CD reviews

Thursday, July 13, 2000

Songs For Sale
Lance A. Fahy

Lawrence singer-songwriter Lance Fahy has concocted a fine collection of new acoustic originals on his independently released "Songs For Sale." Possessing a keen ability to set wryly understated lyrics to his driving guitar rhythms, Fahy proves to be a talented addition to the local folk scene. Fahy's got a great keening voice that wraps itself around his songs like a blanket on a cold day, lending emotion and passion to his sparse sound. Wry folk music is a tough musical environment to work in. There's such a fine line between edginess and plain old goofiness in this genre that many fail miserably attempting to make listeners laugh and think at the same time. Fahy pulls it off nicely on "Songs," partially because he's released a collection of short, sharp tracks that are meaningful and sound like he's been playing, perfecting and honing, for years. You can almost picture Fahy strumming these tunes on his back porch, oblivious to commercial concessions or songwriting-by-demographic. (Undoubtedly, some of these songs WERE recorded on some anonymous Lawrence back porch). "Headstrong Naturalist" is a wonderful attack on capitalism and the alleged joys of our technology-laden lives while "Cold Spell," with its gorgeous melody, haunted vocals and lightly chorused guitar, sounds not unlike an outtake from an Elvis Costello or even a Prince album. Though occasionally a bit TOO quirky and inside-jokey (the throwaway "Cats On Leashes" should have been neutered), Fahy's low-fi approach and brick-solid songwriting skills work perfectly to his advantage, and "Songs For Sale" is as strong a musical and artistic statement as you're likely to hear 'round these parts this year.

Live at the Greek
Jimmy Page and The Black Crowes

I have to admit, when I first saw this CD, I was apprehensive. While I adore the Black Crowes, a great band that is particularly potent live, and I respect Led Zeppelin's legacy, the match-up seemed hit-or-miss at best. Jimmy Page hasn't exactly lit the world on fire in recent years -- cropping up on a number of nostalgic paycheck projects that haven't produced much in the way of new music. Fortunately, my reservations were unfounded and this double-live CD is scorching hot. Helped immensely by a terrific song selection, which wisely forgoes Zeppelin's better-known material and digs heartily into the treasure chest of its deep-catalog tracks. The Yardbird's seminal "Shape of Things to Come" is even dusted off and given a new coat of blues-tinted paint. Black Crowes vocalist Chris Robinson really takes to the task of recreating Robert Plant's inimitable style. "Celebration Day" finds the singer straining to reach the upper registers of Plant's vocal histrionics, but songs like "Custard Pie" and "You Shook Me" sound tailor-made for Robinson's velvet-fisted voice. There's only a handful of bands out there who could really pull something like this off, and the Crowes prove to be a perfect choice. Just imagine the trouble U2 or Pearl Jam would have overanalyzing an interpretation and thinking the fun right out of the grooves. Remember Puff Daddy's collaboration with Page for the "Godzilla" soundtrack? That's the flipside of the coin: artists who have little genuine understanding of Zeppelin's music, but go for it anyway, with predictably dismal results. "Live At The Greek" is the best interpretation of Zeppelin's music I've ever heard. The focus here is not on recreating the legendary band's bombastic sound, but on the bump-and-grind grooves that lay just beneath its sonic surface.

Underwater Flying Lessons
John Luttrell

Los Angeles-based musician John Luttrell's latest effort, "Underwater Flying Lessons," is a gorgeous blend of piano-based instrumentals that soothes the soul and the heart. Crisply produced and eloquently understated, Luttrell lets his fingers do the talking on "Lessons," blending layers of piano with occasional soft touches of synthesizer and atmospheric sounds. The title track is ethereal and haunting, while "Missing You" finds the artist stretching his sonic wings a bit and floating effortlessly into the realms of musical nirvana. "Lesson One" is a manic excursion into Luttrell's creative mind, a veritable ocean of rolling notes and dramatic flair that bursts with imagination. "Flying Lessons" sounds not unlike the soundtrack to an unmade movie, mixing a broad range of influences in between the lines and painting pictures with every note. Hints of classical, jazz and folk all find their way into Luttrell's heartfelt work, proving his ability to keep things interesting and eclectic.