- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 24, 2002

(Open Wide Records)
It would be a snap to hate the Dixie Chicks. The group's name has always sounded like country's answer to the Spice Girls. And the Chicks sell so many albums with such apparent ease the cynic in us all could curse their golden albums, locks and harmonies.
Now, with lead singer Natalie Maines a new mama and Emily Robison with her own child on the way, what better time for the women to lose their edge?
"Home," the band's first album after its much-publicized skirmish with its label, Sony, douses any hope of a good ol' fashioned spite-fest. The release finds a band relaxed enough to incorporate motherhood into its polished brand of neo-traditional country.
Like its predecessor, 1999's "Fly," "Home" puts its faith in bluegrass and Miss Maines' ever wondrous voice. Less foot-stomping and more heart-tugging than before, the trio has hit its stride, even if it still leaves the bulk of the songwriting to country's more reliable pens (Patty Griffin and Marty Stuart, among others).
The first track and single "Long Time Gone" peddles the Chicks' familiar, feisty sound. "Gone" offers little new, save a tasty chorus and enough poignant imagery to overlook its attempts at keepin' it real, country style.
"White Trash Wedding," one of four Chicks' written tracks, should have been a disposable lark. Instead, its cheeky tone sets the table for some bristling banjo work. "Wedding" is but a prelude for "Lil' Jack Slade," a rollicking instrumental named after Miss Maines' son. It is anything but a lullaby.
Ironically, the next track, "Godspeed (Sweet Dreams)," is just that, a tune written by Radney Foster for his son whom he lost in a custody battle. It's topped by an ethereal cameo by Emmylou Harris and packs an emotional punch as unexpected as it is true.
The band is on tackier turf with "More Love," a sticky-sweet ballad calling for love as the balm for all wounds, a naive thought in an era of suicide bombers. Then comes "Tortured, Tangled Hearts," and all is forgiven. "Hearts" assures us these happily married Chicks haven't lost a sense of love's thorny side.
"Home," recorded in the band's native Texas, seems rushed on the surface with its short instrumental track and a capable, if unnecessary, cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide."
Beneath the surface, the album testifies to a group clever enough to believe enough of its own hype to live up to its grand expectations.
Christian Toto

One Beat
(Kill Rock Stars)
It's one thing to write a reverential album about the events of September 11, but it takes some guts to tackle the thorny political questions that sprang up around it. Enter Sleater-Kinney, the all-female rock trio out of Washington state that has steadily grown to become one of the country's best if not always heralded rock bands.
The group has a habit of grabbing a listener's attention immediately and not letting go until album's close, and "One Beat," the band's sixth record, is no exception. The opening track, "One Beat," kicks off with an odd rhythmic tom pattern from drummer Janet Weiss' kit, before singer/guitarists Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein chime in with a snarky, repeating riff.
Miss Tucker gets right to the point when she sings "If I'm to run the future/you've got to let the old world go," a swipe at the Bush administration that she further explains with "Can I turn this place upside down/and shake you and your fossils out?"
It's a rough jab, but it perfectly captures the young angst the band is trying to channel. Being torn between loyalty to one's country while disagreeing with the politics of the day is a theme that runs throughout the record.
For this reason, the best tracks are those that touch on September 11, including "Far Away," a song pulsating with anger and fear. Miss Tucker uses her familiar wailing shout to plead "Why can't I get along with you?" overtop of a sinister guitar riff and insistent drum rolls from Miss Weiss.
Another high point is "Combat Rock," which cribs its style (and the song's title) from the Clash. Miss Tucker's dark, sarcastic tone is a good match for lines like "Dissent's not treason/but they talk like it's the same." The reggae-like guitar riff melds with subtle keyboards and closes with a strong message: "If you hate this time/remember we are the time."
It fits in well with the group's own do-it-yourself philosophy, something that has kept the ever-more-popular band on an independent label and supporting its fair share of political causes. But politics can get too heavy after a while, which is why Sleater-Kinney adds a few fun songs to the mix to balance things out.
"Oh" finds all three women singing beautiful pop harmonies, over a bizarre, yet driving synthesizer melody from famed indie rock producer Steve Fisk. He also has the honor of being the first male voice on a Sleater-Kinney record, when he sings backup on "Pristina," a tune that is otherwise unremarkable.
A few songs also fail to match the band's potential "The Remainder" and "Hollywood Ending" but for the most part, Sleater-Kinney just keeps getting better. "One Beat" may not be the band's most cohesive work, but it finds a group at the top of its game, not afraid to challenge the status quo and have fun doing it.
Derek Simmonsen

