CD reviews

WoW Gold

various artists

By now, most contemporary Christian music fans are familiar with the WoW albums that sprouted in the mid-'90s. WoW's newest offering is of a different color than the others, though. The double CD or cassette compilation offers a wide range of artists, including a good number from 20 to 30 years ago who, sadly, have been forgotten amid the wave of recent

Everything You Thought Was Right Was Wrong Today

Slobberbone

The lesson behind "Everything" is that nothing is off limits. The Denton, Tex., quartet does the twang thang as well as anyone, from magical banjo-laden stomps such as "Trust Jesus" and "Lazy Guy" to bluesy Southern rock epics such as "Josephine." Yet while Slobberbone is informed by rural music, it refuses to be defined by it. The CD's most spirited track, "Placemat Blues," is a snarling, sax-fueled homage to punk-rock's late great Replacements. "Bright Eyes Darkened," meanwhile, ends with a jazzy metal riff straight off of Rush's "Caress of Steel." Like Slobberbone's previous disc, 1997's "Crow Pot Pie," the new one finds singer-songwriter Brent Best studying life through a shot glass. And while his charming rasp of a voice is usually steeped in melancholy, he never makes the mistake of taking himself too seriously. From "Gimme Back My Dog" -- a comic new twist on the age-old breakup song -- to the tuba-and-accordion two-step of "Pinball Song," "Everything You Thought Was Right Was Wrong Today" is hardly the bummer its title implies.

Better Part of Me

Jon Secada

Jon Secada is playing the catch-up game. The Miami-based crooner, one of the original '90s Latin pop crossover artists, re-emerges after a three-year absence as the mainstream masses have embraced Marc Anthony, Enrique Iglesias and Ricky Martin. Stiff competition, for sure. And "Better Part of Me," Secada's first album since 1997's ill-fated "Secada," works overtime at proving the singer-songwriter not only remains relevant, but he's also versatile to boot. "Stop," with its salsa elements, sounds like a rewrite of Anthony's "I Need to Know." "You Should Be Mine" goes for the R&B; audience, especially since its melody line all but copies Gerald Levert's 1998 single, "Thinkin' 'Bout It." Then, "Papi" plunges into tropical waters thanks to heavy percussion and syncopated beats. Sprinkled about the album are Secada's pop ballads, love songs of the Michael Bolton-meets-Mariah Carey variety. He can sing them all. Secada belts with abandon. And the production is savvy, radio-ready. Sultry cuts such as "Speak to the Wind" and "Break the Walls" seem destined for the dial. But the essence of these tunes is no different than the material he offered on 1992's "Jon Secada" and 1994's "Heart Soul and a Voice." It's as if he's still writing for the early '90s, then making sure to add modern-day touches.

Silent Voices

Jim Shannon

A lot of pop fans and a lot of jazz fans are half-comfortable with world rhythms. So much so that somebody such as Beck or David Byrne can toss together foreign elements like a big global salad and make you feel something. But Dallas jazz guitarist Jim Shannon has a grasp of Latin rhythms and melodies that can form an experience, not just an exotic thrill. Playing both nylon-string acoustic and electric instruments, he plucks notes with such purpose and precision that they seem to jump like popcorn, especially on the Jobim-like "Spiral." And his classical training and ear for swing plants the mostly self-composed "Silent Voices" in both the barroom and the ballroom. "Cordova," with its Brazilian and Spanish touches, emphasizes the genuine woodiness of Shannon's acoustic playing -- sounds open up on arpeggios and snap back with tightly clustered chords. His electric guitar crackles on fast, boppish songs such as "Bluesology" and mellows thickly on Benson-esque tunes such as "Vibin," which features some killer work from local drummer Andrew Griffin. Bassist James Gilyard, percussionist Brian Brock and vibe-player Jim Massoud each bring something unique to the disc, too. Whatever Shannon's playing, he can put you in the moment -- completely.

Morning Light

Crucial Smith

If you buy only one bluegrass album this year by a band with a silly name, get "Morning Light." Crucial Smith's music more than compensates for their moniker. The four group members take turns on lead vocals, with Kyle Wood's high tenor especially impressive. The four-part harmonies are heavenly, and not just on the gospel original "King of Babylon." Playing mandolin, guitar, dobro and banjo, these guys pick like crazy, too, which is why the best tunes are the fast ones (including Wood's "Cry" and "Light of the Moon," and a delightful cover of the Beatles' "Please Please Me"). The arrangements seamlessly blend the high-and-lonesome sound of bluegrass with such subtle pop touches as the closing a cappella E6 chord on "Please Please Me." A lovely, leisurely rendition of the traditional instrumental "St. Anne's Reel" is so mainstream that it belongs on "Ally McBeal." "Morning Light" isn't perfect. Bassist Dave Holladay plays an electric, which never sounds right with bluegrass. More lead vocals by Wood and more uptempo tunes would be welcome. And is it too late to do something about that band name?

Live As I'll Ever Be

Chris Smither

"Live As I'll Ever Be" suffers from live-album syndrome only in one sense -- there are no new songs on this disc, which looks back at the last 10 years of Chris Smither's career. It doesn't matter. This is Smither at his purest, just bluesy guitar picking, tapping foot (a strategically placed microphone turns his boot into a percussion) and that gravelly voice. Smither's songs are deep, often dark and absolutely wonderful. He mixes wisdom gained the hard way with the possibility of redemption, or at least awakening. Live is the perfect setting for Smither's intimate songs. For the uninitiated, "Live As I'll Ever Be" is a good introduction to one of the country's greatest singer-songwriters. For fans, it's a major treat to hear some favorite songs stripped to their most elemental state.

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