- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 3, 2002

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN

The Rising

(Columbia)

Consider this a love letter from the Boss straight to America. It's not his best material, but it is incredibly sincere, and rocks harder than most anything he's done in the past decade. That it's also a paean to those killed in the September 11 attacks, and a tribute to the survivors left behind, is a testament to his performing skills.

"The Rising" sounds something like a religious revival, with backup singers acting as a gospel choir to Rev. Bruce leading his congregation in sometimes repetitive choruses that only grow stronger as the full E Street Band comes to life behind his words. Few performers could have created an entire album of songs about a nation's tragedy, and keep it upbeat at that, but Mr. Springsteen pulls off the task ably.

The result is a record that leaves the listener feeling warm and reassured. The opening track "Lonesome Day" sets the tone, with its moderate pace and Mr. Springsteen singing "I'm gonna pray/Right now all I got's this lonesome day" before his backup singers, including wife Patti Scialfa, repeatedly sing "It's alright." It's only the first instance of a repetitive verse being used in a religious way, but the technique continues on many of the tracks.

The E Street Band is everywhere on the record, and with the wealth of talent, fans shouldn't feel bad if they can't immediately pinpoint all of the musical elements. Both guitarist Steven Van Zandt and his replacement in the band, Nils Lofgren, are on hand, joined by keyboardists/organists Roy Bittan and Danny Federici, Clarence Clemons on saxophone, Garry Tallent on bass and Max Weinberg on drums. That's in addition to Mr. Springsteen who also plays guitar, harmonica and sings. A Sufi choir even provides backing on "Worlds Apart."

Many of the songs are written from a first person point-of-view, including the widow of a firefighter who went "Into the Fire," a guilty survivor on "Nothing Man," or the suicide bomber on "Paradise," whose tale is juxtaposed with that of a widower hoping to drown himself. These dour themes are lightened up by the E Street Band, which turns a down song like "Countin' on a Miracle" into a modest rock number, with Mr. Weinberg riding the cymbals throughout.

One of the best lines comes from "Empty Sky," where Mr. Springsteen sings "I want a kiss from your lips/I want an eye for an eye/I woke up this morning to an empty sky." It's simple, yet so perfectly captures the right emotion, with a light acoustic guitar and piano backing.

The album closes with "My City of Ruins," which was one of the more haunting performances in last fall's "America: A Tribute to Heroes." Here the track goes from being a stark acoustic number (originally written about Asbury Park, N.J.) into a rousing call to arms, as Mr. Springsteen bellows "I pray for the strength, Lord" as backing vocalists sing "With these hands" over and over again until the entire piece climaxes with Mr. Springsteen's call to "Come on, rise up" before concluding with a delicate piano melody.

It's been said that this music won't survive into the future because of its timely nature, but that hasn't stopped a song like "Ohio" from still having an impact long after Kent State. "The Rising" doesn't display Mr. Springsteen's best lyrics or material, but as a unified effort it leaves the listener feeling better about the world. To do this, and still make a social statement, is a remarkable feat and Mr. Springsteen deserves credit for pulling it off.

Derek Simmonsen


DOLLY PARTON

Halos and Horns

(Sugar Hill)

As with her past two albums, Dolly Parton's latest music entry "Halos & Horns" has its roots in bluegrass. However, Miss Parton also mixes folk, traditional country and Southern gospel to create one of her best albums in recent years.

The title track, "Halos & Horns," starts this album off in grand Tennessee bluegrass fashion. The track "These Old Bones" is fun and shows off Miss Parton's lively personality. The songs "Not For Me," "Hello God" and the thoughtful "Raven Dove" demonstrate her gospel roots.

She also covers Bread's "If" and Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" with a unique bluegrass flair that makes these beloved favorites her own. The track "Stairway to Heaven" turns out to be one of the best on the album.

Its only problem is that such brilliant musicians as Kent Wells on guitars, Gary Davis on banjos, Brent Truitt and Jimmy Mattingly along with Terry Eldredge on fiddle, threaten to overshadow Miss Parton's vocal capabilities on many of the tracks.

