CDs in brief

CDs in brief

Music: in concert, CDs

July 22, 2004

Sweetback

Stage 2 (Epic) ***

Since Sade records about as frequently as the United States changes presidential administrations, it's no wonder her backing band occasionally records on its own.

Sweetback steers away from Sade's cool jazz-pop sophistication but displays impressive instrumental prowess and veers toward a slight contemporary edge with classic rock and hip-hop accents on this second CD.

Stage 2 is also suitable for dinner party background music or for downing a couple glasses of merlot in style.

Patti Scialfa

23rd Street Lullaby (Columbia) ***

Before grabbing the E Street ticket and sharing in hubby Bruce Springsteen's glories since the Born in the U.S.A. juggernaut in the mid-'80s, singer-songwriter Patti Scialfa was a busker on the streets of New York. It's these early memories she shares in story songs set in the Chelsea area.

Scialfa occasionally lapses into lyrical extremes, settling for a simple "sha-la-la-la" refrain or tilting the other way into overbaked imagery ("Underneath the swirling light of jasmine tea and smoke/You traced my face up on the barroom wall") but her saving grace, as on her previous album, Rumble Doll, 11 years ago, remains her agreeable, catchy pop/rock melodies and a likable voice.

Rush

Feedback (Atlantic) ***

Canadian power trio tones down the tricky time signatures and pomp for a spirited 27-minute romp through late-1960s classic rock favorites from the Who, the Yardbirds, Love, Cream and Buffalo Springfield on a covers EP.

Unexpected and welcome.

Chris Richards

Tumblers & Grit (Lake Effect Records) ***

Sheboygan, Wis., native Chris Richards makes his home in Nashville nowadays and recorded this album in a Music Row studio, but there's nothing here that will put him on the right side of the tracks in Music City. Tumblers & Grit, produced by R.S. Field (Allison Moorer, John Prine), is a near-textbook example of the folk-rock-honky-tonk hybrid that has come to be known as "alt-country" and, like many other albums in this genre, it owes a sizable debt to early Steve Earle albums such as Guitar Town and Exit O.

Richards gets able assists from Field, backup singer Dawn McCoy (who delivers a haunting harmony vocal on "Hearts Like These") and veteran Nashville musician Lloyd Green (whose melancholy pedal steel work on "Belly of Odilia" and "Crazy Too" nearly steals the show). In the end, though, it's the singer-songwriter's melodies and thoughtful lyrics that carry the day. Most intriguing moment? The disc-closing "Ballad of the Analog Kid," a lament about the decline of traditional country music that wounds with lines like: "They left him in pieces/ Lying scattered on the floor/ Missing parts that they're not making anymore."

David Bowie

Diamond Dogs: 30th Anniversary Edition (Virgin/EMI) ***

Having said goodbye to Ziggy Stardust and live performance -- right -- in 1974, Bowie transformed himself into a mulleted mutant on the cover illustration of this quasi-concept affair. The post-apocalyptic-disc scenario itself was visual enough -- "As they pulled you out of the oxygen tent, you asked for the latest party," he reported on the title track -- but aside from glam anthem-to-be "Rebel Rebel" the songs were not that interesting. The second disc of this reissue contains eight tracks, including a demo of "Candidate" and a preview of his next direction in the faux-soul "Dodo." More welcome would have been the soundtrack or video of "The 1984 Floor Show," a Bowie cabaret version of this album originally shown to horrified Aerosmith fans on TV's Midnight Special.

Dr. John

N'Awlinz: Dis Dat or D'Udda (Blue Note) ***

Paying homage to his New Orleans birthplace, keyboardist Dr. John (Mac Rebennack) uses some of that city's finest players -- Earl Palmer, Clarence (Gatemouth) Brown, Nicholas Payton, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Dave Bartholomew -- tosses in some other guests (Willie Nelson, Randy Newman, Mavis Staples, B.B. King) and comes up with a musical gumbo that, while satisfying, could have been even better with fewer ingredients.

On "Life's a One Way Ticket," "Stackalee" and the title track, Dr. John's engaging, growly vocals are total pleasures on their own, making the guest vocalists on other songs mostly an unnecessary novelty. The exceptions are the Neville Brothers' Cyril Neville ("Marie Laveau" & "I'm Goin' Home") and fellow Crescent City native Eddie Bo ("St. James Infirmary"), who work well with and around Dr. John's vocal idiosyncrasies.

In the liner notes, Dr. John says, "The roots of New Orleans is drums." Making the case is the magnificent Palmer, who might be almost 80 years old but pounds the skins with the verve of someone a quarter his age.

Deborah Coleman

What About Love? (Telarc) ***

The last real female blues singer to infiltrate the mainstream was Bonnie Raitt. Deborah Coleman, a slide guitarist singer and songwriter as gifted and hard-working as she is gorgeous, could be the next, courtesy of her first release on tasty Telarc, after six releases on smaller labels.

Though Coleman is quite capable of guitar fireworks, the emphasis is on the songs whose roots are as much in R&B and Southern soul as the levee. On this live set from a Maine concert hall, Coleman and a quartet mix cover songs by Ellis Hooks ("Undeniable"), roadhouse warrior Delbert McClinton and even the Everlys ("When Will I Be Loved") with Coleman originals like the soulful title song and "Can You Hear Me?"

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