Citizen Cope is staging a second coming. Almost a decade after his debut, he's exchanged the raw-edged rap of his first release for a musical alloy dominated by elements of hip hop, pop and soul.
Citizen, born Clarence Greenwood, served as keyboardist and DJ for Baltimore's now-defunct underground rap outfit Basehead.
This, his second solo release, is a noble effort -- incorporating the storytelling style of classic rap and the themes of conscious hip hop in a musical fabric that stretches far beyond the usual thump-thump of the genre.
But Greenwood, who sounds something akin to a more soulful Everlast, needs to flex his creative muscle and squeeze out a little more juice in the songwriting department.
A few compelling moments litter the album ("If There's Love" features a charming piano roll) and the occasional hook draws you into a song, but the whole is dull. Most tracks are mid-tempo, mellow grooves, and none stand out.
Producer and mixer Bob Power has worked with A Tribe Called Quest, Erykah Badu and The Roots, but there's no evidence of his prowess in the basic beats of this release.
Greenwood's most glaring misstep is that the chorus of every song -- every last one -- is a repetitive chant of a single word or short phrase. There are only so many times you can hear "I'm comin' back, I'm comin' back, I'm comin' back," before it starts to grate.
In addition, Greenwood sings like he has a mouth full of food. As a result, phrases like "put the gun down" turn into "putta gah dah."
The album is almost folksy at times; songs like "Salvation" have a bluesy simplicity. Maybe that's because Greenwood grew up not on the streets of L.A. or New York, but in Mississippi, Texas and Washington, D.C.
Citizen Cope's music is difficult to categorize; it's a shame that someone so willing to innovate is lacking in ability.
But Dreamworks Records seems to be pushing Citizen Cope toward pop stardom regardless, pairing him up for tours with Ben Folds (tomorrow and Saturday at Cat's Cradle) and Nelly Furtado.
Despite the album's flaws, Greenwood's unique presence would certainly improve the top-40 lineup.
By Ashley Atkinson
Tools in the Dryer
If you've never heard Lambchop, then chances are you've never heard anything like them before. They're the music scene's best purveyors of alt-country soul -- with absolutely no relation to a famous sock puppet of the same name.
Their sound has been described as "Nashphilly," and that's pretty close. They mix '70s soul and a rock sense with country -- the blue collar, rootsy kind, not the banality of the Dixie Chicks or Tim McGraw. As Nashville natives, they're well-versed in the decline of real country music's stock. Operated by singer-songwriter Kurt Wagner since the late '80s, Lambchop has steered a successful course under the popular radar, despite making music that, though easy to appreciate, is often hard to love.
With a rotating roster of 14 members, the band's sound has evolved from an edgier rock to a soulful, symphonic blend that's about as sublime as music gets.
Their evolution is never more evident than on Tools in the Dryer, their new collection of selected singles, remixes and live tracks spanning the group's history. The breadth of the collection is startling at first and indicative of the band's growth musically. Everything from 4-track home recordings from 1987 to dusty barroom performances to lush full-studio outtakes are included.
Early singles "Nine" and "Scared Out of My Shoes" rock like country Pavement, and a recent Curtis Mayfield cover, "Give Me Your Love," comes closer to the Superfly himself than anyone in memory. Throughout the collection, Wagner employs his gentle speak-singing, and the whining guitar and wide open spaces of country are married to the strings and horns of soul.
The collection suffers, though, from a disparity of great songs. All included are passable, but only one or two of their old singles and a few newer remixes really jump out of the pack. A recent live version of "Love TKO" and studio outtake "Or Thousands of Prizes" are the best reasons of attendance.
The several lo-fi home recordings and early live tracks, despite being interesting, are forgettable. Recent albums Nixon and What Another Man Spills were largely more engaging than this and come more highly recommended.
Tools is an amusing look at a band coming into its own, but not enough of a study of either the band or the process to demand listening. Like most collections of unreleased songs, remixes and various tracks, Tools in the Dryer is for fans only.
By Brian Millikin
The Good Times
You must be kidding me.
The only possible reason "Because I Got High" does so well on G105's playlist is for the easy "Beavis and Butthead" reaction it garners. You can almost hear legions of Triangle-based youngsters resounding that pair's distinct giggle.
"Huh huh huh ...
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