Travis Tritt
sss Travis Tritt's honky-tonk history includes rowdy barroom favorites like "Put Some Drive in Your Country" and that's just what he does on his kicking latest, "My Honky Tonk History."
This time, though, he turns to outside songwriters for an upbeat country-rock keeper that takes a few detours into haunting story song ("Too Far to Turn Around," co-written by hot newcomer Gretchen Wilson), subtle politics ("What Say You," a duet with John Mellencamp) and sensitive balladry ("I See Me" and "Circus Leaving Town"). "When in Rome," a defiant Southern rocker, closes the disc on an up note.
If you "love the smell of cigarettes/Whiskey on a woman's breath/The sound of outlaw music," as Tritt sings here, "History" is a subject worth taking.
Scissor Sisters
ssss Scissor Sisters cut deep into the '70s -- Elton, Bowie, Bee Gees, disco -- for a stimulating glam-pop blend of class and kitsch.
Beyond the carefully honed image of the quintet of fashionistas with names like Ana Matronic and Paddy Boom, the act has an artful musicality that transcends its blatant influences on "Scissor Sisters." The New York band may sound like it's karaoke-ing Elton John on the single "Take Your Mama," but this is a brand-new song down to Jake Shears' startling, John-like vocals (that include lyrics about getting Mama "jacked up on some cheap champagne").
Even the lone remake on the album -- a take on Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" -- is a shocking revamp, a disco rave-up with elements of the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive" and Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger."
Scissor Sisters may be camping it up most of the time, but they are seriously skilled musicians with a diversity that carries them from the plunky soul of opener "Laura" (where Shears' voice sounds like a compressed and sped-up Stevie Wonder), to the earnest piano ballad "Mary" to an acoustically introduced closer "Return to Oz" that builds into a foreboding tale about the ravages of crystal meth on the gay community.
Damien Rice
sss "B-Sides" serves as a nice memento for those who discovered Damien Rice's "O" and as another reason to bring attention to the remarkable Irish singer for those who haven't.
"O" was the best debut released in the United States in 2003 (it had already been released in his homeland) and one of the best releases overall for the year. The unusually expressive Rice harnesses his intensity with powerful effect on "O," his forlorn voice punctuating the sway of cello and guitar.
Thanks to "O," the performer earned critical acclaim in the States, made the rounds of late-night talk shows (Letterman, Leno, O'Brien, Daly), launched a successful spring tour and performed at the 2004 Bonnaroo music festival.
Now enter "B-Sides," a momentum-sustainer to bridge Rice to a planned U.S. tour this fall.
By no means comparable to "O," the seven-track release is a hodgepodge compilation that will appeal primarily to Rice's established followers. "O" fans may be intrigued by two versions of "Volcano" -- an instrumental that stirs with interwoven strings, guitar and chunky beat and a demo that's, well, a demo. Also, the moving "O" track "Delicate" is performed live on "B-Sides," its imperfections underscoring the suspense of the song about a secret tryst arranged through loneliness and desperation.
The EP also includes a live "The Professor & amp; La Fille Danse" that ups the ante on passion when Rice shifts into French, and the whirring "Moody Mooday," a loosely structured freakout.
Bill Perry
(Blind Pig)
ss Bill Perry has been on the verge of widespread exposure since his 1994 debut, "Love Scars." The muscular guitarist and singer has fallen short with every studio record since then (although his live shows have remained potent). "Raw Deal" is his third for Blind Pig Record and has label-mate New York blues-rocker Popa Chubby in the producer's seat. Perry's voice and guitar playing have plenty of rough edges, if not shards, which Chubby is smart to capitalize on, and Perry still owns every spot on the fretboard (his solo on the plaintive "Live On" particularly shines). Unfortunately, the material here is largely standard issue. Things pick up on the second half of the disc, but that's when Perry uses songs by Chubby, Tom Waits and Bob Dylan, whose "Gotta Serve Somebody" gets an electrified treatment. It's too little, too late. Much of the material here doesn't match the guitarist's talents.
ss Straightforward, unpretentious heavy guitar rock is back, or so Saliva would have you believe with their new album "Survival of the Sickest." To be certain, there's plenty of yelling, cursing, speed guitar riffs and big rock bridges here.
It's just that most of it isn't very good.
There's not a single melody on the album that sounds completely original. The riffs sound like Poison; the chords sound too much like Motorhead; and Josey Scott's lead lyrics just sound overblown, as though he's packed 40 years of hard rock living into one weekend on a tour bus.
He hasn't, and if he had there'd be more substance here than songs about waking up hung over on the road.
On "Bait & amp; Switch" Scott wails about the trappings of fame. "Saturday, I wipe the sleep away and play in front of 30,000 plus, Sunday I woke up between two girls who cough because we've got a smoky bus."
Sure, Scott knows the lifestyle can be cheesy, he admits in a later lyric. Which begs the question: What do these guys feel is meaningful and worth singing about? The answer isn't on this album.
The lone bright spot is "Open Eyes," a heartfelt ballad on which Scott stops screaming for a moment. The song has a little emo around the edges and the guitar work isn't simply the ghost of bad rock songs past.
Saliva has potential to fill a certain listenable hard rock niche. Whether they'll reach it remains a mystery.

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