CD reviews: Kelly Clarkson delivers, Nat King Cole tribute doesn’t

BY DI ARTS STAFF | MARCH 10, 2009 7:27 AM

Re: A poor excuse for a tribute
Nat King Cole: Re: Generations
** out of *****

Nat King Cole, the velvety-voiced singer and one of the most celebrated jazz performers of all time, is probably rolling in his grave.

From the timeless artistry of the King Cole Trio to the civil-rights landmark program “The Nat King Cole Show,” the first television variety show to be hosted by an African-American, Cole’s influence extends beyond the musical realm to the very historical fabric of our nation.

With this in mind, a tribute to Cole’s legend seems not only appropriate but necessary.

It’s regrettable that Re: Generations happens to be that tribute. A mish-mash of today’s hip-hop, indie, and electronic artists (including Cee-Lo, TV on the Radio, Brazilian Girls, and Nas), Re: Generations is a noble endeavor that suffers in its actual implementation.

Characteristic of the album as a whole is the Roots’ take on “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home,” where the lesson learned can be summed up as “adding a background beat and some rapping does not an effective reinterpretation (or is it re: interpretation?) make.” In “The Game of Love,” Nas and Salaam Remi attempt to modernize Cole’s flirty calypso number by inserting awkward rap sequences, and TV on the Radio ruins the subtle beauty of “Nature Boy” with a constant stream of annoying ambient noise.

That is not to say there aren’t any solid tracks. Amp Fiddler’s bittersweet hip-hop ballad remix of “Anytime Anyday Anywhere” is top-notch, the Brazilian Girls adds electronic flare to “El Choclo,” and Souldiggaz and Izza Kizza’s take of “Hit That Jive, Jack” is a hot, jumpin’ throwback to the swing revival of the 1990s. However, the album’s real standout is will.i.am’s “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” a simple, straightforward hip-hop reimagining that proves why will.i.am is the today’s hottest producer.

The talents of today and yesterday are present but are unfortunately lost in translation. The real problem here is that Cole’s originals were masterpieces to begin with — is there really any need to modernize that which is timeless? Re: Generations may be an interesting idea to pay tribute to a musical legend, but it certainly isn’t effective. Nat King Cole deserves more.

Melea’s Picks: “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” “Hit That Jive, Jack,” “El Choclo,” “More And More Of Your Amour,” “Anytime Anyday Anywhere”

— by Melea Andrys

Eat the rich (hold the meat)
Propaghandi : Supporting Caste
*** 1⁄2 out of *****

Quick, think of your favorite incarnation of “The Man.” Chances are, Propaghandi has written a song disparaging it. Whether it’s tearing down organized religion, rejecting government in any form, or fantasizing about hurting people who eat meat, Propaghandi’s lyrical content is unapologetically punk rock.

Musically, however, by dosing Supporting Caste with an infusion of heavy-metal guitars and thundering drums, the band’s members do an admirable job of crawling out of any pigeonhole dug by the traditional punk lyrics. The addition of metal, a genre which owes its ideology and a lot of its speedier music to punk, ensures that the 12 tracks on the band’s fifth studio album never get too simple.

Vocalist Chris Hannah may not be a great singer, but he is a great punk-rock singer. With ease, he alternates between gravelly yells and nasally melodies, sometimes covering the spectrum of punk-vocal styles within a single line. His range is a necessity, considering Propaghandi’s extremely varied guitarwork. A song beginning with a thrashy heavy-metal riff may end with an upbeat pop-punk chord progression, and Hannah’s vocals bind each track’s sections together into a cohesive unit.

Supporting Caste is not an album that’s going to please everyone all the time. Fans of strictly metal or only punk will find plenty of musical digressions into unfamiliar and unlikable territory throughout the album’s 52-minute running time. And if neither of those genres sound appealing, well, strike this from the list immediately. But for those seeking a two-pronged attack of punk and metal that rarely lets up from its blistering pace, Supporting Caste may be the perfect weapon of mass destruction.

Brian’s Picks: “Supporting Caste,” “Potemkin City Limits,” “Last Will and Testament”

— by Brian Dau

Chris Cornell branches out and takes risks with Scream
Chris Cornell : Scream
*** out of *****

Chris Cornell’s career has taken several twists and turns in the last two decades. Having broken into the “big time” with legendary grunge band Soundgarden in the early ’90s, the world was introduced to a band that wasn’t afraid to be different and push boundaries. This may have been due, in large part, to Cornell’s great sense of individuality.

His powerful vocals and incredible musical skill have served him well, especially as a solo artist. Not one to be pigeonholed, in Scream he releases his most musically adventurous work to date.

