Cd Check

CD CHECK

September 29, 2005|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

David Gray

Life in Slow Motion

[ATO/RCA] *** (3 stars)

Those who think Coldplay has lost the message in its march toward world domination would do well to check out David Gray's new album. The hypnotic, soul-searching "Nos De Caraid" is exactly the song that could have given Coldplay's recent X&Y a much-needed emotional center and prevented it from collapsing under its own weight.

Of course, Gray's got a trunkload of songs like this going back more than a decade.

However, the English singer-songwriter's own emotional center seems a little wobbly and weighted itself here, perhaps still seeking balance after the death of his father (a topic driving his last album, 2004's A New Day at Midnight) and the heady, sudden international success of his 1999 song "Babylon" after years of obscurity. He's not questioning the career trajectory so much as assessing his place in life and art, with no clear answers or simple conclusions.

All this is encased in the subdued-yet-restless, attractive-but-dark sound Gray builds around his squinty tenor - much as he has for several albums now.

Affecting as it can be, it's maybe a bit too familiar.

Amy Rigby

Little Fugitive

[Signature Sounds] *** (3 stars)

In the successors to Diary of a Mod Housewife, the 1997 debut solo album that landed Rigby a spot in the Top 10 of Village Voice's annual pop and jazz critics poll, the Pittsburgh-reared singer-songwriter sometimes seemed to be wrestling with the classic how-do-I-top-that? conundrum.

Her fifth album answers that with a dozen brightly engaging, incessantly tuneful songs without a throwaway in the bunch. Her favorite themes - resilience in the face of romantic disappointment, a willingness to try, try again and the value of maintaining a sense of humor - aren't revolutionary, but they're always worth revisiting in hands as skilled as hers.

"Needy Men" puts a bouncy pop-cabaret spin on troubles with the opposite sex, transforming what could have been a whiner into an effervescent singalong. "I Don't Want to Talk About Love No More" is a muscular rocker enumerating everything she'd rather discuss than that dreaded four-letter L word. And she crafts a double-edged paean to '60s pop and '70s punk in the irresistible "Dancing With Joey Ramone."

She includes enough sonic twists to keep her membership in the "alt-" prefix community current, but deep down she remains a direct descendant of the Beatles-Kinks-Byrds pure-pop lineage, with a splash of Jonathan Richman's sardonic innocence to keep the listener on edge.

Shaggy

Clothes Drop

[Geffen/Big Yard] (2 1/2 stars) 1/2

When Dutty Rock, the 2002 dancehall reggae album by Sean Paul, went double platinum, Shaggy's reputation took a beating. Though Shaggy has outsold any other dancehall act, reggae fans murmured that compared with Paul's pure patois flow, Shaggy's singsong choruses and semipatois verses sounded inauthentic.

Shaggy's sixth studio album is an uneven collection, but it easily rebuts that argument, proving that as a reggae vocalist he is as bona fide as they come. "Ready Fi Di Ride" and "Luv Me Up," produced by Jamaican hitmaker Tony Kelly, are among Shaggy's most beguiling dancehall tracks.

Smoothly riding Kelly's sparkling, midtempo rhythms, Shaggy serves up his trademark "Mister Boombastic" routine, rhyming in rapid baritone about making a woman "point her heels to the sky." And on retro-sounding tracks - "Repent," which evokes '80s-era dancehall, and "Stand Up," which resurrects a '70s reggae rhythm - Shaggy proves that "Mister Lover Lover," as he's known, can also deliver sober, serious-minded sentiments.

On this set, his Jamaican roots steal the show.

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