Out of the Country
The Winston-Salem-based Emma Gibbs Band maintains its interesting and joyful mix that's ultimately neo-country for the young city boy.
On its fourth album, Out to the Country, the band blends facets of every genre from country to bluegrass to classic rock. The album comes off with a cool, casual and eclectic sound made famous by its third album SevenEven.
But the musical talent, lyrics and members have matured, creating a more harmonious and peaceful sound.
Throughout the album, the band's members sing about their tired bodies, tattered clothes and traveling blues in a lifelong journey. Balanced between head-bobbing folk beats ("Hole in the Dark," "Engineer") and tranquil instrumental interludes ("'99 flood," "Never Been to Heaven"), the album is smooth and seamless yet youthfully intense.
"Black Road," in particular, stands out with its fervent guitar solos and light-hearted lyrics -- all with a sound that is characteristically Emma Gibbs.
Will Straughan's vocals come across as powerful and versatile, equally capable of country twangs and hopeful moans. Complementing his graceful mandolin scales are Drew Cannon and Richard Upchurch's dueling guitars, leaving plenty of room for enchanting solos and tunes that stretch out and weave back together.
A truly versatile musician, Straughan's wailing lap-steel creates a psychedelic country tune supported by driving bass and drums, played by Jeff Remsburg and George Wallis respectively. Above all, Brent Buckner's harmonica sings intensely, making you want to dance and just sit back and relax at the same time.
Not conforming to any specific genre yet exceptional for that exact reason, Emma Gibbs Band sounds like a backwater Bob Dylan, comfortable on any lost and lonely lopsided porch.
Out to the Country showcases the band's talent and individuality in a hypnotic album that the band will showcase at its CD release party at 9:30 p.m. Friday at Raleigh's Lincoln Theatre. Both the show and the new album should keep country-hungry city boys happy for awhile.
By Nick Parker
While sex and drugs may be a big part of rock 'n' roll lyrics, bands usually don't make them the whole ball of wax.
Pity no one told that to New York-based rap-rock outfit Bad Ronald. The group's self-titled debut album essentially revamps the same two songs over and over -- one about getting high, the other about getting laid.
Most of the band's vocals are ridiculously repetitive -- they'd be funny if they weren't so dull. The subject matter covers only drug use, casual sex and binge drinking, making the tracks blur into one another like an alcohol-fogged spring break. Women are described mostly in terms of breasts, butts and the sexual acts they're performing at a given time.
The utter lack of variety wears very thin very fast. Kaz Gamble provides a bit of lyrical oomph with his varied delivery, but the rest of the vocals are crap, pure and simple.
So Bad Ronald seems to offer nothing more than your bog-standard angry white boy rock. But ignore the lyrics and listen to a few seconds of "Let's Begin (Shoot the Sh**)," and the music's individuality begins to shine through as '80s-style electronic keyboards take over. The big hair gives way to hard-core thrash with the rock version of "Let's Begin" that ends the album, when the easy '80s groove and turntable work is replaced by solid guitar and bass.
The band covers a lot of musical ground. Tracks like "All A Dream" crank out like old-school punk, and they even cover Beethoven with an electric guitar rendering of "Ode To Joy" rounding out the song "Lost On Tour."
But decent music and redoing the classics don't redeem the album completely -- the random use of turntables and electronics gets old after a while.
In spite of its generic rap-rock feel, Bad Ronald has some, albeit buried, degree of musical talent. But it's clear the band does have a lot of maturing to do.
By Graham Parker
30 Odd Foot of Grunts
Bastard Life or Clarity
It has been said that everybody wants to be a rock star, and apparently that proposition extends to the highest echelons of Hollywood.
Keanu Reeves and Kevin Bacon have blazed the way for movie stars who can't resist getting their groove on, and now "Gladiator" Russell Crowe follows suit with 30 Odd Foot of Grunts.
Since the band actually existed before Crowe became famous as an actor in the '90s, it's unfair to accuse TOFOG (the band's preferred nickname) of being a vanity project. But it seems unlikely that the group would be reaping the benefits of an American record release without its burly, Oscar-winning frontman.
TOFOG plays Aussie folk, a configuration of blues and rock that would sound right at home among the drunks and sawdust of an Outback pub. The songs all sound generally the same and are driven by meat-and-potatoes guitar, drums and Crowe's gravely baritone.
But the down-home sound the group strives for never really comes across. For a record that would benefit from a more hard-edged, unpolished feel, the production of the album is too precise, leaving many songs feeling stale and flat.
The album's single, "Things Have Got To Change," is a toe-curling embarrassment, burdened by corny emotional build-ups of Crowe belting out lyrics that would make Bryan Adams cringe.
Likewise, songs like "Wendy" and "Memorial Day," in which Crowe pens his most personal words, tend to be the most unconvincing efforts. More often than not, the music fails to conceal the throwaway "emotional" lyrics.
But occasionally the group gets it right. "Swept Away Bayou" is a juke joint foot-stomper that finds energy in its quick, rolling pace and the welcome presence of a blues violin.
But this could all be a moot point, since most people won't be listening to TOFOG for the music.
Obviously the main attraction here is Crowe, and it will be his name that earns TOFOG any attention at all. For a performer who has made a name for himself by tackling memorable roles, it's a shame that his music is quite the opposite.
By Jeremy Fisher
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