"THE WAY IT REALLY IS"
Lisa Loeb (Zoe/Rounder)
sss Lisa Loeb's latest CD, "The Way It Really Is," is filled with catchy pop tunes -- upbeat and simple, yes. But the lyrics are smarter than anything a teen queen could conjure up. When Loeb sings about love gained and love lost, it's believable.
"There's miles and miles of strip mall smiles/Waiting to check you out," Loeb chants on the metaphorically savvy opening track, "Window Shopping." Loeb makes shopping and dating sound fun albeit strikingly similar.
Dig a little deeper, and there's a dark side to "The Way It Really Is." Loeb's voice is keenly adept, traveling from a sugary song about green grass and blue sky ("Probably") to a haunting song about death and human nature ("Accident"). The most intimate is the acoustic "Hand Me Down," in which Loeb's voice exudes pain about the ending of a relationship. "You speak to the weak and old picture of me," Loeb sings.
Loeb ventures into new territory to comment on bling-bling during "Diamonds." "Diamonds are just rocks that shine so I'm not the diamond kind," she croons. Unlike many of the minimal tracks, "Diamonds" is filled with electric guitars and heavy percussion. It's original for Loeb, but it's been heard elsewhere.
"The Way It Really Is" is a successful blend of folk and pop with clever lyrics and an emotional tone. Unfortunately, the only thing truly unique about Loeb continues to be her quirky glasses.
"THIS I GOTTA SEE"
ss Andy Griggs packs more power and emotional punch in his voice than Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw combined, and his pinup-boy good looks rival those of Brad Pitt. Yet five years after the release of his debut album, the Louisiana native's career remains parked well outside Nashville's inner circle.
This album, his third, suggests why: Griggs is torn between recording the kind of earthy blues- and bluegrass-flavored country he was born to sing and the kind of musical junk food Nashville's big labels feed regularly to radio. For every track on "This I Gotta See" that's credible (the bluegrass-tinged "Long Enough" and the old-school soulful "Be Still"), there's an equally noncredible moment of Music Row pabulum (mushy first single "She Thinks She Needs Me" and the lightweight, mildly naughty "Careful Where You Kiss Me"). One of these days, the talented Griggs is going to find the material that will allow him to hit one out of the park. Until then, fans will have to settle for base hits like "This I Gotta See."
"GATHERING OF SPIRITS"
ssss A can't-miss all-star band, the Saxophone Summit (Michael Brecker, Joe Lovano, Dave Liebman) lassos three fiftysomething post-boppers who have had a profound effect on contemporary saxophonists. The album centers on the saxophonists' complementary but contrasting styles and the rugged interaction with the rhythm section of Phil Markowitz, Cecil McBee and Billy Hart.
The requisite tenor sax freak-out tune is here, but the open material is often tailored to each player's strengths. On "The 12th Man," Brecker's harmonic and technical wizardry animates a static vamp, Liebman's soprano draws shifting augmented chords for his darker chromatic approach and Lovano's free-blues allusions settle on a funkier texture.
It's fun to compare how each player has distilled similar influences, especially John Coltrane. Sometimes it's like stepping into a house of mirrors. There's a great moment on Coltrane's "India" where the rhythm section falls into a spacey '60s Miles Davis groove with Hart's high-hat clomping on every beat, which inspires a few slippery Shorter licks from Brecker. Very hip.
"THE HAROUN SONGBOOK"
sss In prospect, the elements of this disc seem the height of incongruity: children's stories by Salman Rushdie adapted for the stage by the reputedly severe, modernist composer Charles Wuorinen. Truth is, Wuorinen isn't that severe and disproves the notion that atonal music can express only anxiety. As you become accustomed to his sound world, there's great expressive range, humor, rich textures and -- yes -- anxiety in these 34 songs drawn from the opera "Haroun and the Sea of Stories," which premieres this fall at the New York City Opera. What's heard here isn't just an operatic preview, but a substantial contribution to the song literature, sung with lyricism and vivid characterizations. Performers are Elizabeth Farnum, soprano; Emily Golden, mezzo-soprano; James Schaffner, tenor; Michael Chioldi baritone; Phillip Bush, piano.
ss With their sophomore CD, Fat Joe, Armageddon, singer Tony Sunshine, Prospect and Remy Ma deliver a classic New York soundscape with Latino sensibilities and touches of R & amp;B. The Scott Storch-produced "Lean Back," in heavy rotation on the airwaves and in clubs, sells the album alone.
On "Bring 'Em Back," the quintessential posthumous posse cut, Fat Joe trades barbs with fallen MCs Big Pun and Big L over a Lord Finesse beat built for true hip-hop lyricism. Evenly mixed with tracks that cater to the ladies ("Take Me Home" and "Streets of New York") and more lyrical tunes ("Pass Away" and "Thunder in the Air"), "True Story" is refreshingly well-rounded despite the loss of original Terror Squad members Big Pun, Triple Seis and Cuban Link.