- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 22, 2001

BEN FOLDS
Rockin' the Suburbs
(Epic Records)
Ben Folds is, at heart, a people person. That's why his former band, Ben Folds Five, centered its final album on a fake person ("The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner") and half of the songs on his proper solo debut feature characters in the titles ("Zak and Sarah," "The Ascent of Stan," "Losing Lisa").
Although the band Ben Folds Five (a trio, not a quintet) broke up last year, Mr. Folds is still carrying on with a sound quite similar to the group's works. As always, Mr. Fold's piano-driven pop is stronger on ballads and less secure on faster works, such as the album's annoying first single "Rockin' the Suburbs."
The opening track, "Annie Waits," is one of the strongest of his career. With Mr. Folds' plaintive voice singing over a strong piano melody, he paints a melancholy picture of a woman who is forever stood up. "Annie says, you see?/ This is why I'd rather be alone/and so Annie waits, Annie waits, Annie waits," he sings, driving home her feeling of despair.
The only hint that something is missing is the lack of harmonies Darren Jessee and Robert Sledge might not be as accomplished musicians as Mr. Folds, but their voices lent his compositions greater sonic depth. Still, "Rockin' the Suburbs," seems to be the first step in Mr. Folds' slow transition from geeky frontman to earnest solo artist, a change well worth the listen. Derek Simmonsen

BEN DIXON
Bohemian Kings
(Edgimo Records)
Local singer-songwriter Ben Dixon's debut album offers interesting listening as it shows an artist starting to find his footing, even as he stumbles along the way. The strongest moments on the eight-song record come not from Mr. Dixon's skill as a performer, but from his strong talent as a songwriter.
His brand of folksy ballads is somewhat reminiscent of Elliott Smith because of the narrative structure of the tunes. But the album is not as strong as it could be because the songs sound as if Mr. Dixon is still gaining ground as a musician. Most debut records have this feel, though.
Lines such as "Zero to salty in just one lick/salty to bitter in one big sip" show off Mr. Dixon's cleverness in "The Point," a song that rests on the theme of a young man learning hard lessons from life. The final song "Eden," also has an emotional depth that foretells a possible future greatness for the young songwriter: "The city's dressed in black and white/the wind lets the heat stay hot."
This is the kind of surreal imagery that Bob Dylan stuck with in his early days. It hints that while "Bohemian Kings" may not be a strong release, a developing songwriter is waiting to break free. D.S.

EMM GRYNER
Girl Versions
(Dead Daisy Records)
It's a shame that bothTori Amos and Emm Gryner had to release records doing covers of male artists about the same time because Miss Amos' "Strange Little Girls" is sure to overshadow Miss Gryner's release. But both records are sufficiently different that listening to them will not feel like an act of deja vu.
While Miss Amos focuses on the lyrics behind the songs (and what they say about their male authors), Miss Gryner highlights the strength of the musical compositions themselves. For anyone to find emotional depth in Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar on Me" or in Blur's "Song 2" is hard, but Miss Gryner manages to turn these heavy rock anthems into heartfelt piano ballads.
The highlight of the album, by far, is her stirring rendition of Fugazi's "Waiting Room." The familiar bass line coupled with Miss Gryner's breathy vocals makes it sound as though Fugazi always intended the song to be a chilling ballad rather than an angry burst of punk rock. Another strong point is the Stone Temple Pilot's cover "Big Bang Baby."
Covers albums are sometimes more about the novelty than the songs, but Miss Gryner's uncanny ability to replace distorted guitars with cello and piano makes "Girl Versions" stand on its own. Rather than being forgotten next to similar works by Cat Power and Miss Amos, it should stand as an equal. D.S.

MACY GRAY
The Id
(Epic)
Given the critical and commercial success of her first disc, the Grammy-nominated "On How Life Is," Macy Gray not surprisingly goes back to the same creative well for her follow-up.
But instead of sounding like a retread of past hits, Miss Gray's new disc, "The Id," still manages to sound fresh while delivering the same sort of rock-tinged, funky soul with tripped-out lyrics that made her such a standout.
Miss Gray's scratchy, baby-girl voice manages to convey both vulnerability and ferocity on "Gimme All Your Lovin' or I Will Kill You." She even goes hip-hop with Slick Rick on "Hey Young World Part 2," a sequel to his foreboding song of a decade ago. She sounds downright psychedelic on the hilarious "Relating to a Psychopath."
Although she's often lumped in with the ever-increasing category of neo-soul artists, Miss Gray continues to demonstrate she's in a category all her own. With "The Id," she's created a disc that's hard to resist. AP

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