- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 22, 2002

VARIOUS ARTISTS
Music from "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood"
(Sony Music Soundtrax)
Forget any notion that producer T Bone Burnett is going to do for Cajun fiddling what he did to revive bluegrass in "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" His selections here evoke the smoky, southern bayous the Ya-Yas call home with the French Cajun blues guitar of Blind Uncle Gaspard and three tracks each from fiddling Ann Savoy and blues singer Jimmy Reed.
Halfway through the CD, the music takes a turn toward the eclectic in the lush, Celtic-flavored "Dimming of the Day" by Richard and Linda Thompson and the raspy, redemptive rhythm of Lauryn Hill's "Selah." Alison Krauss' willowy voice gives an otherworldly quality to the traditional "Sitting in the Window of My Room." Mahalia Jackson renders a stirring "Walk in Jerusalem," and Tony Bennett smooths everything over, singing "If Yesterday Could Only Be Tomorrow."
Many of these songs are in a waltz tempo, which is supposed to figure into the dancing scenes in the movie.
The record also includes a new rock song by Bob Dylan, "Waitin' for You," performed with the current Dylan touring band featuring Larry Campbell on fiddle and lap steel. Although some critics seemed excited that Mr. Dylan wrote the song for use in the film, it is played over the credits at the end of the picture and, therefore, is largely missed by many movie patrons as they head toward the exits. Mr. Dylan's singing is sufficiently creaky to keep the lines moving, though the tone of the song and the story told in the lyrics provide some interest. Jay Votel

TIM KREKEL
Happy Town
(FreeFalls Entertainment)
Unadorned, gimmick-less rock 'n' roll is getting hard to find. Singer-songwriter Tim Krekel of Louisville, Ky., a one-time sideman for Billy Swan and Jimmy Buffett, cranks it out in his latest solo effort 11 tracks worth of chiming guitars, driving vocals and catchy choruses.
Folks used to call records like this "radio-friendly," but no radio stations in the Greater Washington market play music this good. Believe it. There's nothing alternative to this music unless quality is an alternative, and given what's earning the big bucks out there, it could be. "Happy Town" has none of that whining sourness that characterizes what now passes for rock music. Even the slower, pleading "Come Back Baby" comes complete with a backbeat.
Mr. Krekel's songs recall some of the best from early FM radio and late 1970s rock, before MTV changed it all. You hear guitar work that's the essence of rock, conjuring images of Keith Richards and Joe Walsh along the way.
Possibly the best track is the first, "Sunshine Baby," though all of the songs two of which were co-written with Kim Richey qualify as tuneful, catchy pop. As Mr. Krekel wryly observes in his song "It's a New Day," "it's all good," from the hooky first riff to the little chuckle after the last blast of drums. It's good, clean fun, with a steady beat. J.V.

DANIEL JACOBS
Our World Now
(Self-produced)
Boston-based Daniel Jacobs passed through Washington recently on his way south to mingle with other singer-songwriters in the Texas heat at the annual Kerrville Folk Festival. His self-produced CD, a mix of studio cuts and live takes and no overdubs places Mr. Jacobs squarely under the big tent of folk music and in the jazz aisle.
His lyrics are free-form poems dealing with friendship, love and the unity of mankind unabashedly folk. The title track, a live sing-along, speaks of a time when "there are no holy wars."
Mr. Jacobs' open-tuning instrumentals, though, betray his education on jazz and classical guitar at New York University and in Brazil, and at Mannes College of Music in New York. He also studied tabla and sitar in India, which accounts for some of the rhythmic grooves he sustains while exploring his free-form lyrics.
One unusual piece is a live improvisation on a theme from Emily Dickinson, "I'm Nobody." Few performers have the nerve to riff off a classical American poet. Fewer still and count Mr. Jacobs among them can pull it off. J.V.

