- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 20, 2002

Busted Stuff
(RCA Records)
Fans of the Dave Matthews Band have been expecting the songs on its fifth studio album for more than two years, ever since the group scrapped its studio sessions with producer Steve Lillywhite in favor of the Glen Ballard-produced, electric-flavored pop of 2000's "Everyday."
After widespread bootlegging of those discarded songs (dubbed "The Lillywhite Sessions"), the band has returned to the material, giving it more polish without discarding the essential sadness and pain that marked the songs. The result is "Busted Stuff," a record that never really picks up the tempo (save on the instrumental jam session "Kit Kat Jam"), but instead is moody, reflective and mellow acoustic rock.
The band sounds more confident than ever on these tracks, which makes sense as most of them have been in the group's repertoire for more than two years (and are frequently played live). It gives "Busted Stuff," a cohesive feel, as if Mr. Matthews and crew simply went into the studio on an afternoon and committed it all to tape. The theme of heartbreak resonates through all of the tracks; if Mr. Matthews once celebrated love gained and love lost, he is firmly wallowing in self-pity here.
It makes for a sometimes difficult listen and is a brave choice for a group known as much for its party-ready jams as it is for its reflective ballads. The heartache begins from the opening track, "Busted Stuff," as Mr. Matthews, resigned rather than angry, sings "You know she's going to leave my broken heart behind her/I'll take what she's giving up."
Most tracks have the "classic Dave sound," i.e. Mr. Matthews' gravely voice and the careful interplay between Boyd Tinsley on violin and LeRoi Moore on sax. This arrangement reaches its peak on "Grey Street," which continues to build in intensity as Mr. Matthews sings "There's an emptiness inside her/And she'd do anything to fill it in," as Mr. Tinsley interjects with an insistent violin riff and drummer Carter Beauford bursts into the mix, transforming what was a quiet, acoustic piece into a band-wide jam.
Two brand new tracks "Where Are You Going" and "You Never Know" fit nicely into the mix, even if they don't distinguish themselves well from the earlier "Lillywhite" material. One of the darker moments comes from "Grace is Gone," where Mr. Matthews sings "Take my eyes, take my heart/I need them no more" over a repeating acoustic guitar melody and Mr. Moore's contemplative tenor sax.
The true highlight is "Bartender," an eight-minute piece that begins with the ominous drone of Mr. Moore's baritone sax and Mr. Beauford's funeral march drumming. The band quiets down for Mr. Matthews' ruminations on redemption, at one point singing "Bartender, you see/the wine that's drinking me/came from the vine that strung Judas from the Devil's tree" before howling "I'm on bended knees/bartender please." The song, and the album, end with a solo flute, as the rest of the band fades into nothingness, giving the listener the feel of having just been through a rather cathartic confession/therapy session.
It isn't a gigantic departure from the band's familiar sound, but it has more heart and soul than anything the Dave Matthews Band has done in the past several years. For old fans of the group, "Busted Stuff" should sound like a triumphant coming home, a work that hones the band's individual strengths into a unified whole.
Derek Simmonsen

