Cd Check


October 13, 2005|By LOS ANGELES TIMES



[ATO/RCA] *** 1/2 ( 3 1/2 STARS)

The Louisville band's fourth album is a mass of a million brilliant details, a shimmering mosaic with its feet in Americana mud and its head in the stars. The group has been hanging around the vital center of American indie rock for a few years now, particularly singer and songwriter Jim James, who collaborates with Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst and who represented the kids at last year's Gram Parsons tribute concerts.

There's still some of Parsons' "cosmic American music" ideal coursing through My Morning Jacket, but Z moves away from the more overt Band and "The Notorious Byrd Brothers" references, closer to a convergence of Who-like playfulness and drive with R.E.M. mystery.

With new members Carl Broemel and Bo Koster on guitar and keyboards, respectively, and with Englishman John Leckie co-producing with James, every sound on Z is bell-clear and perfectly placed. Its textures are tightly woven but free to breathe, the tendons of the rhythm section never allowed to slacken.

It creates a worthy frame for James' echo-bathed voice, one of the highest and most distinctive in rock. He still tends to hide in the mix instead of stepping out to anchor the songs. All the band needs is tinkering to turn its gleaming edifice into an inviting home.

The Magic Numbers

The Magic Numbers

[Capitol] *** ( 3 STARS)

Prime Number Romeo Stodart (and his sister, bassist and singer Michele) grew up in Trinidad and then lived in New York as a teenager before moving to England, where the band has hit the big time with this debut album.

But despite that itinerary, The Magic Numbers is pervaded by a California state of mind - California '60s vintage, that is, from the sunny folk-rock feel to the Beach Boys-like ba-da-da-das. There's also a heavy dose of the Lovin' Spoonful in the choogling, good-time rhythms, the guitar fills and the fuzzy, sunny, honeyed tone of Romeo's John Sebastian-like voice.

After the first five songs, the album seems to have settled into a contented state of facile homage. But starting with "Which Way to Happy," the Stodarts and their bandmates, drummer Sean Gannon and his sister, singer and multi-instrumentalist Angela, suddenly downshift and find their heart.

The rest of the album is an unbroken series of ballads in which the Magic Numbers' flair for melody and comfort with wide-open sonic spaces draws you deeper and deeper into the songs.

Liz Phair

Somebody's Miracle

[Capitol) ** 1/2 ( 2 1/2 STARS)

Phair claims her last album, 2003's Liz Phair, was just as vital to her as her biting, revolutionary Exile in Guyville, the 1993 collection that was a response to the macho swagger of the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street.

But that 2003 CD was mostly a light, unchallenging album aimed strictly at pop radio. Her new one isn't a miracle by a long shot, but the highlights show signs of an artist trying to reset her creative compass.

Phair is still addressing the basic themes of the last album, looking at sex and relationships long after the youthful fireworks of Exile, but this time she sometimes brings intelligence and insight to the tunes.

Phair planned this new, mostly pop CD as a response to Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life but wisely settled for simply a collection of songs about love and life.

Without the boundless musical imagination of Wonder, Phair is at her best here when she is at her most personal, as on the wistful reflection of the title tune and the sober self-inventory of the delicate "Table for One."

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