- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 13, 2002


A New Day Has Come


French Canadian pop vocalist Celine Dion brings a breath of fresh air with her most recent release, "A New Day Has Come."

This is her first album after a two-year career hiatus, and her voice is as strong as ever. She sings well-crafted songs with strong melodies.

Many of the 16 tracks on the album reflect her time away from the studio, especially the title track, which talks about finding "strength all in the eyes of a boy." One wonders if she is referring to her son, Rene-Charles, born Jan. 25, 2001. In "Prayer," she says, "So let the children remember the sun, let them dance, let them soar." In "Goodbye's (The Saddest Word)," penned by Shania Twain's husband, R.J. "Mutt" Lange, she says, "Now I know there is no other love like a mother's love for her child."

In "The Greatest Reward," when she sings about how "so suddenly, so strange life wakes you up," one thinks she might be alluding to husband Rene's past battle with skin cancer, especially when she says, "You needed me, I found my place."

"Have You Ever Been in Love" is sure to become a classic ballad, in the tradition of her other hits, such as "Because You Loved Me." Daryl Hall of Hall & Oates was one of the four co-writers on this number. She also recorded Etta James' "At Last" and Nat King Cole's "Nature Boy."

Although Miss Dion can sing hits, one wonders if she can write them. She lacks any songwriting credits on this release, as on others. Jen Waters


Hung Up on Breathing

(Fowl Records)

The debut album from D.C. band Moodroom is an exhausting listen. The record's frequent swings from relaxed atmospherics to pounding distortion leave one tired from the effort. Not that that's a bad thing. Emotionally draining rock is in short supply these days, and Moodroom does its part to up the ante on the local music scene.

Lead singer-guitarist-lyricist Stef Magro writes more in images and concepts than in stories, which lends itself rather well to the electronic rock palette with which the band plays. It makes simple phrases, such as the chorus "Don't you walk away/I've got more to say" from the opener, "Loving," seem more profound, especially when coupled with Sean Saley's anxious drumming and Gene Diotalevi's guitar attack.

Moodroom's sound is equal parts the distortion of Garbage; the melodic sense of Catatonia; and the playful trip-hop of Portishead. Stripping away the electronic effects, one easily can see how the band is influenced by standard rock, especially in its hook-driven choruses. The samples, keyboards and synthesizers, however, are what make the band stand out, especially on tracks such as "Vibes," which uses a halting chord progression and Miss Magro's breathy voice to build into a warm, full crescendo of hard rock.

At some points, especially on "E-Song" and "Gone," the band starts out aping early Depeche Mode before breaking into '90s rock. These moments are some of the band's strongest; much of the record becomes repetitive after a while, especially in its pounding choruses.

The highlight is the final track, "Blue Skies and All That," which expertly weds Miss Magro's spoken-sung vocals to a techno backbeat and a beautiful guitar riff that should be the template for the rest of the group's material. With more than an hour's worth of material here, it's a confident debut from a group that seems likely to be a force on the local scene in years to come. Derek Simmonsen


My House in Montmartre


Few fans of house music will fail to recognize the bevy of Parisian talent gracing "My House in Montmartre." From Air and Cassius to Daft Punk and Dimitri From Paris, these are the acts that have restored pride to the French music scene. This collection samples some of the best from each of those acts, plus 10 other artists who have gained fame on the dance floor.

Although several of the songs have undergone notable remixes, this is more a record for the casual listener than the tried-and-true fan of house music. It opens with the popular, funky "Music Sounds Better With You" from Stardust before switching to the annoying, repetitive vocal sample (a woman singing "I Can Try") that grounds the Buffalo Bunch remix of Phoenix's "If I Ever Feel Better." It's an apparent sign that fans of French music must take the good along with the bad.

That includes Etienne De Crecy's atmospheric but boring take on Air's "Modular Mix," which manages to kill the relaxing groove built into the song. The good prevails on most of the album, especially Daft Punk's upbeat, disco "High Life"; the catchy "Grandlife" from We in Music; and a new remix of Cassius' popular "La Mouche."

Still, for newcomers to the French music scene, or even longtime fans, it would be better just to stick with the original albums. "My House in Montmartre" isn't bad as a party album, but why take an uneven imitator when the real deal is so much better? D.S.


Don't Be Afraid of Love

(Columbia Records)

This is the second proper record for the Lo Fidelity Allstars, coming on the heels of 1999's huge success, "How to Operate With a Blown Mind," and the mix album "On the Floor at the Boutique." Although the six-piece band was an integral part of the "big beat" movement in the late 1990s, the group has largely moved away from those roots into funkier terrain.

Hardly suffering from the sophomore jinx, the Allstars sound as though they are having a lot of fun, starting with the upbeat second track,"Deep Ellum Hold On," a catchy dance number firmly rooted in the 1970s funk scene. This more than makes up for the hesitant, distortion-drenched opening song, "What You Want," which makes the band sound embattled with its ending vocal line, "You're gonna keep on keeping on."

That track set aside, the rest of the album moves at a brisk pace. Robotic vocals, ala Daft Punk, duel with a wonderful disco vocal sample from Judy Torres' "No Reason to Cry" on the playful "Lo Fi's in Ibiza." The highlight comes smack in the middle, with "Feel What I Feel," a ridiculously catchy pop number that sounds as though it were lifted straight from the Jackson Five archive.

Several "come down" tracks are sprinkled throughout, including the rambling "On the Pier," which captures the erratic vocal delivery of Bootsy Collins. The Allstars clearly are more concerned with creating the right single for each occasion, making the record somewhat uneven when taken in one sitting, but quite rewarding when heard one song at a time. It also shows that despite the death of big-beat techno, the Allstars will keep on keeping on. D.S.

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