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Raleigh's Far Too Jones Lacks Flavor; OutKast, R. Kelly Compensate With Soul

Far Too Jones

Shame & Her Sister

two stars

It's never a good sign when the best song off your new CD is a remake of a song off your previous album.

But what the hell, might as well milk it for all it's worth, and Raleigh's Far Too Jones does just that on Shame & Her Sister, the pretty bland follow-up to the band's modestly successful 1998 Picture Postcard Walls.

Jones, which had the radio-friendly hits "As Good As You" and "Best of Me" off its old effort, was left without a label this past year when Mammoth Records, based in Carrboro, reorganized, dropped most of its acts and moved to New York City.

So the guys took matters into their own hands and worked to put out Shame all on their own.

For those who have never heard of the local Carolina boys, Jones would best be defined as the saltine cracker of bands.

Because they're pretty average, you really can't go up to a friend and say, "Man, have you tasted those new saltine crackers? They are awesome!"

Jones is just there, take them or leave them.

Shame begins promisingly with its first track, "Nervous (Why Am I Shaking)," a rocking love ditty that leads the listener to believe that maybe Jones has tired of being all-too-predictable.

The album's first single, "Julianna," which sounds similar to the best songs on Walls, has a snappy chorus that is sure to dominate the top 100 airwaves for some time to come.

But, alas, a mere two good songs do not make for a complete listening experience.

The remainder of Shame can be likened more to an exercise in aural futility as each and every song seems to bleed into the next due to the fact that they all sound exactly alike.

Even bubblegum pop stars such as 'N Sync and Britney Spears can make a CD with songs you can recognize as being different, even if they are rather amateurish in nature.

One look at the lyrics of each song makes one wish that Jones had just inserted more band pictures instead. "I'm hanging at the Circle K/And I'm watching all the hip kids/Tripping on the car wash and flipping me off today," is one of a handful of verbal atrocities.

OK, maybe Jones is just stuck in a creative rut. Its remake "Close to You (Version 2000)," which is truly a great love song, could just be the last desperate attempt to cash in on its 15 minutes of pop/rock fame.

Or maybe its window of time in which to become the next Goo Goo Dolls is already up.

Either way, Shame just doesn't cut it unless you are a diehard fan.

By Justin Winters

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four stars

Aside from the "Dear Mama" tribute or the token aphrodisiac slow jam, the boys' club of hip hop maintains a tenuous relationship with the fairer sex.

From the West Coast to the East Coast and all points in between, from DMX to Snoop to Juvenile, high-profile rappers unleash torrents of invective against women, and only pay halfhearted lip service to their attributes, usually physical.

In turn, when the mainstream music press reviews hip-hop albums, the actual merit of the music often takes a backseat to a protracted discussion of misogynistic content, and ultimately everybody loses.

Leave it to OutKast, then, to rectify this dilemma with an album that both celebrates women and knows where to draw the lines in the battle of the sexes.

Sure enough, there's more to Stankonia than just the old gender-war tropes, but the women-centered tracks boast focus and insight that outshine playa-licious anthems like "So Fresh, So Clean" and "Slum Beautiful."

Casanovas like D'Angelo and Maxwell earn the "sensitive" tag just because they're lovers and not fighters, but OutKast transcends these roles and deals with issues previously ignored or misconstrued in hip-hop.

The album's centerpiece, "Mrs. Jackson," adds a subtle wrinkle to the breakup ballad, as our heroes Dre and Big Boi express regret to their "baby mamas' mamas" in a tale of boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl that refuses to indict the girl or her mother.

From one end of the spectrum to the other, "Toilet Tisha" turns from the woman as mother to the young girl, pregnant and out of options, her story not rapped but poignantly recited as poetry by Big Boi.

Far from message-bound naysayers, OutKast also destroys and reconstructs playa mythology in a much more lighthearted manner.

The duo dispenses the golden rule of sex with "I'll Call Before I Come" (the title explains it all), but with far more believability than the "on and on 'til the break of dawn" spiel of your average Ladies' Man, as Dre declares his preference for "them old- school cute regular draws" rather than the ubiquitous thong.

OutKast even goes so far as to poke fun at playas who dress to impress the ladies and then turn around and dismiss them as hoes.

On "We Luv Deez Hoes," Big Boi calls out the misogynists and chides, "Don't lie if you love them."

