Secret Samadhi (Radioactive 11590)
Sometimes, having a lyric sheet makes it easier to appreciate the depth of an artist's work; other times, though, it simply confirms that the music is much smarter than the words. Live definitely falls into the latter category, for "Secret Samadhi" is the sort of album that seems much more impressive the less one knows about the lyrics. "Century" may be impressive in its progress from a wistful, acoustic strum to fully amplified roar, and there's clearly a certain majesty to the way the guitar is folded into the string section during the chorus to "Lakini's Juice," but the sentiments being propelled by those sounds are rarely as eloquent. Sometimes the verbiage spouted by singer Edward Kowalczyk is impenetrably pretentious, as in "Insomnia and the Hole in the Universe" where he sings, "Angel, don't you have some bagels in my oven?"; at other times, what he sings is laughably mundane, as in "Century" when he observes, "I can smell your armpits." (Thanks for sharing.) Still, at least that silliness makes those lyrics worth remembering, which is more than can be said for many of the melodies here. Should Live ever deliver hooks as mighty as its instrumental sound, perhaps the band's appeal will be less of a secret.
Baduism (Universal 53027)
It's unusual enough to find a vocalist who arrives on the scene with an original and fully formed musical identity, but Erykah Badu is something even rarer: a singer whose sense of style is so distinct that it almost constitutes a genre in itself. How should we describe this sound? Why not take the lead of her album and simply dub it "Baduism." A simple analysis would reveal that Baduism derives both from jazz and hip-hop and makes heavy use of complicated chords, funky beats, dub-style editing, deep-growling acoustic bass and an occasional burst of muted horns. Listen closer, though, and finer points become apparent, such as the way her elastic approach to time adds rhythmic power to her sly, playful phrasing, or the extent to which her fast, sweet vibrato evokes echoes of Billie Holiday. As great as her sound is, though, it's the songs that are the real pleasure, for from the simple exuberance of "Rimshot" to the emotional drama of "Next Lifetime," the material here is strong enough to induce any R&B; fan to convert to Baduism.
Eight Arms To Hold You (Outpost 00012)
Considering how closely alterna-rockers identify production polish with a lack of authenticity, it's a fair bet that the big, beefy sound Veruca Salt gets on "Eight Arms To Hold You" will raise a few eyebrows among the band's fans. But just because the drums thump and guitars roar with impressive authority this time around, don't assume that the band has descended into bombast, because Veruca Salt's songwriting strengths remain as they were on the first album. After all, the balance between powerchord guitar and sweetly harmonized vocals on "Volcano Girl" isn't all that different from what "Seether" served up, while the contrast between the angular chorus and sledgehammer opening riff in "Venus Man Trap" is similar to the dynamic that powered "Victrola."
Besides, the biggest change the band exhibits this time around has less to do with how muscular the sound has gotten than with how harmonically sophisticated the writing has become. That the lush, Beatlesque "Benjamin" offers a fresh twist on standard rock ballad form is impressive enough, but the ease with which "Awesome" absorbs the tuneful complexity of songwriters like Alex Chilton or Scott Miller is, well, awesome. Overall, a solid sophomore album.
Charlie Haden & Pat Metheny
Beyond the Missouri Sky (Verve 314 537 130)
Over the years, guitarist Pat Metheny has become so completely identified with the warm, chorus-fattened sound of his electric guitar that many listeners will be surprised to learn that he even owns an acoustic guitar. Perhaps that's why his duets with bassist Charlie Haden on "Beyond the Missouri Sky" seem so startlingly fresh; it's like hearing an old friend speak with a new voice. Granted, the fact that Metheny is a guest on what is, essentially, Haden's album accounts for some of the difference. For instance, even though Metheny's playing is very much in character during "Our Spanish Love Song," it's hard to imagine the guitarist writing something as close to Spanish folk idioms as Haden's tune is. But that also cuts the other way, as the airy, ethereal feel given "Spiritual" (written by Haden's son, Josh) seems more Metheny's handiwork than Haden's - even though Haden's big-voiced statement of the theme is what sets the tone. In the end, the fact that "Beyond the Missouri Sky" owes so much to each of its participants stands as testament to its strengths as a truly collaborative duet album.
Pub Date: 2/27/97