A hearty amalgamation of Bowie, Orbison, Rusted Root and Prince, Austin-based singer/songwriter David Garza's fifth album Overdub is an imaginative and intricate journey into the world of alt-country rock.
Melding a crooner's voice with extremely catchy guitar-driven tunes, Overdub is an innovative musical achievement. Garza smoothly traverses the span of musical styles, alternately cranking out hard rock and warbling moody love songs.
On the acoustic anti-MTV track "Say Baby" Garza sings, "If they ain't down with your dublingo/if they don't hear no single when you're trying to get on the radio/don't sweat when you quit yourself and go solo/and if you feel like Jethro on deathrow/better call and request your own video." Ouch.
Avoiding the trite cliche of rock stars and their battles with the divine powers that be, Garza slaps it to those who try to equate love with religion. The tunes "God's Hands" and "Crown of Thorns" bring out Garza's biting cynicism, making it clear you won't find any leftover pieces of broken Jars of Clay.
Garza wraps his tongue around scathing lyrics such as "I'm sick of the millennium/bored by the pain/I waited for the gospel/but the gospel never came." It's all good though, 'cause Garza's got it going on with "Too Much" and "Bloodsuckers," the point/counterpoints of love and relationships.
Freshmen, remember these two tracks when your high school sweetie calls to say he or she's met someone new. "Nookienums" doesn't need you anymore. So the cute coed down the hall is just gonna have to do.
Self-produced and brimming with vision, Overdub is pretty close to being a masterpiece. Garza's lyrical creativity and incendiary guitar playing is perfectly complemented by a hot-handed rhythm section. I imagine they would be a fabulous group to hear live and see on stage.
By Sarah Kucharski
1st born second 3 Stars
What Aerosmith called "Dude Looks Like a Lady," R&B singer/songwriter Bilal should call "Dude Sounds Like a Lady." A confusing hodgepodge of vocals and lead singers, Bilal's debut album 1st born second lacks direction and definitive personality, not to mention gender specificity.
Although 1st born second's music and lyrics are written entirely by Bilal himself, it is impossible to tell when Bilal himself is singing. Assuming he's the guy singing most of the time, he sounds like a girl. Specifically, he sounds like Lauryn Hill.
Now, Lauryn Hill is cool. But a guy with a goatee who just sounds like Lauryn Hill is not. Rather he's reminiscent of a certain group of olden day choir boys -- you know, those preteen chumps who were dumb enough to be castrated so they would always be able to sing soprano.
Tad ironic considering the guy was formally trained to become an opera singer when he was younger.
Mediocrity too is uncool. While 1st born second is inoffensive -- excluding frequent use of the N-word -- it is more a figurehead of the average than high-quality soul. The album leaves you feeling that Bilal tried hard but missed the mark.
On "All That I Am" Bilal sings, "You ain't good to me as I'm good to you/ And you don't see my intentions the way I do." I completely agree.
While Bilal's intentions might have been good, the final product is not. Nonetheless, Bilal's work has achieved recognition. The single "Soul Sista" was featured on the soundtrack of "Love and Basketball," and he appeared on and produced Erykah Badu's album Mama's Gun.
Bilal ought heed the lessons of Babyface -- there are some people who are just better off behind the scenes, rather than in front of the microphone.
By Sarah Kucharski
Live By Request
In the liner notes to the Rhino compilation, "Women Like Us: Lesbian Favorites," musician Gretchen Phillips wrote that k.d. lang "made quite a splash when she came out in 1992, and she has run a steady, very intuitive stealth campaign to infiltrate the hearts and minds of all who listen to her."
Oh my dear sweet Lord.
Phillips makes lang's music sound like dirty, dirty, lesbian propaganda, as if her immense body of work could be boiled down to a subversive agenda to make the whole world grab its inner butch or femme and let it shine.
It's a shame. Certainly lang's music promoted dialogue and advanced tolerance, but her voice -- as it swoons, weeps and dives in the great torch song tradition -- is almost beyond sexual politics.
Instead you could say lang examines sexual expression -- the moments where desire becomes a physical ache and pushes you toward either ecstasy or insanity, or both. The idea runs through most of her work, especially in her well-deserved 1992 breakthrough "Constant Craving."
At some point this was lost; lang's sexual expression gave way to her sexual politics. Her album titles began to invite stupid lesbian jokes -- All You Can Eat is easily her best work, but it's safe to say the title wasn't about the Golden Coral, folks.
Likewise, the lackluster Drag screwed with everyone's mind. A non-smoker, Lang did a concept album about smoking (including a disturbing lounge-lizard remake of "The Joker") with, sure enough, a picture of lang in men's clothing on the cover. The music gave way to Phillips' "campaign," and both suffered as a result.
With all this in mind, look at a copy of Live By Request, with its old-school package design of lang checking her pitch. It's a breath of fresh air.
She looks noticeably older than her Ingenue days, but lang's voice is as vivid and amorous as it was when she started out as a Patsy Kline neophyte. As she crescendos, lang's powerful pipes are nearly overwhelming, such is her talent.
And true to its name, the album pulls the best songs from lang's career and avoids the missteps. All the various musical styles through which lang channeled her emotional excesses are well represented -- with the glaring, almost offensive omission of the All You Can Eat material.
But old favorites like "Wash Me Clean" are resurrected with the Eat sessions' exquisite pain firmly attached. And with old gems like "Constant Craving" and "The Consequences of Falling," there's not much left for lang to improve.
So rejoice. Lang has come full circle. No more stupid lesbian puns or mind games. No more "stealth campaign" politics. The album's just lang, a great repertoire and a talent so amazing it borders on obscene.
Which is the most stealthy, subversive she could do.
By Russ Lane
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