No less revolutionary than their message, the aural backdrop that Dre and Big Boi concoct stands head and shoulders above the Swizz Beatz and Manny Fresh schools of commercial hip-hop.

Rather than just recycle minimalist beats for mass consumption, OutKast delivers actual music that explodes from the speakers.

From the P-Funk war zone of "B.O.B" to the New Wave guitar work of "Toilet Tisha" (reminiscent of early Prince), OutKast often transcends its otherworldly influences on Stankonia, not to mention the rest of the hip-hop universe.

By Josh Love

R. Kelly

four stars

Let the baby-making officially begin.

From the man notorious for his sexually honest but insightful ballads, R. Kelly's (Twelve, returns to the mood of its early-'90s predecessor.

The album's 18 new rump-grinding, sheet-shuffling tracks are guaranteed to complement any late-night activities (actually a specific activity) well on into the morning.

When compared to 12 Play, R. Kelly and 1998's R., lacks the signature sound and style that's detectable in previous albums.

Instead, many of the tracks have too many modern R&B influences and reused sounds from previous albums (megaphone-calling, Sparkle-esque tunes and oh-oh-ohing), so much that veteran Kelly fans will claim to have heard a majority of the songs before.

Despite this, the self-written, produced and arranged album delivers soulful, melodic and upbeat tunes, which will satisfy new and old fans alike after the album has officially grown on them.

Bedroom-inspired tracks include "TP-2," playing off the original "12 Play," which was created by Kelly during a concert to woo females, playing on the term foreplay by counting 'em up to 12:

"One, takin' off your secrets with my teeth/Two, slightly rough to let you know it's about to get kinky/. Eleven now put your body on top of me, I'm about to grab your waist/Twelve, now quick before we get to 13, set it on my face."

Only Kelly could kick game like that and sound smooth at the same time.

Exceptional booty songs are the delicious "Strip For You," "R&B Thug," "The Greatest Sex," the Latin-flavored "Like a Real Freak" and the mmmm-inspiring "One Me."

Break-up and make-up songs include "I Don't Mean It" and "I Decided," which would win any girl back with its sweet-as-candy lyrics and mellow production.

And finally, more serious, affirming ballads include "The Storm Is Over Now" and the superb "I Wish," which Kelly dedicated to his late mother and another close friend.

Over the years, tagging silly phrases and lyrics to the ends of his songs has somehow become Kelly's lyrical trademark.

But he's so smooth that yodeling, comparing IHOPs to a woman's body, talking about a woman's cooking and beckoning someone to braid his hair seem commonplace.

All in all, is a good album, and leaves enough room for Kelly's next project to generate as much hype as this one does.

By Shindy Chen



four stars

How did this album happen?

It's such an anomaly - an earnest, beautiful, soulful mix of country and swing and gospel and funk, to name a few of the genres covered - that it's no surprise that I didn't like it at first.

I changed my mind before long, though.

Released by Hobex's own Phrex Records, Wisteria is the band's first since splitting with Slash/London records, and Hobex luxuriates and thrives in its freedom.

The first three songs are more of the unique brand of soul on which Hobex has built its reputation. But "Sold Down the River," the album's first and probably worst song, sounds sort of like a Gran Torino studio cover of Steely Dan and drags under the expanded seven-piece band.

"Ain't Pushin' Baby," is the best of the three, mixing an interesting chord progression with Marvin Gaye-style vocals and a jazzy vibraphone solo.

Even so, the first three tunes fail to match the feeling and subtle beauty of the remainder.

The next six gems are all acoustic, featuring only vocalist/guitarist Greg Humphreys and bassist Andy Ware, with Squirrel Nut Zippers guitarist Jimbo Mathus.

From the early-morning country licks of Mathus' "Stop Startin' Over" to the bittersweet melody and lyrics of "My Heart Is a Radio," (also reminiscent of Steely Dan) to the gospel energy of the Sam Cooke cover, "That's Where It's At," this segment shows Hobex's amazing yet unpretentious versatility.

Every single song has its own identity, yet they are uniformly well-written and pretty.

The salient feature, though, is the tremendous feeling and expression transmitted to the listener through minimal production.

Even the album's few flaws testify to the fact that Hobex is a band that loves to make music for music's sake. Only that kind of band can produce an album as eclectic and absorbing as Wisteria.

By Warren Wilson

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