Welcome back, album review addicts! I’ve been forgetful and perhaps even a bit lazy since putting together my last column ten months ago. But never fear! Despite a few visual and style changes, “In My Headphones” is still the place to find great indie and otherwise ignored music that you need to add to your album collection!
Dreamworks Records (2002)
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that “Citizen Cope” may be the best album of 2002 that no one heard. You heard me. Citizen Cope is an artist who wastes no time getting to his point. He’s a beat poet in the hip hop era, who takes the genre and turns it on its ear, making hip hop music into something inventive and new that you all need to hear.
From the opening beat of “Contact” to the final strains of the album’s hidden track, Citizen Cope uses his streetwise way with words to weave a complex story, of a life of drugs and death that is somehow always intertwined with his journey toward salvation and redemption from the sins of the world. The album’s songs range from hopeful in nature (“If There’s Love”) to downright cynical (“Contact”). He sings that if there’s love he just wants to have something to do with it. Then he’ll turn on his heels and sing about racial profiling and drug addiction. And just as soon as you think you’ve got him figured out, he hits you with something great that you never imagined you’d hear.
The song I speak of is “Salvation”, an epic tale about Satan, who drives up to D.C. on a mission. He’s after the soul of the song’s storyteller, who has been heading down the wrong road. “You should have let the smack get you,” says Satan, “Now you’ve got to deal with me instead.” He’s come with three golden bullets and he’s “shooting for your soul”, as Cope sings in his tell tale scratchy voice. But despite the protagonist’s choices in life, he chooses to be saved by the final verse, as he makes a stand against the man who wants his soul. “His first shot grazed my eye / I lost half of my sight and my first born’s life / The second shot knocked off my guitar moon / And it left my guitar kind of playin’ out of tune / But I just kept strummin’ like I’d nothing to lose / He turned the third on himself ’cause the bastard knew . . .”
Songs like this don’t come around every day. And albums like this almost never do. Citizen Cope takes a genre that may well be ready to turn a new leaf, and drives it to take us places hip hop, blues and soul have never gone before.
BOTTOM LINE: “Citizen Cope” is the kind of album that once you hear it, you’ll never forget it.
Long and Overdue
Dream Makers Records (2002)
Kenny Camacho has a great voice, and he knows how to use it. He also does a much better job than many current “latin” artists (i.e. Ricky Martin or Enrique Iglesias) at getting his musical points across while keeping the latin flow entertwined within all his songs. But this album goes beyond just being an attempt at latin pop. Rather, Camacho is able to mix in many other genres, including elements of electronic and dance music, while making sure that his sonic experiments don’t get in the way of what is important: melody.
Whether it’s the opening track, a surprisingly haunting cover of “Lady In Red”, or “Never Give Up”, which is so ultimately catchy I can’t see why top 40 radio hasn’t picked it up for heavy rotation, Camacho never forgets what makes a song catchy and fun. He’ll mix electronic background sounds with exquisite vocals that are among the most addictively melodic pop vocals I’ve heard in a long time.
Most important, he never lets the music become redundant. Each song has its own charm and seems to fit perfectly in the scheme of the album. You’ll have the upbeat tracks like “Never Give Up” which are then followed by unnervingly beautiful ballads like “Sky”. “I’m gonna give you all I’ve got / I’m gonna love you with all of me,” Camacho sings, and you can tell he’s given us all he’s got in each and every song on this album. That’s something worth cheering about.
BOTTOM LINE: I recommend this album strongly to anyone who likes genre blending pop music with soul. Kenny Camacho may still be an independent artist struggling to be heard, but with “Long and Overdue” he’s shown he has the talent to make it happen. You heard it here first.
Crash Test Dummies
I Don’t Care That You Don’t Mind
Cha Ching Records (2001)
Long gone are the days of “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm”, the band’s fast rising single that brought them up from obscurity and then left them hanging. And gone are the days when baritone vocalist Brad Roberts even gave a shit. This album, by God, is the best mixture of blues, country and zydeco influences that has ever graced my headphones! You get the bluesy swagger of the title track, the tongue in cheek sarcasm of the Kentucky bluegrassy “Sitting On A Tree Stump”, and the heavily zydeco ‘n’ blues influenced “Yer Devil Ways”, all without having to change a single disc in your player! The album ends with another bluegrass and zydeco hybrid, as Brad Roberts sings the foot tapping track “I Never Fall Asleep At Night”, a fun number about a guy who gets so little sleep that he has fantasies about friendly spiders and being buried in the graveyard outside his window. “My thoughts won’t stop spinning round,” he says cheerily, “They dance and dance and dance!”
BOTTOM LINE: Get this album, I only regret that it had been out for two years before I fell under their spell again.
Love Lost Records (2001)
Cameron Dezen clearly has loads of talent. Her album “Mary’s Daughter” cleanly blends hip hop with folk and pop, which is impressive since Dezen is essentially a one woman band. But while tracks like “Underground” and “Gulf of Mexico” shine with creativity and make me wonder where Dezen’s talents will take her in the future, the rest of the album is mismatched and difficult to follow. Each song sounds fine on its own, but as an album, the songs just sound like they don’t work well as a “whole”, as though “Mary’s Daughter” is a puzzle that needs the pieces put together. Once Dezen gets a firm grip on where she wants to take her interesting lyrical folk hop blend, she’ll be a tough force to stop. But she’s not there yet.
BOTTOM LINE: Check out this album for interesting and creative individual tracks, just don’t expect the whole album to please.
Paint By Number
Planet Noise Records (2000)
This album is a real find. I happened to catch Three’s live concert performance on PBS’s “MHz Presents” one Saturday night, and I immediately went to their site and bought this album, ninety percent unheard. What I found after just one listen was that this Woodstock NY area group could be dabbling in the future of rock and roll. They’ve got the Midas Touch when it comes to insanely catchy vocals and intricately inventive guitar backgrounds. Songs like “Blood on the Blankets”, “Careless Kim” and the title track essentially ooze with Adult Alternative ready hooks, just waiting for the right radio market to pick them up. And while sometimes their lyrics are overwraught with well meaning gothic touches (“I don’t swim so well / It’s a miracle I’m mobile / At the Choirgirl Hotel / There are teardrops in the water . . .) after just a few listens it becomes easy to let that drip away as you drown in their intensely creative grooves. BOTTOM LINE: While perhaps a bit over the top, “Paint By Number” is well worth repeated listens! You won’t hear anything catchier on the radio . . .
Would you like to see your band as either a “Featured Artist” or a “Quick Pick” in a future “In My Headphones” column? Email me at [email protected] and I’ll let you know how to submit your album for review!