- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 5, 2002

RYAN ADAMS

Demolition

(Lost Highway)

The hair, deliberately mussed, is part of the pose, but it's a pose Ryan Adams wears well: that of alcohol-addled poet, heartsick songsmith. Whatever his affectations, the North Carolinian is a bottomless reservoir of infectious melodies and clever hooks.

On his latest album, "Demolition," a pastiche of songs cut during five recording sessions in three cities, the former head of Whiskeytown none too shyly evokes his muses from Morissey to Paul Westerberg to Gram Parsons and continues searching for his own authentic voice.

The process isn't hurt by the fact that Mr. Adams seems to leak songs like a sieve: "Demolition" is a pared-down collection of tracks he initially thought of releasing as a four-CD box set.

The album is kicked off by a deceptive splash of pedal-steel guitar. From there, the opening track, "Nuclear," morphs into grungy '80s guitar pop, a style that recurs later with the low-fi, cacophonous "Starting to Hurt" and "Gimme a Sign." Recorded with his road-tested band, the Pinkhearts, these tracks mark a departure for Mr. Adams, whose stock in trade is the introspective acoustic ballad.

On last year's "Gold," he rounded out the mourn-fests with overt nods to the Rolling Stones and the Who; this time around, it's British rock reflected through a Replacements prism.

Mr. Adams is still in fine form as a troubled troubadour the lazy, reverb-drenched "Dear Chicago" and "You Will Always Be the Same," with a majestic cello drone, fall into that category, as does the pulse-deadening "She Wants to Play Hearts" but he comes close to achieving uplift with "Hallelujah," a country-gospel song that's actually a steel-hearted kiss-off to a former lover. "I used you like I used 'em all," he sings.

"Alt-country" has never been an adequate label for Mr. Adams, but on "Chin Up, Cheer Up," the singer shows the pop-country, nine-to-five hacks in Nashville how it should be how it used to be done.

One of the album's best moments, "Tennessee Sucks," is a wry hazy-lounge ballad punctuated by Mr. Adams' utilitarian piano chops. Another highlight is the somber "Tomorrow," on which he duets with Gillian Welch. The song is especially poignant for Mr. Adams, as it was co-written with comedian Carol Burnett's daughter, Carrie Hamilton, an actress-playwright who died of cancer earlier this year.


GOOD CHARLOTTE

The Young and the Hopeless

(Epic)

Good Charlotte may not be the most musically complex band out there today, but it's hard to argue with the group's approach. The band writes radio-friendly rock that keeps a young audience pumping fists in the air but still manages to tackle deeper issues in a way that puts the band a cut above most other pop-punk groups.

Fans of the boys from Waldorf, Md., will be glad to hear that they've emerged from the belly of the music beast relatively unscathed: Instead of moaning about the pressures of fame, they attack celebrities who don't realize their good fortune. Their sophomore album, "The Young and the Hopeless," sounds more mature than their self-titled debut, even as it doesn't tinker much with Good Charlotte's basic formula.

The album opens with a simple music-box melody, enhanced with strings and a haunting female chorus that sounds like movie-trailer fodder and shows that Good Charlotte definitely had full major-label support in the studio this time around. It doesn't really seem to connect to the rest of the record, but it still sounds cool.

Breaking the cycle is a theme that runs throughout from the anti-celebrity rant of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" to "The Story of My Old Man," with its chorus of "I'm telling you do anything you can/so you don't end up just like them, like them." It's a credit to Good Charlotte's optimism that a song about having your father abandon you at a young age can come off sounding peppy.

Midway through the album, the pop takes a back seat to several contemplative rock numbers "Say Anything," "The Day That I Die" and "Emotionless" that move Good Charlotte's sound forward in a promising direction.

There are several missteps here. "The Anthem" cribs from Jay-Z with its line, "This is the anthem/throw all your hands up." The song "Girls and Boys" is a rather caustic tune that feels rooted in 1980s rock and actually has the line, "Girls don't like boys/girls like cars and money."

Of course, this is hardly rock opera, so it's easy to overlook some of Good Charlotte's pop excesses. Those missteps likely will do little to deter its teen and pre-teen fan base, a group that likely will spread exponentially with this sophomore effort.

