- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 15, 2002

DAVID BOWIE
Heathen
(Columbia Records)
Maybe being credited by British audiences as one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century had a positive effect on David Bowie. He drops many of the techno pretensions he had on 1997's "Earthling" and the industrial, Nine Inch Nail's influences he sported on 1995's "Outside" to create what can best be described as a mix album of his classic sounds.
His last work, 1999's "Hours," started him back in this classic direction. "Heathen" shows that he's not only striving to ape his better days, but to write songs worthy of his legend although it remains an uneven record. The album leapfrogs from moody synth-driven tunes to guitar-driven rock and back again, though the quality of the songs helps make up for these jumps.
Some of the change can be chalked up to producer Tony Visconti, who worked on the landmark Bowie albums "Low," "Heroes" and "Scary Monsters." Mr. Bowie also deserves kudos for tackling most of the instrumentation, including guitars, sax, keyboards, vocals and even percussion on several tracks.
One of the record's stranger moments is a straightforward cover of the Pixies' "Cactus," which finds Mr. Bowie straining to do his best Black Francis impression over the unusual acoustic melody. It's a bit goofy, but endearing, and adds a dose of excitement to a record that is largely lacking in surprises.
For a man who has dabbled in folk, glam-rock, soul, techno and other disparate genres, Mr. Bowie seems to have finally combined many of those influences into a single, coherent sound. The record kicks off with "Sunday," which features Mr. Bowie's ethereal voice hovering over a digital backdrop of synthesizers in a tune that could have come straight from "Hunky Dory."
Pete Townshend, of all people, lends some hard-rock flair to "Slow Burn," an uptempo rock number with bursts of sax. One of "Heathen's" highlights is "Afraid," a fast-paced guitar number with a lush string backdrop that has Mr. Bowie singing one of the record's best lines: "I believe in Beatles/I believe my little soul has grown/And I'm still so afraid."
The second half of the record slows down considerably, after a jazzy, lively rock number, "I've Been Waiting for You," with Dave Grohl on lead guitar (one more of a long string of guest appearances he's made on records lately).
Mr. Bowie's return to the days when he was known as a songwriter rather than a mere musical chameleon is welcome, even if the effort would not make a short list of his best works. Still, "Heathen" is the best work he's created in at least a decade, if not longer, and could herald a new creative era for the living legend.
Derek Simmonsen

THE DOVES
The Last Broadcast
(Capitol Records)
The sophomore slump is often the equivalent of the fat lady singing for bands, but the Doves from Manchester, England, have moved passed this cliche with "The Last Broadcast," an album that far surpasses their 2000 debut, "Lost Souls."
That record was an exercise in mood, with psychedelic tunes that went on too long and lacked catchy melodies. This time around, Jimi Goodwin and brothers Jez and Andy Williams have trimmed those excesses while still keeping their electronic roots and exploring folk rock and Brit-pop.
After a creepy instrumental track, the record begins with the celebratory "Words," an upbeat, yet still moody, pop song awash in lush harmonies and a warm, crisp guitar riff that hovers over a buried piano line and random electronic snippets of noise. These snippets buzz in and out of the record, as if the listener were hearing a pirate radio station that doesn't always have a clear signal.
This adds to the record's charm and gives a timeless quality to songs such as "There Goes the Fear," which begins with a guitar riff that sounds like a child's music box. It's as if the darkness that haunted the band's previous work has finally lifted. That happiness is all over numbers such as "M62 Song," an acoustic ballad that could sound like a Travis tune were it not for the haunting, electronic backdrops that envelop the tune like a blanket.
Psychedelic flourishes still garnish the record, but the band is far more confident in its songwriting abilities, letting the melody carry songs, such as "N.Y." and the mournful "Friday's Dust," without burying them too deeply in feedback and synthesizers. A few bland tunes, for instance "Satellites" and "The Sulphur Man," mar what is otherwise a superb effort and one of the best releases from any band so far this year.
A limited-edition bonus disc contains four additional tracks, including the piano-rock number "Hit the Ground Running" and the mellow synth melody of "Far From Grace," a song that sounds as though it time-warped in from the 1980s. Fans would do well to pick up this worthwhile, 15-minute bonus of new material. D.S.

KIM WATERS
Streetwize: Smooth Urban Jazz
(Shanachie Entertainment)
Taking current chart toppers and giving them jazz arrangements might produce a good jazz album. This is the mission of saxophonist Kim Waters' "Streetwize: Smooth Urban Jazz." Unfortunately, the results are anything but a good jazz album.
One would think that with the talent Mr. Waters has assembled guitarists Ken Navarro and Wayne Bruce, keyboardist Moe Daniels, bassist James Waters Jr. and vocalists such as Maysa Leak and Charles Smith this album would have turned out to be a must-have for jazz enthusiasts. Instead, what you have are R&B; and hip-hop songs with saxophones and an organ section thrown in for good measure attempting to pass for a jazz arrangement.
Mr. Waters also made some very poor selections in his choice of songs to use on a jazz album. These include Jay-Z's "Izzo (Hova)," Shaggy's "It Wasn't Me," Mystikal's "Shake It Fast" and Ja Rule's "Always on Time." While these songs were fun in there original form, as jazz songs they are sorely lacking. He should remember that not very many hip-hop songs can be turned into jazz.
The only songs that come close to having a jazz interpretation are Aaliyah's "Rock The Boat" and Ginuwine's "Differences." Amy Baskerville

NAPPY ROOTS
Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz
(Atlantic Records)
It's pretty clear right away that Nappy Roots would not have any problem being described as Kentucky-fried rappers. After all, the six members R. Prophet, Scales, B. Stille, Ron Clutch, Big V and Skinny Deville met in Bowling Green, Ky., where most of them attended Western Kentucky University, and called their major label debut "Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz."
But there's more to it than that. Nappy Roots takes a sound that's pure Atlanta (meaning Outkast it even sounds as though Andre 3000 is one of the members) and moves it to a farmhouse stoop. Take, for instance, the group's breakout hit, "Awnaw," a rap anthem if there ever was one. "Nasty smokin', relaxing on the backporch. I'm thinkin' I have everything a countryboy can ask for." The beat would be pretty typical for the Dirty South, except Nappy Roots adds in a bit of guitar and a church organ for flavor. The remix featuring P.O.D., a hard rocker playing on MTV, eventually should appear on future copies of the album.
Throughout, the group dallies with different sounds of the South. The anthemlike "Headz Up" appears in regular and remixed form. (The best part, besides the chorus of "Show me where your head's at, shorty where's your head at?" is the gargling noise at the end that sounds almost like Chewbacca.) "Blowin' Trees" sounds almost as if it's backed by a junkyard band. On "Po' Folks," Nappy does an imitation that would do Outkast proud. And "Slums" is pure Country Grammar.
Even though not everything's original here, the combination is, and the beats are fresh with almost no sampling. Nappy Roots does a worthy job of incorporating six rappers without any sounding the same or out of place. Best of all, however, is the price. The album often can be found for less than $8. Scott Silverstein


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