Jimmy Eat World
Thoughtful Arizona pop-rock outfit Jimmy Eat World's eponymous 2001 breakthrough LP — originally titled Bleed American, but re-named after 9/11 — was more than an instantly memorable collection of simple, infectious guitar-driven tunes; it was also something of a victory for the depressingly anachronistic notion that a talented band can follow its muse and still get paid big-time. Having been perplexingly, inexplicably, idiotically dropped by Capitol Records about 45 minutes prior to the Emo Explosion, the quartet pooled its savings and headed into the studio on its own dime. The resulting record, while more scrappy and straightforward than their orchestrated, melancholy 1999 masterwork Clarity, was nonetheless a fine effort. DreamWorks picked it up, and by second single "The Middle," it was obvious that 2002 was their year.
Now it's two years later. The pressure's on for the band to please both its longtime loyal supporters and the fickle radio-suckling masses, and Jimmy Eat World has responded with the suitable, predictable Futures, an above-average album that pretty much defines the Warped Tour Nation's version of populist, pan-accessible arena rock, but also evinces a bit of the mediocrity that term implies.
Futures splits the difference between Clarity's urgent yearning and Jimmy Eat World's guileless uptempo pop, but leans conspicuously toward the latter — though the layered instrumentation and lush arrangements of '99 are back, here they're largely garnish for the sort of basic pop structures and overtly hummable hooks that the band rode up from the underground.
There's an occasional disappointing sense of fishing for an obvious hit, and a few tunes (including somewhat desperate first single "Pain") come off as tarted-up leftovers from the Jimmy Eat World sessions. Fortunately, Jimmy Eat World on an off day is usually better than most pop groups at their best. Even the sub-par material is buoyed by creative, often elegant touches and Jim Adkins and Tom Linton's ways with evocative melody. They're still at their best, however, when working with a sprawling, textured canvas, as on "Kill," the eerily Queen-esque "Drugs or Me," the gorgeous, New Wave-tinged "Polaris," and inimitably trademarked closers "Night Drive" and "23." 1/2 —SCOTT HARRELL
The Immortal Soul of Al Green
Hi/The Right Stuff
Lord knows that the bevy of Al Green compilations out there are certainly valuable, but you miss a whole lot by just concentrating on the hits. That's why this four-CD boxed set, sequenced chronologically from 1967 to 1978, is such a nice dose of manna from you-know-where. You don't just get "Let's Stay Together," "I'm Still in Love with You," "Look What You Done For Me," "You Ought to be With Me" and other classics from the early '70s, that golden period of soul. You also get the Impressions-esque "Back Up Train," a 1967 song by Al Green & the Soul Mates; the stripped down acoustic funk of "Georgia Boy," from 1977's The Belle Album; the churning, indispensable "Take me to the River;" the Afro-beat-inspired remix of "Love Ritual"; and countless other gems from Green's pre-gospel hey day at Hi Records. With a pliant voice more prone to subtlety than bluster, Green was especially brilliant at putting his indelible stamp on covers. His first truly successful foray was in 1970, when he took the Temptations' "I Can't Get Next to You," a hit only a year earlier, and transformed it into a shuffle blues. In the '70s, he put the Al Green stamp on the Doors' "Light My Fire," The Bee Gees' "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" (steamier than the original), Roy Orbison's "Oh, Pretty Woman," and even a couple of country songs: Willie Nelson's "Funny How Time Slips Away" and Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." The set amasses ballads, undulating funk, classic soul, even a few less-than-advised disco dalliances, much of it tinged with a hint of jazz. Not everything Green did at Hi was stellar, but most of the 75 songs on Immortal Soul are. —ERIC SNIDER
If Miles Davis' '80s music had been strong and energetic (which mostly it wasn't) and the trumpeter played with chops and vigor (which he didn't), it might've sounded quite a bit like Wallace Roney's new CD Prototype. Roney's probably tired of reading that he's a Miles acolyte, but it really boils down to an if-the-shoe-fits scenario. The proof is in the hearing. But that doesn't mean he's incapable of making fine music. Prototype finds just the right blend of modernity and tradition, exemplary improvisation and flowing ensemble chemistry. Factor in a collection of formidable tunes, and you come up with an eminently listenable, often beguiling, if not particularly original album. Certainly no crime there. He's aided by a bevy of ace players — among them pianist/keyboardists Geri Allen and Adam Holzman, saxophonist (and brother) Antoine Roney, bassist Matt Garrison and drummer Eric Allen. The disc opens with the subtle funk of "Cyberspace," with its dark, serpentine melody (and sonic fillips by DJ Logic). Roney opens his solo by blowing long, sensual notes bordered by plenty of space, with a tone so round and warm that it evokes Miles at his peak. Prototype takes a handful of welcome stylistic detours, including the title song, an acoustic ballad, and the frenetic bebop piece "Then and Now." Perhaps the disc's most seductive track is a remake of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together," slowed down to near-ballad tempo and oozing with romantic ennui (but in no way dumbed down a la Chris Botti). Maybe Wallace Roney will never shed the Miles Davis comparisons, but as long as he keeps making music like this, I say: Keep on, brother. 1/2 —ERIC SNIDER
Book of Silk
Tin Hat Trio
Evocative of Tim Burton's Beetlejuice, 19th-century ghost towns and rural Appalachia, the Tin Hat Trio mines a particular vein of American music seldom explored by other acoustic groups. Their latest effort, Book of Silk, is its own world, containing characters and stories both engaging and endlessly romantic. Impressively, the trio weaves its narratives using only an accordion, a violin and guitar — no vocals. The opener, "The Longest Night," is a somber lullaby, surging with layered violins and an Old World accordion harmony. It's a song that doesn't merely emote, but travels while doing so. Other tunes follow a similar course, like the ethereal "Company" and the closer, "Empire of Light." Within a single album, an entirely new, redemptive meaning has been given to the term "accordion music." —MARK SANDERS