- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 12, 2002

SAMMY HAGAR AND THE WABORITAS

Not 4 Sale

(33rd Street Records)

Sammy Hagar will never be accused of jumping on a musical bandwagon. The grizzled Red Rocker clings to '70s-era rock like a wino bear hugging his spirits.

"Not 4 Sale," the California native's 15th solo album, revisits the heavy guitars and melodramatic drumming of his youth without a lick of contemporary influence. The singer doesn't let maturity water down his brand of no-nonsense rock.

"Not 4 Sale" testifies to the 55-year-old's enduring pipes, which scream, scratch and claw at the lyrics with alacrity. His voice, however, is aging far better than his muse.

Tracks such as "Halfway to Memphis" peddle infomercial-caliber empowerment that would embarrass a garage band. And with biting social commentary like, "the rich get rich, and the poor get poor" on "The Big Square Inch," well, there isn't much to savor here outside of the crunching guitars.

The first track,"Stand Up" is a sluggish call to arms vague enough to fit into any fist-pumping occasion.

Mr. Hagar wrote nine of the 10 songs, with Waboritas keyboardist Jesse Harms penning "Things've Changed," which drenches Mr. Hagar's husky growl in regret.

Most curious is "Whole Lotta Zep," an unnecessary tribute/cover to the '70s supergroup which manages neither to honor Robert Plant and company nor create something of much worth.

Mr. Hagar may have fronted Van Halen for nearly a decade, but his enduring persona is that of the amiable beach bum, the kind of guy you wouldn't mind downing suds with at a local pub. It's a roughneck charm that suits his singing style and underachieving songbook.

"All the money in the world wouldn't change my life or make my life," he sings on the title track. That regular guy innocence, and a few choice choruses, rescues "Not 4 Sale" from the anachronistic heap.

Christian Toto


BEN FOLDS

Ben Folds Live

(Epic)

It doesn't seem like a coincidence that Ben Folds' first live album should sound suspiciously like the name of his old band Ben Folds Five. As good as he is by himself, pianist Mr. Folds truly shines on stage when he has other performers to back him up, and many of his best songs here lack the drive they have with a full group.

The set kicks off with "One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces," which is propped up by Mr. Folds' energetic playing, but could have used the extra punch of bass and drums (his old band shunned guitars). Local fans might recognize themselves on the opener, as it was one of three songs recorded here at the 9:30 Club.

That's not to say that every track here is a downer. Much of Mr. Folds' new material including "Zak and Sara" from his "Rockin' the Suburbs" album sounds great live and allows him to show off his prodigious skill at tickling the keys. It's amazing, too, how well some of his old material has held up, especially "The Best Imitation of Myself."

"I feel like a quote out of context/withholding the rest/so I can be free, what you want to see" Mr. Folds sings in one of his best opening lines. Another early tune, "Philosophy," breaks down halfway into Dick Dale's "Miserlou" in a rather inspired piece of improvisation.

He even adds an interesting bit of insight to the song "Not The Same," describing how it tells the true story of a friend who (while on drugs) spent the night in a tree during a party and came down as a born-again Christian. It's a testament to Mr. Folds that he allows the audience to make its own judgments he seems to be sincere when he sings about all of his subjects, from grade-school "dwarfs" to dropouts and losers.

Probably the best moment comes from his old band's last big single, "Army," where Mr. Folds recruits the audience to serve as a gigantic backing chorus. It's incredible to hear a full house at the Roseland Ballroom in New York City sing "Bubb-bup-baa" behind Mr. Folds' tale of regret and squandered ambition.

Early editions of the album come with a free DVD featuring concert footage, and for fans it's worth seeking out. Mr. Folds is an often amazing live performer, but not enough of his magic comes across on this record.

Derek Simmonsen


EMM GRYNER

Asianblue

(Dead Daisy Records)

It's a shame more people don't know Emm Gryner. The young New York singer-songwriter is light-years beyond the current crop of female pop stars (such as Avril Lavigne and Michelle Branch), with a strong voice, a knack for writing pop hooks and a prodigious work ethic.

After all, "Asianblue" is her sixth full-length album since 1997 and her first original material in two years. It's a change to hear her with a polished studio sound, as her last record, 2001's "Girl Versions," was essentially her and a piano, covering bands from Fugazi to Stone Temple Pilots in a stripped-down manner.

In a way, the slicker sound is a disappointment, as one of the highlights of "Girl Versions" was hearing Miss Gryner's remarkable voice without any studio tricks to spruce it up. Still, "Asianblue" stands well against her previous releases.

There's a wide variety of pop rock here from the acoustic guitar backing of "Northern Holiday" to the techno beats that add a dance sensibility to "Free." One of the better tracks is "Young Rebel," with its piano melody and haunting strings evoking a less experimental version of Bjork.

"Asianblue" shows her maturing as both a performer and a writer, with a finished product that sounds remarkably rich and full for a self-run indie label. Luckily for local music fans, she often makes stops in the District, and her live performances are worth catching.

D.S.


PETER ROWAN AND DON EDWARDS

High Lonesome Cowboy

(Shanachie)

Breaking new musical ground has been the life's work of former Bluegrass Boy Peter Rowan. Here, teamed with legendary cowboy singer Don Edwards, as well as guitar avatars Tony Rice and Norman Blake, Mr. Rowan produces music that is decidedly Western.

Aided by Texas troubadours Billy and Bryn Bright on mandolin and bass, Mr. Rowan and company set out to merge campfire songs both East and West. Three traditional tunes open the disc "Take Me Back to the Range," "The Old Chisholm Trail" and "Ramblin' Cowboy," before Mr. Rowan stirs in a little bluegrass flavor with Woody Guthrie's "Reno Blues (Philadelphia Lawyer)."

Even Maybelle Carter's "Buddies in the Saddle" and the record's epic treatment of Bill Monroe's "Midnight on the Stormy Deep" come out sounding more like songs from Virginia City than Virginia, more Kansas than Kentucky. It works.

Western music is nothing new to Mr. Rowan, who has previously ventured into ululating songs inspired by American Indian and Mexican themes. Never one to shy away from merging musical styles, or from pushing a jam session and an audience to its outer limits, he and Mr. Edwards prove here that plowboys and cowboys share common roots.

Jay Votel


INDIA.ARIE

Voyage to India

(Motown)

India.Arie returns to familiar themes in "Voyage to India," the follow-up to her debut album, "Acoustic Soul," which garnered seven Grammy nominations.

Female empowerment, reverence for soul-music trailblazers and a healthy dose of philosophizing on everything from finding love to the existence of God are presented in gentle songs bathed in back porch finger-snapping.

"Healing," "Growth" and "Slow Down" are examples of how this album fits the country's post-September 11 mood. The record plays like a musical "self-help" course, with India.Arie's effortless vocals dispensing homegrown advice. Although the success of "Video" and "Brown Skin" are hard to follow, India.Arie continues to challenge the quality of standard pop fare.

Associated Press


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