Scream is his third solo effort, and his knack for making fans expect the unexpected certainly rings true. The album marks Cornell’s ambitious collaboration with producing powerhouse Timbaland, whose influence on the end result is anything but inconspicuous. One could speculate that what Timbaland has done for the success of other acts is possible for Cornell as well: raising his profile while still maintaining his grunge cred.

Musically speaking, there is very little in the way of dynamics on Scream. It is quite possible Timbaland’s musical style is at times overbearing, and sometimes feels more like one of his solo albums. Cornell is all about redefining himself, but maybe one or two tracks requiring more balls to match his animal magnetism would have sufficed.

While this dramatic change of pace is refreshing, it may prove a bit jarring for some. Knowing his voice, which ranges from deep and soulful to primal screams of rock fury, having an album which is almost exclusively based in hip-hop seems a bit ridiculous. Yet he is able to make it work to his advantage. Fortunately, the music varies just enough to highlight the better qualities of Cornell’s vocal prowess.

Rebecca’s Picks: “Sweet Revenge,” “Long Gone”

— by Rebecca Koons

American idol delivers like a pizza joint
Kelly Clarkson: All I Ever Wanted
**** out of *****

With anger, heartbreak, and a massive pile of bitter, Kelly Clarkson returns with her latest CD, All I Ever Wanted, and the first American Idol has delivered a strong album yet again. Her strong pop voice delivers hard, emotional, and beautiful lyrics that empower this confident album.

Although chick pop has sadly died down since the late-90s/early 21st century (Can tracks such as “Baby One More Time” come back, please?), that doesn’t stop Clarkson from bringing it back with a rock twist on All I Ever Wanted. It is the definition of the breakup, feel sorry for yourself, and prevail through the heartbreak album, which culminates in nothing short of fabulousness.

From the first track and first single, “My Life Would Suck Without You,” she delivers snappy lyrics with a catchy melody that screams for listeners to sing at the top of their voices (while dancing, of course). In between her upbeat tracks come slower tunes that emanate sadness and drip feeling.

“Already Gone” has a slow melody that describes coming to terms with a relationship that was destined for failure. The emotion flowing throughout the tune is heartbreaking but in a beautiful way, which is a turn from her anti-man classic “Since U Been Gone” from 2004’s Breakaway.

Following “Already Gone” comes a snappier beat on “If I Can’t Have You.” It’s an example of one of the things Clarkson does extremely well on this album: integrate fast beats with slower ones, making the songs play off each other and flow beautifully.

If All I Ever Wanted does something better than showcase Clarkson’s solid voice, it proves that she has come a long way since From Justin to Kelly. Unfortunately the same can’t be spoken for her costar, what’s his name?

Rachael’s Picks: “My Life Would Suck Without You,” “All I Ever Wanted,” and “Whyyouwannabringmedown”

— by Rachael Lander

Another Elvis leaves the audience shook up
Elvis Perkins in Dearland: Elvis Perkins in Dearland
**** out of *****

Folk-rock quartet Elvis Perkins in Dearland’s début album is helpfully titled Elvis Perkins in Dearland.

In 2007, frontman Elvis Perkins released Ash Wednesday, a solo album. His father, Anthony Perkins, known for his role in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, died of AIDS when the younger Perkins was 17. His mother died on one of the planes during the 9/11 attacks, and these facts make the somber tone of the album less of a surprise.

The diverse instrumentation, laid-back sound, and warm harmonica solos make the group’s sound different from traditional folk rock. All of the musicians in the group are multi-instrumentalists, giving the band more musical integrity than many other artists today, who consider being garage band a second instrument.

Elvis Perkins in Dearland starts strong with the acoustic guitar intro on “Shampoo.” The incorporation of smooth harmonica solos and the gloomy lyrics makes this track dark and catchy.

The walking bass line, bright piano licks, and heart beat-like bass drum give “Hey” a sound very similar to the Shins. This track is one of the brightest and most upbeat on the album.

“Send My Fond Regards to Lonelyville” is the album’s longest track at just over six minutes. It is definitely the most colorful, with a section sounding like Dixieland jazz and another using stringed orchestra instruments.

Wyndham Garnett’s use of a plunger for his trombone solo on “I’ll Be Arriving” gives this track a very bluesy feel. The heavy kicks by the bass guitar and bass drum as well as the slight distortion on the lead guitar make “I’ll Be Arriving” similar to “Cortez the Killer”-era Neil Young.

This is an extremely successful first attempt by Elvis Perkins in Dearland and, based on the evolution from Ash Wednesday to Elvis Perkins in Dearland, it will be exciting to see what direction Perkins leads the group for its next album.

Nick Pick’s: “Shampoo,” “Send My Fond Regards to Lonelyville,” “I’ll Be Arriving”

— by Nick Fetty

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