- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 23, 2002

GREG BROWN
Milk of the Moon
(Red House Records)
There is a point when songwriting transcends the bounds of Earthly existence, and Greg Brown reaches it here. Mr. Brown's spare arrangements and other-worldly basso profundo vocals find all the spaces they need to drive his artistry home.
"Smell of Coffee" is a dark film noir of a song, with short sensory images telling the story. If the blues had a haiku form, it would be patterned after "Ashamed of Our Love," a song that turns the traditional blues form on its head the structure of the lyric drives the song.
"Telling Stories" sets another mood altogether. It would be a good way to conclude the disc, with a message of the hope that can be found in simply relaxing and listening to one another around the campfire. But Mr. Brown takes us two steps further down the road to heartfelt love with his benedictory "Never So Far" and his deep insight into a personal relationship in "Oh You." Jay Votel

PROVIDENCE
A Fig for a Kiss
(Appleseed Recordings)
It's not hard to find yourself caught up in Joan McDermott's husky, breathy singing in "Smuggling the Tin" and "Will Ye Go to Flanders?" But this traditional Irish band really shines in its instrumentals, featuring Micheal O Raghallaigh on concertina and accordion and John Wynne on flute and whistle. Clodagh Boylan on fiddle and Paul Doyle on guitar, vocals and bodhran make up the rest of the band.
The disc follows the aching "Flanders" vocal with a set of three jigs "The Arragh Mountains/The Rakes of Westmeath/A Fig for a Kiss" and then three reels, "The Providence Reel/Roscommon Reel/Fred Finn's." The listener's head is swimming as Miss McDermott launches into the Gaelic "Muiris O Coinnleain."
The liner notes are thoughtful and extensive. J.V.

COMBINATION LOCK
Oh
(Combination Lock Music)
True fans of heavy metal can find today's music climate a bit unsettling. Hair bands are long gone and much of what passes for metal these days is actually rap-metal, a hybrid that too often buries good riffs underneath layer upon layer of distortion.
The D.C. band Combination Lock's debut album "Oh" should be a comfort to headbangers because the group is firmly rooted in heavy-metal traditions, without coming off as merely a nostalgia act.
In the style of bands such as Metallica and Megadeth, Combination Lock introduces most of its songs with a distinct guitar or bass riff that carries throughout the song, keeping the album's pace running at a steady clip. The opener "Make You Up," sounds like an angrier, pumped-up version of Creed, as singer Glenn Hall boasts, "You want to take me on/so I can make you up/so I can break you down."
Don't read too deeply into the lyrics, though, because they dwell on the typical heartbreak, heartache and angst that fuels most metal songs. The focus here is all on presentation. Guitarists Brian Gass and Jason Browning manage to play heavy without sacrificing the quality of their riffs, and bassist Van Swanson keeps several tracks, most notably the second song "Useless," alive simply through his menacing bass lines.
The album shifts tone abruptly with "Love Song 99," a bit of pop-punk that is one of the group's catchiest numbers, followed by "Rock Superstar" and "SOL," two more songs rooted more in pop than metal. The switch is a bit jarring, though it resolves itself in the album's final, raise-the-lighters ballad "(You're) On Top." Local fans who've already seen the group live know that there's far more energy onstage than can be fully captured in this disc, but it's a good start for the band. It's also one of the best music bargains out there, as the group sells this release for just $5 on its Web site (www.combinationlockmusic.com). Derek Simmonsen


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