Oblivians' 'Soul Food' fit for palate

The Oblivians

Soul Food

Crypt Records

Playing straight rock, with a soul flair, this combo delivers a great record. Jack, Greg, and Eric Oblivian produce a righteous album that doesn't pander to the modern-rock enthusiast, but slaps them in the face instead.

Lamentably, most currently popular retro acts, such as The Reverend Horton Heat or Southern Culture on the Skids, pay homage to the roots of rock by stealing the most tame elements of rockabilly, country and blues Ÿ in the end mocking them by promoting the cousin-loving hillbilly/redneck stereotype. The Oblivians do not fall into this trap. Instead, they reach into the dark heart of rock 'n' roll for inspiration, both in song writing and playing. They incorporate a couple of chords, a couple of changes, and lyrics about sex or dying or whatever, into songs that really rock.

Recorded at Easley Studios in Memphis, this record would probably fall into some lo-fi category by most standards Ÿ though it might be more appropriate to consider that it was merely recorded quickly and cheaply, using simple techniques and emphasizing performance. They have recut several of their singles, and these turn out to be some of the highlights, but the record has few duds at all.

While starting off a bit slow, the record quickly gathers steam and by the time the screamable "Never Change" hits the speakers, the record is really rolling. When "Static Party" comes around, the album has really peaked, and you'll want to listen again and again and again. The CD includes a bonus track, but might not be worth the extra money, and won't provide any clarity of sound, so buy the LP. There are a few tiresome tunes on the record, and some of the recut singles are indistinguishable from the originals, but overall it is a big winner.ŸRobert Breckenridge



Atlantic Records

Green Day fans beware: this is the music your post-mid-life-crisis parent listens to.

Known for crafting soundtrack songs for Patriot Games and The Last of the Mohicans, Clannad follows the now-familiar route of updating Celtic sounds with modern instruments. Lore begins with a promising tune called "Croi Cr¢ ga," featuring voices chanting in Gaelic over the Celtic sounds of rumbling drums, wailing flutes, and stringed instruments. You can almost smell the sod on the moor, and the mournful notes will bring many a tear to an Enya fan's eye.

Unfortunately, the musicians of Clannad chose to venture into the wretched realm of New Age shlock-pop. The lovely Celtic rhythms and traditional instruments are soon drowned in a synthesized mix of mournful English vocals, soft-rock guitar leads, fake pan flutes, and that ultimate indignity, the wailing alto sax solo. Think Kenny G covering "Amazing Grace."

Though sung by a woman with a thoroughly enchanting voice, the words have all the depth of an Irish Spring commercial. Sentiments such as "compromise/is our greatest strength" make Amy Grant sound like Rasputin.

As Enya, SinÇad O'Connor, and even the Cranberries have proven, Celtic music and modern rock can be successfully fused. Clannad chose to water things down to a synthesized pabulum that would sound great in the lobby of the local dentist's office. There are a few high points to the album, such as updated versions of a few traditional Gaelic airs, and fans of SinÇad's The Lion and the Cobra will instantly recognize the swish-swish-click dance beats that pop up on some of the tracks. However, nothing will save this album from those putrid sax solos.

If you dig Enya, or have ever bought music at the 4th Avenue Street Fair, then this album may be for you. If you think the Offspring are the poet laureates of the 90s, then why the hell did you bother reading this far?ŸMichael Eilers


Set Your Goals

Lava Records

Major labels seem anxious to snap up any punk or hardcore band that is willing to sign these days, all in hopes of picking up the next Green Day or Offspring. New York's Civ is one of the most recent - they were picked up after releasing just one single on indie Revelation Records - and their debut album is a shining example of the problems that arise when punk bands go big: Set Your Goals, despite efforts to the contrary, is soulless and pandering.

Civ is the remaining members of the Gorilla Biscuits, one of the most popular late-'80s NYC straight edge bands (without guitarist Walter Schreifels, who left to form Quicksand, and also co-produced Set Your Goals), and the specter of that band is overwhelming. The Biscuits were catchy, fun and sincere. Civ tries to be all these things, and fails.

