- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 18, 2002

TOM WAITS
Blood Money
Alice
(Anti Records)
At this stage in his career, Tom Waits is attuned to theater.
In the past 15 years, he has appeared in several films, scored one soundtrack and written two musicals with his wife-collaborator Kathleen Brennan. His two new albums are gothic ruminations on love and obsession; both are derived from plays. The convergence of drama and music has enhanced his already complex work, deepening its dimensions.
"Blood Money" is based on "Woyzeck," written by a German poet in 1838. The play was inspired by a true story about a soldier who is driven insane by army medical experiments and infidelity and murders his lover. Mr. Waits and Mrs. Brennan wrote songs for a prize-winning production that premiered in Copenhagen in 2000.
"Alice" was written for an avant-garde opera based loosely on Lewis Carroll's fixation with Alice Liddell, a fascination that sparked Carroll's famous literary work. The 15 songs reflect Carroll's sense of whimsy and surreal storytelling. Like "Blood," they pursue a dream logic through eclectic compositions.
"Poor Edward," for example, tells a tale of a man with a woman's face on the back of his head who is driven to suicide. However, the musical content is stilted and far less compelling. But "Table Top Joe," about a "man without a body" who becomes a piano maestro, bounces with tipsy verve.
Both albums contain potent verses like this one in "Alice": "But I must be insane/To go skating on your name/And by tracing it twice/I fell through the ice/Of Alice." Both make use of Mr. Waits' signature soundscapes, with odd instruments such as a pneumatic calliope, Mellotron and Chamberlain vibes.
As usual, Mr. Waits' vocal cords sound as if they're made of rusty barbed wire. He often uses his voice for strict effect rather than melody, emphasizing his gifts as a raconteur. In "Kommienezuspadt" he bellows like a demented carnival barker. The man can croon convincingly, but those gifts are more evident on "Blood Money."
It's a more cohesive, satisfying album, but it's also extremely dark. With titles such as "Misery Is the River of the World" and "Everything Goes to Hell," the songs often are grim. But optimism laces "All the World Is Green," which hints at a happily ever after, and "Coney Island Baby" carries the melancholy thread of romance.
"Blood Money" is bittersweet, but it's more balanced and ultimately more listenable. Bruce Hamilton

MOBY
18
(V2 Records)
Three years have passed since Moby released his multiplatinum album "Play," and its follow-up picks up right where the disc-jockey-turned-MTV-icon left off. When he was putting together "Play," Moby had no idea that his gospel-and-blues-meets-techno-jams music would become as popular as it did. This time around, he's fully aware of what his audience wants and he delivers a slightly more relaxed album that captures the major strengths of "Play," even if it doesn't break any new ground.
The big news here is the wide array of guest musicians who lend their voices to the project. Moby's own weak voice is used sparsely thorughout, as he puts the focus on the dream pop voices of Orenda Fink and Maria Taylor of Azure Ray, modern soul singer Angie Stone and rapper MC Lyte and controversial singer Sinead O'Connor.
These guest spots provide some of the record's best moments, as do the three instrumental tracks ("Fireworks," "Look Back In" and "18") that recall Moby's days composing film soundtracks. "18" is one of his best works ever, a song that builds from a stark, simple keyboard melody into a crescendo of strings and piano before fading gently away again.
Moby's vocals are largely unremarkable here, save for the first single "We Are All Made of Stars," which bounces along on a steady 4/4 beat and a catchy guitar riff that is like nothing else on the album. His penchant for using recorded gospel, soul and blues samples runs rampant through "18." Although many of the songs are beautiful, the novelty is beginning to wear off.
Jennifer Price belts out "Lordy don't leave me/All by myself," over a lush piano backdrop on "In This World," one of the more stunning vocal performances here. The Shining Light Gospel Choir provides similar soul on "In My Heart," and "I'm Not Worried at All," two songs that easily could have fit on "Play."
The only track that seems destined for club floor status is the duet between MC Lyte and Miss Stone on "Jam for the Ladies," which rides along on a funky bass line. The problem is that Moby's style has been in the public consciousness for so long that it's no longer unique.
"18" is a fine album on its own, but fans who are looking for something as new and innovative as "Play" will be sorely disappointed. Derek Simmonsen