THE BREEDERS
Title TK
(Elektra Records)
The Breeders have essentially been on hiatus for nine years, largely faded away after gaining mainstream stardom with the catchy hit "Cannonball" in 1993. Sisters Kim and Kelley Deal each formed their own bands during this period, but neither group captured the same energy or excitement that fueled the Breeders.
"Title TK," journalist slang for "title to come," is not the masterpiece for which fans have been praying. Without the smooth production that marked the band's earlier albums, the CD is tough on a listener. Producer Steve Albini's rough production style gives the record a gritty edge and curbs the band's previous, more pop-oriented sound.
The lead-off song, "Little Fury," opens with a steady drum-beat and the Deal sisters singing in ragged, strained harmony, before a sinister guitar riff kicks in underneath. It's a slow build that shows the group can still craft catchy melodies, even if most of the album is about as far from the commercial mainstream as it's possible to get.
The record's flow nearly comes to a standstill on the slower tracks, such as the rambling, psychedelic "The She," a song that includes an annoying buzzing drone mid-track, almost daring the listener to like it. Several songs have an incomplete, thrown-together feel, such as the bass-driven "Put on a Side," with its mumbled vocals and improvised guitar riff, which occasionally comes alive with a burst of drums.
Or the song "Sinister Foxx," which rambles about before reaching its climax with the repeated phrase "Has anyone seen the iguana?" It's as if the energy behind the record died halfway through the recording process.
There are a number of high points, though, including "Off You," a breathy, quiet ballad that could have come out of Bjork's back catalog and qualifies as the most beautiful moment on a Breeders disc. "Full on Idle," a fast-paced, three-chord punk number from Kim Deal's other band, the Amps, gives the album a needed dose of energy.
The final song, "Huffer," opens with a mocking "Na Na Na Na," which sounds vaguely like the Breeders' previous hit, "Cannonball." Perhaps it's a way for the group to shed its past and move on, but it only makes one long for the old days even more. Derek Simmonsen

OUR LADY PEACE
Gravity
(Columbia Records)
Our Lady Peace has remained on the fringes of the mainstream music scene for the past several years, not gaining nearly as much attention as similar groups such as Matchbox Twenty, Creed and Live. That's likely to change with "Gravity," the group's fifth studio album and the first with new guitarist Steve Mazur. The band sounds more commercial than ever on this CD. It apes the sounds of Nickelback and Creed to such an extent that the group is sure to gain radio play, even as it erases any unique identity it once had.
The first track, "All for You," has producer Bob Rock, best known for his work with Metallica, all over it. The drumming is quick and crisp, with the guitars quiet on the verses before coming in heavy and distorted for the anthemic choruses. The group has said it wanted a "simpler, more aggressive" sound and if that's the case, mission accomplished. Don't look for complexity, either musically or lyrically.
In that same opening track, Raine Maida's slightly screechy voice sings "This suburban man/he wants discipline/but I just need a friend" before ending the song with "Leave me alone." Instead of writing about personal pain, like Dashboard Confessional, the group seems to have looked at the angst of suburban teen-agers (they are the target demographic after all) and tried to write about that.
The first single, "Somewhere Out There," slows down the tempo and highlights Mr. Maida's straining vocals before kicking into a power-ballad style chorus as he sings "You're a star that I can see/I know you're out there." It's a fine example of the "simple" rock formula perfect musical wallpaper to listen to in the car, but not the kind of song that sticks with you long.
On only one song does the band stray away from its Top 40 formula, the moody, heartfelt "Bring Back the Sun," which finally turns off the grunge pedals and lets Mr. Maida actually croon the line "I want to be your shadow." The strings that kick in after the chorus are so against the style of the rest of the album, that one is given to wondering what might have happened had the band experimented a bit more often.
But this track is not worth the bland rock that precedes it. The sad thing is, even if you try to avoid this album, you'll still be hearing it on the radio and as the soundtrack to WB and MTV shows. Be forewarned.
D.S.


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