iJAMMING! reviews:
albums that sound different since September 11
Most of the reviews that follow were planned before September 11. But each album changed in the aftermath. Some had to be viewed in a new context, some required edits on behalf of the artists, some gained added poignancy and a couple became suddenly relevant. Indulge me.
NEW: Reviews posted October 2001
Reviews posted March 2001
Reviews posted December 2000,
mix CDs reviews posted March 2001
NEW: mix CDs reviews posted October 2001
Tony's online reviews (primarily for Sonicnet.com)
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WHO
VARIOUS ARTISTS
ARABIAN TRAVELS
SIX DEGREES

WHAT:
The Islamic Diaspora meets Western Electronica - at a poignant time

WHY
Arabian Travels was scheduled for a September 18 release long before the terrorist attacks on America. Some have since suggested that its release is inappropriate, but the label rightly stuck to its, er, guns, issuing a statement as follows: "The theory of Six Degrees of Separation postulates that everyone on the planet is connected. We started Six Degrees Records with the conviction that just as we are all connected as people, there are strong common threads running through music from everywhere around the world." Precisely. In fact, for over a decade now, what we once referred to as "world" music has been getting absorbed into electronic music, especially the more down-tempo kind; there just seems to be something about slow dance beats that invites the inclusion of "native," "traditional" instrumentation.
Sometimes the use of such samples borders on appropriation, leading to accusations of cultural theft, but Arabian Travels is too astutely compiled to fall into that trap. Many of its artists are either of eastern descent or have been working in this field for years. Therefore, when the American-born Karsh Kale samples Ustad Sultan Khan and Hassan Hakmoun on 'Indus Railway', or when Banco de Gaia names a track for a Turkish town hit by an earthquake ('Sakarya), or when Sonar remix the folk song 'Ya Rayah' by Algerian troubadour Dahmane El Harrachi, we as listeners feel less like tourists, peering into a fishbowl from outside, than we do participants in a new musical melange. Indeed, the trance-like effect of the oud (the Arab mandolin) and darbuka drum, and the stirring imagery of eastern strings set up against western synths and crunchy beats, all suggest a musical love fest at total odds with the military build-up between Islamic extremists and western warmongers. And isn't that the way it should be?
PRIME CUTS
Vienna-based duo dZhihan and Kamien's 'Just You and I' is one of the album's most emphatic cuts, the trip-hop rhythm perfectly complementing a tightly tuned eastern string line. The closing track by Euphoria, '1001 Dreams' - named, one assumes, in tribute to the book 1001 Arabian Nights - is especially cinematic, conjuring up desert beauty, not desert storm.
WINE?
Don't be fooled by the puritans. Wine was made in Iran 3,000 years ago. Failing the ability to still drink Shiraz from the town that gave the grape its name, you can take a virtual trip to the Brooklyn Museum of Art and its Wit and Wine exhibition of ancient Iranian wine vessels.
WHO
SUGARCULT
START STATIC
Ultimatum

WHAT:
Power-punk in the best tradition.

WHY
Pulling off a fresh take on the tried and tested formula of three-chord power pop/punk is a lot harder than it seems. Melodies must be simple but not obvious; guitars should be punchy without being corny; and the attitude has to somehow be both irreverent and intelligent if the lyrics are to interest anyone beyond puberty. Santa Barbara newcomers Sugarcult succeed on all these fronts with one of the most exuberant and effusive debut albums of the year. From the sub-two minutes opening blast of 'You're The One' to the closing ballad 'I Changed My Name,' Start Static harks back to, and appears to be as deep in potential singles, as Green Day's seminal Nookie. In case that sounds too immature for your tastes, it's noticeable that Sugarcult themselves cite Elvis Costello, Cheap Trick and the Clash as their influences. Check the skinny ties on the back cover and you'll see that they're not kidding. Given state-of-the-art production by Matt Wallace, Start Static hardly reinvents the wheel, but it spins near perfectly.
PRIME CUTS
Plenty of them, but 'Stuck In America' is clearly the most immediate. Before September 11, this extraordinarily energetic debut single was rightly receiving airplay on modern rock radio all across America, but its summation of small-town frustration unfortunately included the chorus line, "Everyone's talking 'bout blowing up the neighborhood," which saw it dropped from playlists overnight. The group took responsibility for the inadvertently-phrased line, and front man Tim Pagnotta, whose parents were in the military and considers himself as patriotic as the next punk, re-recorded it as "Everyone's talking 'bout waking up the neighborhood." It's too early to tell what difference this has made to the song's prospects , though there's an interesting side story here about how musician are already cutting back on violent references, which I would like to believe would be a good thing. Significantly, the song's last line states, "Today, I changed." To which my response is: Haven't we all?
WINE?
Californian upstarts toying with tradition? Vinum's Pointe Blanc is a perfect match.
WHO
VARIOUS ARTISTS
CAFE DEL MAR Volume Five
Compiled by Jose Padilla
MCA

WHAT:
Tranquil international music for Ibiza sunsets and post-traumatic consolation.