JAMES KEELAGHAN
Home
(Appleseed Recordings)
Most artists would be overjoyed to produce an album that sounds like Mr. Keelaghan's "Home."
Mr. Keelaghan is touring in support of this just-released record and will appear Wednesday May 22 in Rockville at Vic's Music Corner in O'Brien's Pit Barbecue.
This Canadian singer has set high standards in songwriting he's a winner of a Canadian Juno, the equivalent of an American Grammy, for one recording and was nominated for three more.
But this "Home" is not where Mr. Keelaghan's heart is. He has the traditional sound his fans have come to expect, especially in "The Flower of Magherally," and in the opening song on the disc, David Francey's "Red-Winged Blackbird." The record has enough story songs to be a Keelaghan production Mr. Keelaghan wrote "Stonecutter" about rebuilding Canada's Parliament, and "Sinatra and I" is the ballad of his travels with a blue-eyed, cast-off cat.
Yet there is something missing. "Home" has some of the essential elements, but in its focus on matters north of the border, it lacks the universal depth that Mr. Keelaghan gave us in his "Road" and "My Skies" discs. Jay Votel

ELIZA GILKYSON
Lost and Found
(Red House Records)
A depth of emotion and life's experience comes wailing through "Lost and Found." Filled with biblical imagery and poetic quirks, Miss Gilkyson's lyrics cut through the throbbing guitar accompaniment and lodge somewhere between the soul and the subconscious. "He'll Miss This Train" is haunting, and "Mama's Got a Boyfriend" and the opening track, "Welcome Back," are both irresistible, hooky songs.
Rich Brotherton, whose mandolin adds so much to the rich sound of Robert Earl Keen's band, and alt-country player Gurf Morlix make guest appearances on this recording.
With backing from Patty Griffin and brother Tony Gilkyson, guitarist of the band X, along with Texas singer-songwriter Slaid Cleaves and former BoDean keyboardist Michael Ramos, Miss Gilkyson gets down to basics folk-spun lyrics, rock-edged sound. J.V.

MICHAEL BOLTON
Only a Woman Like You
(Jive Records)
I'm not embarrassed to acknowledge I like Mr. Bolton's sometimes over-the-top emotive vocal stylings, unlike many media-elite music critics who have long made a sport of Bolton-bashing while waxing rhapsodic about acts whose names make as little sense as their lyrics (and who sell far fewer records).
But Mr. Bolton's hit-making prowess seemed to go south about the same time he sheared off his trademark long, brown locks. Whether "Only A Woman Like You" can return this Samson of song to the top of the charts remains to be seen.
His blue-eyed soul voice remains in fine love-song form, but "Only A Woman" his first album of new material in more than four years and his first for Jive mostly lacks the memorable Top 40 material of the sort he released consistently in the late 1980s and early 1990s. These included "Said I Loved You But I Lied," "Soul Provider" and "Love Is a Wonderful Thing," and respectful covers of the pop classics "(Sittin' on) the Dock of the Bay" and "When a Man Loves a Woman."
On a scale of 1 to 4 stars, most of the 11 songs here are lyrical and melodic 2s and 2s. The album's cliched title track, which country-pop's Shania Twain and hubby John "Mutt" Lange helped write and produce, would not have been my choice for the first single. That distinction probably would have gone to "The Center of My Heart," an expression of gratitude for a woman who breaks through his psychological protective shell, or to the more uptempo "I Wanna Hear You Say It," about insecurity and reassurance. The latter is easily the best track on the disc.
"All That you Deserve," a wistful lament over an amicable breakup, and "Love With My Eyes Closed" are OK, too. But therein lies the real problem with "Only A Woman": One would have thought that with the luxury of four-plus years, Mr. Bolton could have pulled together a stronger collection of songs than this.
Peter Parisi


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