- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 18, 2000

MEDESKI MARTIN & WOODThe Dropper (Capitol)

"The Dropper" was part of my near-daily diet for about two weeks. Questions arose only after the 12th play-through or so:

What is this music? Is it funk-infused jazz? Or cracked-out funk? Or chaotic blues?

Better to let the questions lie. Medeski Martin & Wood defies categories. The trio throws together genres to create sounds not heard outside of loon-mating season, then brings the music back to John Medeski's sweet keyboards and Chris Wood's jazzy bass.

Billy Martin winds the percussion through each song, supporting it and augmenting it at the same time. He uses such diverse tools as woodblocks and mbira, an East African instrument.

The music is all instrumental, and the CD's tracks weave together like a live concert — they all feel improvised.

This is nothing like anything you've ever heard before. The quality of the weirdness makes this CD well worth a 12th listen — or a 20th. — Julie Hyman

FLESH-N-BONE5th Dog Let Loose (Koch)

Flesh-N-Bone, who is an on-and-off-again member of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, is trying his hand at a sophomore album. With the title "5th Dog Let Loose," the best way to describe the album is "different." No, Flesh-N-Bone hasn't changed, but one would be hard pressed to find anything similar to this CD.

Flesh-N-Bone still shouts out to his hometown Cleveland, still refers to himself as a "souljah" and still raps … well, too rapidly. He has well-developed beats and quality sounds, but all too often he seems as if he's speaking in tongues.

Despite this annoying factor, "5th Dog" still has its shining moments. One of those moments is undoubtedly heard on "Way Back." This track is a heartfelt tribute to fallen rappers Eazy-E, Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G. In addition to that, Flesh is reunited with his partner from Bone, Layzie Bone. On the very next track Layzie appears again, with another Bone member — Wish Bone. After a quick listen, it's clear that the thugs are still in sync with one another.

"5th Dog" succeeds in delivering both Flesh-N-Bone's strengths and weaknesses. If one listens closely, remnants of "E. 1999" and "The Art of War" can be detected, which is a plus. Also, having guest artists Kurupt and Montell Jordan doesn't hurt either. Overall, the album's not bad, not great, but different.— Quintin J. Simmons

FIVE FOR FIGHTINGAmerican Town (Aware Records)

Five for Fighting isn't a band. In fact, it's a front for Los Angeles musician John Ondrasik.

That is the first hint that more than a little pretense might be involved in this debut album. Mr. Ondrasik does possess a first-rate voice, and he also has a talent for catchy and quirky songs that will serve him well in a promising career.

But first he needs to get over himself.

The album reeks of self-importance, deep thoughts and high concepts that echo Mr. Ondrasik's obvious vocal role model, Dave Matthews. His worst mistake is adding to the needlessly long list of songs about Superman, using the superhero as a metaphor for humanity. REM did it more than a decade ago, followed by everyone from the Spin Doctors to the Crash Test Dummies.

Been there, done that, John.

If he would let his hair down a bit, Mr. Ondrasik could really blossom as a major talent. He has an eye for the weird, such as his peculiar little meditation on hero-worship, "Michael Jordan." This album is a good start but, as as an athlete like Mr. Jordan might say, Mr. Ondrasik needs to take it to the next level next time out.— Sean Scully

TSARSelf-titled(Hollywood Records)

Tsar's debut album is a slam-bang return to the golden days of stupid teen power rock — it's like Cheap Trick reborn in the modern rock era.

The Los Angeles foursome blasts out of the gate with "Calling All Destroyers," a classic orgy of mindless teen rock 'n' roll energy, and rockets through 10 solid tracks to the peculiar but winning "The Girl Who Wouldn't Die."

If you've ever regretted that nobody is ever Live at Budokan anymore, run out and pick up this nifty little gem. — S.S.

EVAN AND JARONSelf-titled(Columbia)

Evan and Jaron Lowenstein seem to have it all — handsome semipro baseball-playing brothers from Atlanta who just happen to have a contract with Columbia Records and can boast the legendary Mick Fleetwood and superproducer Glen Ballard as collaborators on their new album.

The story is almost too good to be true, and so is the brothers' new album. It is a solid pop collection that flirts with greatness. The brothers' "Crazy for This Girl" already has hit the modern rock circuit nationwide and a few other tracks seem destined to follow, particularly that emotional ballad "The Distance."

Evan and Jaron have the making of stars. The album offers catchy and simple lyrics, imaginative production and tack-sharp musicianship.

And yet, an elusive something is missing. It all sounds like the best album Matthew Sweet never recorded, and the tracks eventually begin to run together. If the brothers really want to break out of the alt-pop herd, they will develop a slightly more original sound. — S.S.

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