Comin' To Your Town


Warner Nashville

While pundits and purists sounded the death knell for quality contemporary country more than a decade ago, it wasn't until last year that they found out how bad it could really get.

Last year, it got Big & Rich bad.

The brain(less)child of former Lonestar vocalist John Rich and songwriter "Big" Kenny Alphin, Big & Rich rose to superstardom in '04 by combining all of the worst aspects of pop-country (cheesy, cliché-riddled wordplay, ostentatious hats), pop-rock (tired chord progressions, unnecessarily overblown production), and pop-rap (self-worship, tacky sexuality, reliance on nonexistent charisma, interminable slang) on Horse of a Different Color.

Naturally, songs like "Save A Horse (Ride A Cowboy)" were instant hits with millions of undiscerning listeners who really and truly wish their lives were more like light beer commercials.

The new Big & Rich album, Coming to Your Town, is, if anything, worse than Horse. It's an insufferable mess of bad lyrics, awkward rap-scene references, overprocessed '80s-rock throb and just enough mandolin, fiddle and pedal steel to get by, interrupted by a few "sensitive" and/or "serious" songs (like "Never Mind Me," the worst tune Glenn Frey never wrote) that seem ludicrous in the album's context.

The instrumental performances are, of course, top notch. The problem lies in both the material, which is misguided and pandering beyond the point of irritation, and in Rich and Alphin themselves. They're obviously content selling the sizzle, and fuck the steak — there isn't any, which anyone with a passion for substantial music should find insulting. 1/2





Author and former Ugly Beauty vocalist Christy Schnabel returns to music with a little help from multi-instrumentalist Jerry DiRienzo of post-punk pioneers Cell. Their Duchess debut vacillates between raw, somewhat traditional Americana and the sort of angular, semi-garage guitar rock most readily associated with the salad days of the grrl-centric Kill Rock Stars label. As singer and writer, Schnabel is equally adept at both — everything here is great — but she really shines when her material takes on a shadowy, subtly dangerous cool, as it does on "Diamond Ring," "Unable," "When The Lights Were Bright," "Let Me Gain" and "Not Closer." (www.blackballrecords.com) HHHH


Nuckin' Futs



Signed to rising Indian Rocks Beach-based hardcore/screamo label Significant, Jacksonville's Anchors Away ply a satisfying mix of speedy, muscular, old-school hardcore and straightforward, even Southern rock-inspired riffage. While this is pretty unpretentious stuff, there's a certain Clutch-esque primal eclecticism that sets it way apart from the usual fare, presenting a sound that harks back to the early days of metal/punk crossover while simultaneously cutting its own swath. Six songs, 11 minutes, no frills, all balls. Not a bad piece of work. (www.significantrecords.com) HHH 1/2


Water Sphere



This Texas band is the first to be signed by the label of Polyphonic Spree mastermind Tim DeLaughter, and Water Sphere definitely shares a sense of theatrical absurdity with DeLaughter's group. Influences here range from Broadway musicals to grandiose acoustic rock and multiple points in between. The group's ambition is commendable, but a lot of the ideas are haphazard; they're not synthesized into something greater. There's no tension in the symphonic build-ups, no explosions when the electric guitars come in: just a wash of various sounds. HH 1/2





Versatility isn't a quality most of us think of when evaluating an album. The guys and girl in Baltimore-based outfit Celebration must have, though, since their debut disc is one that suits myriad settings. Got headphones? A car? A shitty old boombox? Celebration's got you covered. The oh-so-2005 group, formed just last year, has gained considerable attention over the past few months, and favors creepy, bass-heavy riffs that follow no established pattern — this is not your typical verse/chorus/verse outing. That said, it's not exclusory, either. Analog synths and organs snare you on tracks like "China" and "Tonight," while other tracks — well, just about all of them, actually — aim to keep listeners pinned down with their mosaic of '60s mod rock and futuristic post-punk. HHH 1/2


Stakes Is High


Tommy Boy

The Strong Island trio's underappreciated fourth album had no business being ignored — then or now. Aside from the uncharacteristically hideous "Baby, Baby, Baby, Baby, Ooh Baby," Stakes Is High brings it on every track. Frontman Posdnuos' giddiness is key throughout, but it's appearances from relative newcomers Common and Mos Def that take Stakes from head-nodding to historic.


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