- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 26, 2002

FAITH HILL

Cry

(Warner Bros.)

Faith Hill has definitely traded in her cowboy boots.

With the release of her new album, "Cry," she has ventured more toward the world of mainstream music than on previous releases, such as "Breathe" and "Faith." However, this album may be her best work yet.

It's full of soul and inspiration, with no apologies for leaving her country roots. Miss Hill co-produced every song on the album with help from Byron Gallimore, Marti Frederiksen and Dann Huff.

The opening number, "Free," which was written by Beth Nielsen Chapman and Annie Roboff, has well-crafted lyrics with a driving bass line and guitar riff. It has traces of the gospel influence that Miss Hill received in the Baptist churches of rural Mississippi as a child.

Miss Hill sings, "I am free/kicking out of that prison/I am free/singing those words of wisdom/let it be/nobody's gonna put the blues inside of me."

Although the title track, "Cry," and "Unsaveable" are lamenting tunes of lost love, most of the tracks on the album are uplifting and introspective, such as "I Think I Will." One lyric goes, "The longer I live, the stronger I get/I'm positive."

"When the Lights Go Down" and "Stronger" are power ballads. "One" tells a lover that "one is breaking into two before the damage is done, let's start back over at one." "Baby You Belong" is a celebration of how two people are made for each other.

"If You're Gonna Fly Away" is a song of encouragement between friends that says, "When the world is falling down, just kneel with me and pray count all your blessings, instead of your sorrows." Ironically, it was co-written by Alicia B. Moore, who is known as Pink in the world of hip-hop.

The only awkward moment on the album is when Miss Hill speaks the two verses on "Beautiful," instead of singing them to a melody. Her spoken words sound out of place. Further, the chorus is rather monotonous and not enough to carry the song.

One speculates that the final cut on the album, "You're Still Here," was chosen in light of those who died on September 11. It's a bittersweet song, which says, "I can see you in my baby's eyes/and I laugh and cry Thought I saw you today/you were standing in the sun then you turned away."

In a music industry full of over-the-top vocal antics, Miss Hill's straight forward voice is a godsend. She chooses decent songs and delivers them with passion.

Jennifer Waters


RILO KILEY

The Execution of All Things

(Saddle Creek)

This is, hands down, the best record this year that most people will not hear. That's partly because Rilo Kiley is on the Omaha-based Saddle Creek label, which also features Bright Eyes (aka Conor Oberst), the band that has been getting the lion's share of press attention lately.

That's a shame, as "The Execution of All Things" is a focused, lush and highly literate album of chamber pop rock. Lead singer/guitarist Jenny Lewis uses her quiet voice to great effect, never oversinging like an "American Idol" wannabe. Instead, she sounds like that next-door-neighbor who has a beautiful voice but only sings in private there is a confidence behind her delivery that is at times sincere, at times sarcastic.

The result is an album that sounds epic, even as its subject matter remains fairly mundane and ordinary. On the opening track "The Good That Won't Come Out," she sings "It's such a big mistake/lying here in your warm embrace" over a driving electric guitar riff and an echoing slide guitar. The song peaks at the end with orchestra bells, glockenspiel, organ so many elements run through most of the songs that it's hard to pinpoint all of the instruments at any one time, even as the songs themselves remain rather simple in concept.

Chalk that up to the rich backdrop the rest of the band adds guitarist Blake Sennett is a master of the repeating riff; drummer Jason Boesel gives just enough punch to keep the tunes from dragging into the depths of balladry; Pierre de Reeder's bass can be at turns menacing and punchy.

Unlike much of indie rock today, Miss Lewis and company aren't afraid of hooks or choruses, and many of them are quite memorable. "Paint's Peeling" is a melancholy song that manages to sound hopeful even as she sings "I feel nothing" before the song later mutates into a brief burst of rock with the line "How could you love me this way?"

Other highlights include the country-folk of "So Long," the shuffle rock of "My Slumbering Heart" (which sounds like a near cousin to Belle and Sebastian) and the "boy choir" of men that makes "With Arms Outstretched" sound like it was recorded on a rock tour bus in the 1970s.

Nearly every track is different and the album's steady pace keeps it mostly free of clunkers. The meandering "A Better Son/Daughter" sounds nice, but its plodding waltz beat and rant-like quality of the lyrics feels out of place. The bland pop number "Three Hopeful Thoughts" also fails to match the quality of the songs that precede it.

These few missteps shouldn't detract from the rest of the record. In a year filled with many fantastic albums, this is one that deserves not to slip through the cracks.

Derek Simmonsen


ALAN MERRILL

Cupid Deranged

(MEC Records)

Quick, music fans who wrote the song "I Love Rock N Roll"? Bzzz, no, it wasn't actually Joan Jett, even though her version is the best known, but Alan Merrill. The original version came out in 1975 with his band the Arrows and has been both his biggest claim to fame and a bit of an albatross ever since.

"Cupid Deranged" is more or less a greatest hits package for Mr. Merrill, collecting together his work with the Arrows and the underrated Vodka Collins. The performances here came out of a jam session with Slade bassist Dave Glover and drummer Peter Phipps (of Gary Glitter fame) that revisits many of his best tunes, written for his two bands and sometimes for other performers (Rick Derringer). The others are all unreleased, including an interesting song "Slow Down," which he first premiered on the record "Meat Loaf Live at Wembley '87."

The result is an odd mix between straight-on rock (a la "I Love Rock N Roll") and lounge blues ("Like Heaven," "Miles Away") that at times feel dated, as the wah-wah guitar, light synthesizers and even the hooks are clearly products of the 1970s and early '80s.

Still, it's not a terrible compilation for people unfamiliar with Mr. Merrill's work, and many of the rock numbers here have energy and flair "You Don't Know What You Want" and the above mentioned "Slow Down" are especially well done. Mr. Merrill has enough talent that his legacy shouldn't be just as a good question to stump people with while playing Trivial Pursuit.

D.S.


JOHN MCCUTCHEON

The Greatest Story Never Told

(Red House Records)

If there were such awards, John McCutcheon would certainly win "Folkiest Album of the Year" for his latest release, 13 tracks that evoke the best of traditional folk values, namely peace, understanding, the brotherhood of man, and mourning the passing of traditional folk values.

Four of the songs have co-writers. Si Kahn chipped in with "Ghosts of the Good Old Days," which says in its chorus "The rattle of the track ain't coming back," and in its final verse, "I lie awake at night thinking ain't it a sight/How history is a mighty heavy load."

The incredible unknown songwriter, Steve Seskin, added his pen to two the romantically mature "Last First Kiss" and "Used to Be," a gentle, hopeful song that looks at the effects of aging. Tom Chapin and Michael Mark contributed to "Follow the Light," perhaps the very best of the innumerable post-September 11 songs.

Pete and Maura Kennedy add guitar and vocals to many of the songs, and Jon Carroll provided piano, organ and accordion, as well as vocal arrangements.

The folkiest record of the year would have to include at least one song calling for peace and brotherhood. Mr. McCutcheon offers three. The title track is his song for Everyman; "Children of Abraham" calls for tolerance in the Middle East; and "Not in My Name" urges an end to all kinds violence to anyone.

This is the sound and the voice we've been missing.

Jay Votel

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