Salesman's Girl
(Hightone Records)
Bluesy, breathy Laura Minor makes a major impression in her first recording. The Gainesville, Fla., singer-songwriter was heading toward graduate school in April 2001, when guitar-playing friend Jared Flamm helped retool her book of poetry into songs.
Mr. Flamm co-wrote all but one of the 11 songs with Miss Minor for this debut recording. He hooked her up with a group of Gainesville musicians who had been performing together for about 10 years, so what seems to be a whirlwind of creativity was actually a decade in the making. And yet, since this is a first attempt at songwriting, Miss Minor should be forgiven a few rough edges.
The first line, for example, "Loneliness, deepened by being alone," can make a listener cringe. The pace of the songs doesn't change much throughout the program. So, by the end, where some of the best lyrics are found in "If I Never Love" and "Rust of the Carolinas," listeners might have grown as weary as Miss Minor's voice has grown husky.
Few lyrics are as poetic as these: "If I never love, I'll turn myself to rain" and "We are wind-whipped jays/cut through the colors of the kudzu."
The arrangement of songs and pacing are clearly the domain of producer David Lowery (Cracker, Camper Van Beethoven), who wisely put the radio-friendly "American Girls" up front as the second track, and who can be forgiven for putting two of the best songs at the end, if it was to reward listeners who had waded through the weaker songs, "Sink Back," "Tell the World (I Died for Love)" and "Poor Sinner."
Still, the chemistry that occurs in "Salesman's Girl" owes a great deal to the catalyst of Miss Moore's vocals and lyrics. Comparisons to Janis Joplin are inevitable for this young singer. She still has a way to go, but at least she's aiming high.
Miss Minor is currently touring in support of this brand-new release and has concert appearances scheduled Thursday at the Iota Cafe in Arlington and Friday at Andy's in Chestertown, Md.
Jay Votel

The Flaming Lips
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
(Warner Brothers)
The Flaming Lips are weird; there's simply no getting around it. The band's only mainstream hit was the quirky "She Don't Use Jelly," and the group's 1997 work, "Zaireeka," was actually an album spread over four CDs meant to be listened to simultaneously.
The group shed some of that esoteric side with 1999's "The Soft Bulletin," a critically-lauded work that channeled that experimentation into lush, folk-pop. "Yoshimi" (inspired by musician Yoshimi P-we of the Boredoms) continues in this same vein.
According to the band, it is not a concept album, though its anime-style cover art, title and song subjects (one tune is about a robot who falls in love with the person it is meant to kill), might make listeners think otherwise.
Forget the strange concepts and just listen to the music. The opening track, "Fight Test," is a warm, upbeat piece of electronic folk that uses a bizarre keyboard sound, layered vocal tracks, strings and noise fragments to form a rich canvas of sound. Lead singer and guitarist Wayne Coyne sounds at his most heartfelt as he sings "I'm a man, not a boy/there are things you can't avoid/you have to face them/when you're not afraid to face them."
Facing the unknown is a common theme throughout "Yoshimi," with music that continues to show the group's penchant for experimentation, while tempering that odd side in favor of strong melodies.
"Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Part One" is a good case study: it begins as a simple, acoustic ballad, except for its start-stop guitar and a menacing electronic backdrop; the second part of the song is an up-tempo funk workout, with screaming electronic noise, a dominant bass line, crashing cymbals and random vocal snippets sprinkled around, attempting to audibly capture what a robot fight might sound like.
The end result is one of the more inventive albums of the year, a record that could easily serve as a blueprint for those hoping to combine the limitless possibilities of electronics with old-fashioned rock and roll songwriting. It shows that the Flaming Lips continue to remain relevant, even if they do still exist on the mainstream fringe.

Live in Montreux, 1991-97
(Blue Note)
With a six (some say seven) octave vocal range and the ability to shape sounds into extraordinary forms, Rachelle Ferrell provides in these performances an 11-song taste of the way she entwines herself in a melody and ensnares an audience. What the CD cannot provide is the visual element body language and her phenomenal facial expressions.
Nor can it offer the true qualities of Miss Ferrell's voice because of the limitations of microphones, speakers and technology that allows us to hear a performance without actually being there. But Miss Ferrell still stands above so many of the pretenders to the title "jazz singer."
Don't expect the appearance of "standards" like "My Funny Valentine," "Bye, Bye Blackbird," and "You Send Me" to mean that this is just another try to rehash the past. Miss Ferrell uses these songs as launching points for her vocal exploration and experimentation, and the final results are light years away from the original charts.
"Valentine" finds its phrases stretched into gossamer strands of sound, while "Blackbird" lifts off from a bass playing the lead and speeds off into chopped phrases jumping into different octaves and throwing off a lot of energy along with some fine scatting.
Is it good? The best way to measure a live performance is by the audience's reaction when the music stops. The applause was roaring.
Scripps Howard News Service

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