Limited Lifetime Guarantee
(RCA Records)
Marc Copely's debut album is a mixture of the alternative rock and pop sounds of the past. This album is also a very personal one, with many of the songs dealing with a car crash Mr. Copely suffered.
Highlights on this 11-track album include "Surprise" and "Right To My Head," and the ballad "Slow" is a love song that everyone can relate to. Mr. Copely has many themes flowing in the record.
He writes about celebrities and musical icons in a way that everyone can understand. The song "Cellophane" is inspired by Iggy Pop, while the song "Backslide" is about Robert Downey Jr. and his troubles.
Mr. Copely also shows off his superb guitar skills on this album in songs like "Truth and Oil." The lyrics on this album are also a highlight because they give added depth to songs, beyond the usual fluff lyrics that many listeners have become accustomed to hearing.
While this album does not break any new musical ground, it is a good starting off point for him. There are catchy lyrics and great melodies that will attract many listeners.
Amy Baskerville

(Columbia Records)
When an artist these days uses a self-proclaimed title for their CD cover, that artist had better be prepared to live up to it, as Michael Jackson realized when he proved that he was not "Invincible."
The duo Mary Mary is indeed living up to and surpassing their claim with their latest musical entry titled "Incredible." Mary Mary, who are actually real-life sisters Trecina "Tina" and Erica Campbell, took their stage name from Mary, the mother of Christ and Mary Magdalene from the New Testament.
This contemporary gospel duo are giving Christian music a whole new feel and proving that it can be done with flair. Their songs are a mixture of rhythm and blues and hip-hop, with great melodies for every listener.
The title track "Incredible" gets the album off to a strong start with its souped up percussion beats and lyrics. One song that is sure to please many women is "Little Girls." This song urges the importance of recognizing what is inside of you instead of focusing on physical beauty.
Other highlights on this 15-track album include "Thank You," "God Bless" and "Give It Up Let It Go." Mary Mary did a nice job covering the Stevie Wonder song "You Will Know." Many songs such as "This Love" on this album could actually pass for traditional love songs on the secular charts.
This gospel album may be based on faith, but it is sure to make its mark in the secular world. If this record is any indication, Mary Mary is certain to be around for quite awhile.

Damage/No Damage
(Rev Up Records)
Ever wonder what Elvis Costello and the Attractions would sound like if they emerged today? Factoring in more than 20 years of musical influences in-between, it might just be Cold Memory's debut "Damage/No Damage."
It's hard to pin down the band to any one style. It sticks with a mostly punk rock formula that manages to be upbeat without aping the ever-popular pop-punk sound. This means that lead singer/guitarist Dan Malossi's voice is sometimes strained, sometimes smooth, yet can still manage a hefty shout, as on the lead-off track "All the Songs You Know Are Damaged."
Like Mr. Costello, Cold Memory has a healthy respect for the past and loves a good hook as much as Britney Spears. The first three tracks steam along at a steady clip, before things slow down some on "We're Alone," just to show that the boys can be quiet. Mr. Malossi sounds downright tender, crooning "If we could just lock the door/we'd be two like before."
Have no worries, though the album isn't done rocking yet. The band ups the fuzzy guitars on "Locked Out," a song that could have been a left-over Television song and even pulls off a three-song, mini-epic called "Just Like Hiding In Brooklyn," a trio of tunes that verge from Brit-pop back to hearty punk.
While jumping between styles is often risky business, Cold Memory manages to pull it off with skill. It's not the kind of record that will change the world, but it's sure a fun listen.

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