This album is not for everyone, although you will not be disappointed if you are a Parton fan. Many people believe country music has been overtaken by newer pop-influenced artists, but Miss Parton proves that the old guard is here to stay and is better than ever.

Amy Baskerville


BETH ORTON

Daybreaker

(Astralwerks)

It's hard not to feel depressed listening to Beth Orton, the British electro-folk singer renowned for her turgid, yet often stunningly beautiful music. On this, her third solo work, she continues to stray from the more electronic influences that dominated her early work, and expands on the more traditional singer-songwriter style she explored on her sophomore album, "Central Reservation."

The result is a strange mix of adult contemporary, alt-country and Miss Orton's own somber style. Somber is actually the unifying mood that unites these disparate sounds, from the melancholy opener "Paris Train" to the easy-going final track "Thinking About Tomorrow."

Miss Orton's trademark style is to strain her voice on the high notes, as if overwhelmed by the sheer force of it all, and sing in a near monotone at the lower registers. When the material matches her voice (as happens on most of her collaborations with the Chemical Brothers), it's a thing of utter beauty; when it doesn't, it can make for a difficult listen.

Thankfully, Ryan Adams and Emmylou Harris make excellent guest appearances, with Mr. Adams providing harmony and some able acoustic guitar backing on several tracks. "God Song," which begins at a snail's pace, evolves into a rather tender ditty with Miss Harris and Mr. Adams both adding vocal harmonies. It suggests a possible new direction for Miss Orton's career, from the dance floor to the honky tonk bar.

If only Miss Orton had tried more experiments in this vein. Despite a rather lighthearted photo of her at the beach on the album's back cover, "Daybreaker" is not a sunny day on the sand, but more like swimming through the ocean at midnight.

D.S.


DEF LEPPARD

X

(Island/Def Jam)

This collection of power ballads from Def Leppard is allegedly all new material, but it seems to have been transmitted directly from somewhere deep in the mid-1980s.

Of course, that's when the British arena-rock group had its greatest success with 1987's "Hysteria," featuring such air-guitar enthusiast anthems as "Pour Some Sugar on Me" and "Love Bites."

"X," so-named because it's their 10th studio album, is a pale echo of their sexually charged rock 'n' roll past, and its songs could be lesser B-sides to their more popular singles. The music is standard guitar and drum dirges with lyrics straight out of adolescent angst poetry.

"I can't sleep at night/The darkness enslaves me/I turn out the light/And no one can save me" begins "Gravity," the album's eighth track.

Virtually every song is a hopeless collage of cliches, whining for love or warning about the power of love. "X" has little to offer that countless glam-rock albums of the past haven't already expressed.

Associated Press


ROBERT PLANT

Dreamland

(Universal)

In his first solo studio release in nearly a decade, former Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant has crafted a series of disconcerting blues lullabies.

After kicking things off with the jumpy rendition of "Funny in My Mind (I Believe I'm Fixin' to Die)," by renowned Delta bluesman Bukka White, Plant slows down for creeping, melancholy melodies. Mr. Plant's anguished, distant vocals on his cover of Bob Dylan's "One More Cup of Coffee" evokes a deepening sense of despair that permeates the entire album.

By the time "Dreamland" nears its end with a cover of "Hey Joe," the album becomes almost unbearably dark saved by Mr. Plant's chilling new rendition of that old song about infidelity and murder, popularized more than 30 years ago by Jimi Hendrix.

There are flashes of hope along with way, particularly with Tim Buckley's "Song to the Siren," but even that metaphoric song about a shipwrecked lover ends with the lines, "I am troubled at the tide/ Should I stand amidst the breakers?/ Or should I lie with death, my bride?"

Despite its bleakness, fans of Mr. Plant and Led Zeppelin will enjoy his eclectic experiment with rock, blues and roots music while still hungering for something new from him.

AP

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