WHY
Going for a morning run precisely a week after the attacks on America, I pulled out this CD in the hope it would provide some suitable low-key accompaniment. It did that and so much more. Cafe Del Mar, for those who don't know, is the Bar in San Antonio, Ibiza which, thanks to resident DJ Jose Padilla's carefully chosen music for each summer night's dramatic sunset, almost singlehandedly started the "chill-out" genre a full decade ago. Along the way, Padilla has compiled many a memorable CD - now seeing release in the U.S.A. - encapsulating the breadth and scope of tranquil international music that finds a welcome home among the equally mixed and relaxed Ibizan community.

Still, from the whole series, I could hardly have picked one more comforting. Volume Five opens with 'Mumbai Theme Tune' by A.R. Rahman, which announces the album's quietly embracing intent with middle eastern flutes atop a quietly pulsating bass synth line, segueing into western-sounding violins that sound as if lifted from a Miramax weepy, which then themselves drop away to allow violas and 'cellos to pick up another eastern thread - a gorgeous example of the global musical musaic at work. 'Mumbai' is followed by Levitations' accutely appropriate 'More Than Ever People,' a gentle plea for peace with lyrics like "let love come shining through your eyes...we can be more than ever people." There's some late-night trip-hop from The Ballistic Brothers with 'Uschi's Groove,' the now defunct French band Les Negresses Vertes remixed by Massive Attack, and an ambient interpretation of Electribe 101's classic 'Talking With Myself'. Eastern vocals and flutes show up again over modern beats out of Amsterdam on Cyberfit's "'Pojo Pojo,' the native famenco guitars are all over Paco Fernandez 'Mani' and the album closes with a dreamy ambient instrumental from Wim Mertens entitled 'Close Cover' As this album so ably demonstrates, music is truly our international language. The sleeve credits close with the note that it was "compiled with love by Jose Padilla." Thanks Jose, we can feel it.
PRIME CUTS
Whoops. See above.
WINE?
Rioja is the wine to drink when in Ibiza; I haven't posted a review of one yet. Make some sangria instead.
WHO
THE CHARLATANS UK
WONDERLAND
MCA

WHAT:
Nicest guys in rock release most soulful album yet on the day the world changed- with sudden lyrical poignancy.

WHY
The Charlatans UK were meant to be in New York on September 13, launching an American tour in support of their superb new album, Wonderland, released two days earlier. Of course the shows were cancelled. And the album's unfortunate release date will have caused it to suffer enormously in America. But who knows, maybe they made it to Manhattan that week after all. On Friday September 14, I took in the ad-hoc memorial that had sprung up in Union Square, right by the Irving Plaza venue they were meant to have performed at the night before - and there, among all the chalk-written tributes, thanks and pleas for peace strewn across the concrete park, one stood out, in big bold letters, seemingly beyond coincidence: "Love Is The Key," the title of the Charlatans' new single.

So, a couple of weeks after September 11, once I could bear music again, I came back to Wonderland, and was immediately struck by the increased relevance of singer Tim Burgess' lyrics. Take the opening lines to 'Love Is The Key': "I found you/turned you in to America/I believe in you." This makes sense if you know that a couple of years ago, Burgess followed love to live in Los Angeles. But what about the chorus? "Oh! My my my come dry your eyes/there's only one kind of mind who truly satisfies/love is the key/love is the key." Utopian though such a phrase may seem in a world where some people clearly have no love, you don't want to knock Tim for believing.

Other songs now seem prescient. 'A Man Needs To Be Told' contains the follow-on lines, "There's a war going on/there is a world going on" and concludes that "a man needs to be told there is a truth in his eye/there is a rest in the dawn/there is a point to his life." The superb ballad 'And If I Fall' spells out Burgess' determination to reach for the stars if only to touch the moon: "I want to change the world....And if I fall by the way-side/I am coming down with my hands tied." The similarly ambitious 'Wake Up' opens with the lines "Here's to the man who gives to the poor, with a hole in his pride you know/he only wants to give more." Many of Burgess' humanitarian desires appear, on closer inspection, to have be driven by physical lust, but that's fine. As the saying goes, it is better to have loved. . .

Musically, Wonderland differs from previous Charlatans albums by virtue of Burgess' frequent (some would say, over-) use of the falsetto; by female backing vocals; and by occasional sampled beats. It's far less a rock album than it is a soul record: the driving Hammond organ and often strident guitar lines of previous years hold back in favor of delivering a smooth gloss, allowing the rhythm section a little more breathing space. It's a mark of the Charlatans' inherent confidence that nobody in this group ever feels the need to show off, though they have much to be proud of. A teaser show at the Bowery Ballroom in August found them at a performing peak, aided in no small part by a fanatical audience that sees the Charlatans as underdogs who have by now proved their champion pedigree. It helps my own belief in and support of the Charlatans that they remain the nicest group of individuals you would ever expect to see in a successful rock band.

Wonderland is probably not a better album than their self-titled fourth long-player (the last one before Rob died), which had the classics 'Just Lookin'', 'Here Comes A Soul Saver,' and 'Just When You're Thinkin' Things Over.' But it really is a beauty. Their most soulful album yet? Almost definitely. Their most relevant? Without a doubt.
PRIME CUTS
I would have singled out 'Love Is The Key,' 'And If I Fall' and 'A Man Needs To Be Told' even before September 11. That they have become so much more relevant since that fateful date should serve as reminder to lyricists everywhere to always strive for meaning, however oblique, and whatever the inspiration. Your songs will last much longer as a result.
WINE?
You know what? The Charlatans drink just about anything and everything. Help yourself.
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