Thursday, August 17, 2000
Dark, full of pain and sorrow, sweet, wise and occasionally even a touch optimistic, "Covenant" stands as a singular document. Of course, each Greg Brown album seems, upon release, to be his best ever. This guy has been turning out masterwork after masterwork, each seemingly impossible to top. Then a couple of years later, he outdoes himself. That's certainly the case with "Covenant," which is a great, great album. Producer-guitarist Bo Ramsey provides a perfect, mostly acoustic setting for Brown's loose-limbed funkiness, strong lyrics and deep, deep voice as Brown meditates on failed relationships and the seeming impossibility of lasting love. The catchy, melodic "Rexroth's Daughter" is a gem, bursting with great lines such as "She'd stand there in my doorway, smoothing out her dress/and say 'this life is a thump-ripe melon -- so sweet and such a mess."' And don't miss the "bonus" track. Just let the disc keep playing after the last listed song and enjoy the hilarious "Marriage Chant."
Hard Rain Don't Last
Like fellow newcomers Brad Paisley and Craig Morgan, Worley gets back to the basics of country music with a debut that celebrates traditionalism and country's working-class past. You hear it in the opening lines of "A Good Day to Run," the disc's leadoff tune ("I'm tired of working every day for a dollar/About to choke on my own blue collar"). You hear it in the bluegrass harmonies on "Who's Gonna Get Me Over You." And you hear it in this effort's lean musical arrangements, which rely heavily on fiddle, acoustic guitar and generous doses of mandolin and steel guitar. Worley's clear baritone and straightforward delivery are fine, but the real stars of this disc are the songs themselves, 10 of which the singer cowrote. In his skillful hands, matters as routine as Friday night quitting time, a middle-of-the-night call from an old lover and a working man's yearning to break the chains of conformity seem urgent and a line as simple as "If I could just be me" seems poignant.
Eve 6 is everything that is good and bad about modern rock. The power pop trio knows its way around a melodic hook, and mainstream rock radio programmers can blindly pick among the 12 cuts here and feel safe in knowing that listeners won't tune out. That's good enough for some people. Eve 6 also sports a retro sound on "Horrorscope," layering keyboards into its mix for a bit of that '80s Bon Jovi flavor. But Eve 6 is as faceless as today's rock bands come. There's nothing offensive about Eve 6, but there's nothing distinctive about Max Collins' vocals, Jon Siebels' guitar playing or Tony Fagenson's rote drumming, either. Any one of its members could stroll past you at your neighborhood Burger King -- where one of their songs is probably playing overhead -- and you'd never know. Rock music may still be a viable commercial entity but with identity-challenged bands like this one at the forefront, it's also never been less interesting.
It can't be easy being Sally Taylor, the first born to singer-songwriters Carly Simon and James Taylor. In terms of being reviewed based on "your" work and not having it compared to your famous parents', it's got to be impossible. Quite simply, after two albums, you can't listen to Taylor's output and "not" reflect back on where her parents were at her age (she's 26). At that point, Simon had already written two classics, including "Anticipation," and James Taylor had "Fire and Rain" under his belt. This Taylor, whose vocal debut on record dates back to the "la-la's" on her mother's 1980 hit "Jesse," hasn't created anything nearly so memorable and, taken solely on her own terms, she wouldn't merit much attention as a songwriter or performer were she not the offspring of two music legends. She is, however, to be credited for blazing her own trail. Taylor has avoided the major-label route, choosing instead to offer her CDs solely on her Web site and at her coffeehouse concerts. The title of Taylor's second CD, "Apt 6S," refers to the apartment in which she grew up in New York's upper West Side. Say "6S" fast enough and it sounds like "success," an optimistic goal. Clever. But the simple music, which owes an allegiance to her parents' folk-rock style, lacks compelling melodic hooks and her singing shows little flair. Taylor phrases a bit like Simon on the opening "All This Time," but the tune goes nowhere. If curiosity gets the best of you, pick up 1998's "Tomboy Bride," Taylor's first CD. It's no masterpiece but has some appealing tunes, including one produced and mixed by Steely Dan's Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. "Tomboy Bride" was a relatively promising start; "Apt. 6S" exhibits no progress.