One of the biggest problems lies in the production, by Schreifels and New York legend Don Fury. This album is clean; so clean your could sterilize a scalpel with it. That wouldn't be so bad if Civ played more straightforward rock, but Set Your Goals keeps the basic structures and tempos of older hardcore - which should never be this clean.

Another problem is the lyrics. The Gorilla Biscuits were able to pull off the whole "think positive, be positive" shtick in their lyrics because they were young and sincere. Now, though, these guys are in their mid- to-late-twenties, and it's hard to believe they really take songs like "Do Something" or "United Kids" to heart. The end result is hackneyed and silly.

This isn't to say that Set Your Goals doesn't have its good points. Production complaints aside, the musicianship is strong. There's a good amount of catchy material here Ÿ it just isn't sustained. There's a great cover of Kraut's "All Twisted," and a fun cameo from Sick Of It All's Lou Koller on "Can't Wait One Minute More."

Civ could eventually develop into something good - the members just have to quit pining for what isn't around any more.

ŸGreg D'Avis

John Coltrane


And Johnny Hartman

A Love Supreme

Impulse Records

Re-released this past summer, these classic records by John Coltrane are beautiful examples of the heart of 60's jazz. The John Coltrane Quartet, featuring McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones, was an amazing group, and these records stand as testament to their skills as musicians and insight as artists.

Ballads, recorded in 1962, is a gentle trip into melodic jazz. Coltrane's saxophone is mesmerizing and soothing, while the rest of the band holds the songs together. This is a blissful afternoon listening experience, deserving of a B+.

Recorded in 1963, John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman is a simple jazz recording with vocals. The mellow singing style of Johnny Hartman takes over on this record, with less emphasis placed on the musicians and their ability to control a song. While neither a lounge nor a jazz dance record, this is nonetheless recognizable as a classic form of vocalizing, and unquestionably listenable. A solid B.

The classic album A Love Supreme has sold over a million records since its recording in 1964, and is one of the most respected jazz records of all time. John Coltrane may be the leader of the group and emphasis of interest, but the entire band shines on this album. Written in four parts, this is a unified album, a singular song that develops over the entire record. This is a sublime recording that every fan of music should own . with little doubt, an A+.

These albums have been re-released by Impulse in both vinyl and compact disc formats. The vinyl is a limited edition release, which combines the original artwork and gatefold cover. This is highly recommendable. The CD recreates the original, but is somehow less awe-inspiring Ÿ though no less recommended. The new mastering and production do justice to these classic recordings, which should bring joy to music fans forever. ŸRobert Breckenridge



Elektra Records

The title of Bjîrk's second solo effort seems to be in need of an ending: Postmodern? Post-Sugarcubes? Post-synthpop? The Icelandic imp with the volcanic voice has put together a second solo album of intricate, enigmatic songs ranging from deconstructed dance tracks to a spoof of Las Vegas showtunes. Much like her first album Debut, Bjîrk has gathered some of the best musicians, mixers, remixers and engineers from both Europe and the States to craft a set of songs that defy pop categories.

Gone are the made-for-MTV dance tunes that made up the bulk of Debut. Post has a more mature, polished sound, often veering into artistic self-indulgence. Wrapped in her haunting, screeching, bellowing vocals, these songs take old subjects (sexual and romantic longing, loneliness) to frighteningly obsessive levels, buried in lush, dense walls of violins and electronic percussion. Skating between Europop and outright weirdness, Bjîrk continues to push the same boundaries the Sugarcubes explored, making the music an extension of her own quirky personality.

Fans of Debut will find this a more refined, mature album with a denser, darker feel. Those who are uninitiated in the sounds of the Icelandic Ella Fitzgerald should cue up a few tracks: this mind-expanding mixture of house, techno, and tunes from Planet X will make your ears sit up and take notice. Ÿ Michael Eilers

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