts Fall" Mr. McCain is joined by Shawn Colvin to offer a respectable romantic tune for the adult contemporary listener. That cut is outshone, however, by the raucous "Radio Star," in which Mr. McCain rags caustic and admirably on the trappings of rock stardom and the music industry. On "Letter to My Mother," Mr. McCain, who is adopted, ably exposes the wounds of wondering about the woman who gave him life.
The disc's most honest and compelling moment occurs on the soulful "Jesus, He Loves Me," during which Mr. McCain soars gospel-style, drawing on his deep Southern roots, which surely trace back to the home church that shaped his young musical heart.
— Andrea Billups

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