- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 28, 2001


(V2 Records)

“Lions” is aptly titled. It growls at you. It grabs you and throws you around.

The Black Crowes entered the music scene in 1989 with a straightforward sound that combined gospel, blues and Southern boogie with superb musicianship.

On this, their sixth record, the Crowes have given that sound a harder edge while drawing on such diverse musical styles as show tunes and funk.

There is a lot of ´70s in this record. The opening chords of the first track, “Midnight From the Inside Out,” sound suspiciously like Robin Trower´s “Bridge of Sighs.” “Ozone Mama” easily could have shown up on Little Feat´s classic album, “Dixie Chicken.” Throughout it all is a ton of Led Zeppelin influence. The Black Crowes, who toured last year with legendary Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, picked up Zeppelin´s mysticism and heavy-metal blues sound, and they use it without sounding like a cheap knockoff band.

The Black Crowes have taken these styles and influences and crafted a sound all their own. This record is a mature work from a mature band. Early tracks such as “No Use Lying” and “Losing My Mind” deal with heartache and betrayal, but those themes give way in later songs to a sense of transcendence. Two standouts, “Soul Singing” and “Cosmic Friend,” leave those cares behind. They also rock. The former combines a bluesy guitar riff with an upbeat gospel chorus; the latter comes out of nowhere with a bizarre show-tune intro that´s unlike anything else on the record. Then it gets back to the power chords.

The whole experience is marred only slightly by the overdone closing minutes of the final track, “Lay It All on Me.” “Lions” goes for the throat so when a string arrangement finishes out the last song, it´s a bit of a letdown.

Still, this is serious rock ´n´ roll, and it´s as good as fans of ´70s hard rock are going to find anyone playing these days. Brian Sink


Cellar Songs

(Raise Giant Frogs)

The biggest surprise concerning the Red Telephone is that the band isn´t British. This doesn´t hurt the group´s sound, only the image critics will have of it. Any band that can kick off an album with an eight-minute miniopus and not sink the record right there deserves credit. That first track, “Pennsylvania,” is an ode to the small-town youth of America with its gentle chorus of “Let´s get out of this place.”

The dreamy quality that propels much of the Red Telephone´s music can wear thin and does on several tracks, noticeably “Somewhere Far” and the very R.E.M.-sounding “Last Day of May.” This owes more to lead singer, guitarist and songwriter Matt Hutton´s vocal stylings than it does to the music itself. The Red Telephone tends to rock more than Michael Stipe and crew, although in those more reflective moments, the band drops its Brit-pop sound and slips a bit too much into the Top-40 pop sound.

One of the highlights of this self-recorded third CD is that the Red Telephone is able to do what it wants to do with its sound. One eight-minute song and a nine-minute one, with a good share of wandering guitar solos thrown in, testify to this creative freedom. These guys clearly were meant to do epic rock ballads, not neat three-minute pop songs.

With more experiments like this and more gems like “Pennsylvania,” the band should be able to transcend the R.E.M. label and stand on its own two feet. An underground, but strong, fan base confirms that there is still an audience for deep, moody rock, and the Red Telephone seems set to keep delivering it.

Derek Simmonsen


Rockapella in Concert

(J-Bird Records)

The five members of the a cappella group Rockapella have unbelievable voices, which is more than can be said of many of today´s music sensations. Yet Rockapella´s biggest claim to fame is performing the theme song for “Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?” a onetime children´s geography show on TV.

Rockapella´s live CD is a must-have for anyone who appreciates perfect intonation and harmony. Group members Scott Leonard, Barry Carl, Elliott Kerman, Jeff Thacher and Kevin Wright are never out of key. They blend their voices to re-create hits and introduce a few songs of their own. Like every other a cappella group, they also do a lovely version of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Why this fivesome isn´t as well-known as the Backstreet Boys or ´N Sync is beyond me. Jenine Zimmers


The Storm Is Over

(EMI Gospel)

Here´s a different kind of CD, containing “art that heals wounded hearts,” led by megachurch pastor the Rev. T.D. Jakes. Recorded during two nights this past December, it´s the first recording on Mr. Jakes´ new record label, Dexterity Sounds, started in partnership with the Nashville-based EMI Gospel.

Mr. Jakes has headed many successful ventures: several best-selling books, nationally successful theater productions and a $32 million Pentecostal church in south Dallas, where he is the pastor. It´s only natural that the baritone-voiced minister should try his hand at creating a musical “worship experience.” What sets “The Storm Is Over” apart from other gospel CDs is its way of lacing music with short preaching segments. Each cut is geared to the same theme of encouragement.

This CD boosts the dispirited listener with songs such as “Trust and Obey,” which is part talking, part singing about how one should trust in God in spite of unanswered prayers. That faith-building song is one of the album´s best. So is “When My Season Comes,” about God´s promises eventually coming to pass. It is written specifically for those who are waiting for their purpose to unfold. The worst cut, “Marvelous,” is all rant, although it was written by Kirk Franklin cohort Myron Butler.

The world is full of discouraged Christians, and this CD gives a positive message through lyrics that have some depth and portray the unhappiness of the human condition. But God is controlling all destinies, and as vocalist Karen Taylor sings, “When I cannot trace You/Yes, I will trust You.” Julia Duin



Sing Down the Moon: Appalachian Wonder Tales

(Theater of the First Amendment at George Mason University)

Folksy, rapid-fire fiddle and banjo, punctured by occasional soft melodic piano or disharmonious violin, accompany the songs and storytelling of “Sing Down the Moon: Appalachian Wonder Tales,” a musical of Southern fairy tales by Mary Hall Surface and David Maddox, recently released on CD.

Mr. Maddox composed the high-energy music, inspired by Appalachian folk songs, for “Sing Down the Moon,” which has been nominated for five Helen Hayes awards and was presented by the Theater of the First Amendment at George Mason University last spring.

The lyrics, which appropriately for the CD format outdo the dialogue at least 2-to-1, were created by the Maddox-Surface team. The musical play was written to appeal equally to adults and children and contains enough wit and musical skill to captivate an adult audience.

In one of the stories, “The Sow and Her Three Pigs,” three little pigs are threatened by a fox, which speaks in a thick Southern accent, as do the rest of the characters.

One of the pigs outsmarts the fox, which is “stuffed like a Christmas box” from pigging out on ham, cooks him on the stove and plans to eat him for “dinner on a sesame roll.”

In another tale, “Jack and the Wonder Bean,” Jack climbs up a beanstalk to Giantland and acquires all the money and music he and his poverty-stricken family could dream of to live happily ever after. As in all good fairy tales, the poor, kind and righteous come out on top.

If you are not a big fan of Southern folk music, the full 11/2-hour CD can be a bit much. You might want to portion it out.

On the plus side, the voices are distinctive and easy to tell apart; the stories are cute and funny; and the music is tight, skillfully played and well-composed. Gabriella Boston

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