Derek Simmonsen


NATALIE MACMASTER

Live

(Rounder)

Fiddler Natalie MacMaster is one of those artists who leads a double musical life regarding what she records in the studio and what she performs onstage. Until now, her recordings good as they are didn't capture the magic of her live performances.

Miss MacMaster remedies all that in her latest Rounder effort, a two-disc set that captures her flaming fiddle work on both the concert stage with her touring band and as part of a trio for a dance at one of North America's most famous small venues for Celtic music, the Glencoe Mills Hall in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.

In fairness, Miss MacMaster casts her spell almost as much with her step dancing as with her exquisite fiddling. No audio recording will capture that, although she brings seven guest step dancers including her mother to the stage for the concert disc, recorded July 31, 2001, at the Living Arts Center in Mississaugua, Ontario.

What the disc does capture is the energy she puts into her playing and her weaving of traditional jigs and reels into little journeys of emotion.

For fans who have only seen and heard her concert performances, the Glencoe Mills disc, recorded Oct. 12, 1997, offers something entirely different an exciting series of seven sets of jigs and reels with Miss MacMaster fronting a dance trio that includes Dave MacIssac on guitar and Joel Chiasson on piano.

The old hall rocks, the audience shouts encouragement and appreciation to the band, and the musicians string together several long sets of fiddle tunes, melding traditional Scottish-inspired songs with more recent Canadian dance numbers. You can almost hear the dancers sweat as Miss MacMaster calls out key changes to the band and they shift on the fly from song to song to song in a rollicking performance.

Jay Votel

Scott Galupo


ANN HAMPTON CALLAWAY

Signature

(N-Coded Music)

Ann Hampton Callaway brings the standards back to life with her new offering, "Signature." This is a disc jazz enthusiasts should enjoy, and Miss Callaway's rich voice, along with her unique song stylings, are a pleasure to the listener's ear.

According to Miss Callaway's liner notes, she wanted to create a CD that celebrated all of the "nightingales" that helped her "find her own voice and realize her dream to become a singer."

This disc features the classic signature songs of her "nightingales," who are some of the best singers who ever lived. They are songs that, when you hear them, immediately bring a certain artist and performance to mind.

Included in the list of artists are Sarah Vaughan, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Billie Holiday. Although it's a daunting challenge, the listener will be delighted to hear Miss Callaway's renditions of these time-honored classics. She puts her own signature on "Tenderly," "In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning," "The Best Is Yet to Come," "Route 66" and "Good Morning Heartache," to name a few.

Miss Callaway is one of the most acclaimed jazz-cabaret singers in the business, and her talents seem to be limitless, as she has received a Tony nomination for her performance in "Swing" and wrote and performed the song "The Nanny Named Fran" from the hit CBS TV show "The Nanny."

Featuring Kenny Barron on piano and the incredible Wynton Marsalis on trumpet, this 12-track disc is a must for any jazz collection.

Amy Baskerville


EMM GRYNER

Asianblue

(Dead Daisy Records)

It's a shame more people don't know Emm Gryner. The young New York singer-songwriter is light-years beyond the current crop of female pop stars (such as Avril Lavigne and Michelle Branch), with a strong voice, a knack for writing pop hooks and a prodigious work ethic.

After all, "Asianblue" is her sixth full-length album since 1997 and her first original material in two years. It's a change to hear her with a polished studio sound, as her last record, 2001's "Girl Versions," was essentially her and a piano, covering bands from Fugazi to Stone Temple Pilots in a stripped-down manner.

In a way, the slicker sound is a disappointment, as one of the highlights of "Girl Versions" was hearing Miss Gryner's remarkable voice without any studio tricks to spruce it up. Still, "Asianblue" stands well against her previous releases.

There's a wide variety of pop rock here from the acoustic guitar backing of "Northern Holiday" to the techno beats that add a dance sensibility to "Free." One of the better tracks is "Young Rebel," with its piano melody and haunting strings evoking a less experimental version of Bjork.

"Asianblue" shows her maturing as both a performer and a writer, with a finished product that sounds remarkably rich and full for a self-run indie label. Luckily for local music fans, she often makes stops in the District, and her live performances are worth catching.

D.S.

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