Lewis Taylor is too good for the radio

ON POPULAR MUSIC

October 20, 2005|By RASHOD D. OLLISON

IN THE CHANGER THIS week, we have a few recent releases I've been digging lately, revelatory albums that offer something fresh, smart and invigorating.

Lewis Taylor, Stoned: For years, British musicians have admired and found inspiration in classic American blues and soul. The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Elton John, Rod Stewart -- those cats based their distinctive styles on the sounds of black folks. You can add experimental pop-soul artist Lewis Taylor to the list. When he dropped his classic self-titled debut in 1996, the singer-songwriter-musician immediately amassed critical kudos on both sides of the Atlantic.

His 2000 release, Lewis II, was just as strong as the debut. But despite outspoken praise from the press and fellow artists including Sir Elton, Paul Weller, even the late Aaliyah, Taylor has yet to rise above the international underground soul scene.

His latest offering, Stoned, may not change that fact. The 14-song set is deliciously organic, intelligent, inspired, substantive -- all the qualities you don't find in much of today's mainstream pop and R&B. So, of course, you won't hear this great music on any Clear Channel-owned station. As you listen to Stoned, it's obvious that Taylor has been influenced by the great trinity of '70s soul: Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield.

But he doesn't rehash what has been done before -- looping and sampling dusty grooves from the crates like so many "neo-soul" producers. Essentially a one-man band, Taylor extends soul with flavors old and new: Psychedelic guitars grind and burn over buzzing, electronic keyboard flourishes and thick, pumping bass lines. The reclusive, sweet-voiced performer writes easy melodies; he has a solid sense of groove. Highlights include the chugging "Lovelight" and the strutting "Back Together." There isn't a weak cut in the bunch.

Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane, At Carnegie Hall: If you call yourself a serious jazz fan, you shouldn't be without this album. If you want to experience some straight-up exciting music, period, then you need to stop reading this, go out to your nearest CD shop, go online or something and get this album.

Larry Appelbaum -- God bless him -- is the recording lab supervisor at the Library of Congress who accidentally came across the tape of this Nov. 29, 1957, Carnegie Hall concert while transferring the library archive to digital. This album documents a high point in Coltrane's development during his fabled time with Monk. Under the guidance of the idiosyncratic piano genius, the legendary saxophonist flowered into a more experimental, more adventurous player. Coltrane's time with the Monk Quartet undoubtedly opened him up and, a few years later, came several musical revelations, including Giant Steps in 1959 and My Favorite Things in 1960.

The nine cuts on At Carnegie Hall never feel laborious or too "out there." The swingin' is mutual as Monk and Coltrane pull the best from each other, and drummer Shadow Wilson and bassist Ahmed Adbul-Malik keep everything expertly anchored. The 51 minutes of music, clearly recorded and presented here in well-balanced remastered sound, is wondrous. "Epistrophy" and "Monk's Mood" are standouts. But do yourself a favor and play the set in its entirety. It's a gem.

Little Brother, The Minstrel Show: OK. This is hip-hop I can get with: soulful, layered tracks overlaid with smart, cynical, sometimes downright hilarious rhymes. No, the set isn't the classic it could have been. The production gets a little redundant and the "minstrel show" concept, an accurate metaphor for today's mainstream hip-hop scene, isn't fully realized. But the North Carolina-based trio gets cool points for this ambitious CD nonetheless. Even with its flaws, The Minstrel Show still stands head and shoulders above many of the ghetto-fabulous hip-hop albums out now. The best moments on the CD: "Cheatin'," a humorous parody of R. Kelly and Ron Isley's urban soap operas, and "Lovin' It," a feel-good rap anthem that rides a smooth Stylistics sample.

Tracy Chapman, Where You Live: The dreadlocked singer-songwriter quietly puts out albums every two or three years. And each is usually warm and inviting in its subtlety. The Grammy-winner co-produced this glowing, fluid set with Tchad Blake, who recently worked with Bonnie Raitt on her fine new album, Souls Alike.

Where You Live, fueled by Chapman's always-penetrating social commentary, glides on gentle melodies and airy, minimalist instrumentation. The songs are mostly in the mid-tempo range, so none of the 11 tracks immediately jumps out at you. But as with any Tracy Chapman album, the music reveals more of itself with each listen. Check out the sad, haunting "3,000 Miles." Gripping storytelling.

rashod.ollison@baltsun.com

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