Notch another triumph for Joe Henry. It's a damn shame that a good portion of you readers have never heard the name. He built a cult following in the '90s with some of the smartest singer/songwriter fare around, then in '99 tapped his inner jazzman with Fuse and then followed two years later with the even better Scar. Tiny Voices is a further extension of Henry's heady synthesis of dark, sophisticated melody; elusive, poetic lyrics; and moody soundscapes. Call it abstract jazz-pop. Tiny Voices is subtly spiked with avant-gardisms, but retains a warmth and ear-friendliness. Tom Waits is a kindred spirit.
This is the kind of music to play when you're the last one left, sitting on a lonely barstool. It gets in your head. It gets in your bones. Henry's dusky voice portrays a palpable longing when he sings, in "Lighthouse," "Oh, my dear/ I've swallowed the moon/ And left it dark like a ring/ Burned on a spoon."
Tiny Voices is loaded with these sorts of nuggets — they don't mean anything specific per se, but exude a strong sense of feeling and atmosphere. Henry doesn't do narrative, but you feel as if you're crawling around in his head. "I loved you long before I knew/ Love is something one decides to do/ My vanity and fear conspired belief/ That love's just a mirror for a thief."
Henry has surrounded himself with simpatico players to realize the deep sense of mood in his work. Trumpeter Ron Miles and clarinetist/saxophonist Don Byron, who hail from the jazz fringe, contribute everything from eerie washes to lovely riffs to demented solos. The drums percolate, guitars shimmer. Strands of barrelhouse piano, Fender Rhodes and harpsichord add vivid detail. Further decorating the sound are splotches of white noise and dissonant loops.
Most of Tiny Voices creeps along seductively, with Henry injecting just enough spunk — the slinky R&B of "This Afternoon," the seething grind of the title track, the warped Tin Pan Alley of "Loves You Madly" — to prevent the experience from becoming an extended dirge. (www.anti.com) 1/2—ERIC SNIDER
Some records can be listened to anywhere, anytime. Some records seem tailor-made for very specific circumstances. This collection of pillowy, intimate electronica and acoustica from Ida principals Daniel Littleton and Elizabeth Mitchell is one of the latter type. And here's the situation for which Muki seems perfectly conceived: Around 8 or 9 p.m., ingest a heroic dosage of psilocybin mushrooms. Engage in the standard initial discomfort, laughing jags, tree climbing, irrationally deep conversation and near-death experience over the course of the evening. Then, at daybreak, disrobe with a loved one, take a quality boom-box outside, lie naked in the dewy grass and let these melodic paeans to contemplation soothe your psychic exhaustion. Or don't; it's up to you, really, but Muki's dreamy pondering seems an apt comedown accompaniment. The acoustic guitar-driven stuff ("R U Ready," "Wake Up Call," "Daydreaming [And I'm Thinking of U]," "Can't Help It," "The Fullness of Time") is more focused than the more mechanized fare, yet equally fragile, and the piano-tethered "Getting Nowhere" is also a standout. 1/2 —Scott Harrell
ALIEN ANT FARM
No longer content to play in the shadow of Papa Roach, Alien Ant Farm finds its own voice on truANT. The Southern California group's first radio hit was a cover of Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal," which showcased the band's sense of humor while proving these guys were serious when it came to funking out. This crop of new songs follows a similar formula, albeit with a healthy dose of maturity. Better-crafted songs, tighter arrangements, and cleaner production (by brothers DeLeo of Stone Temple Pilots, no less) sets this apart from previous efforts. Adding touches of strings and Latin grooves, AAF confidently transcends its frat-rock image. truANT isn't completely without fault, though. The lyrics are occasionally n"ive, sounding like a sixth grader's journal entry masked by the churning guitar lines and tight bass hooks. Lyrical misdeeds aside, the album's tracks are consistently radio-friendly, geared towards fans who would rather groove along than ponder and brood. —MARK SANDERS
The trumpeter's first outing for Blue Note, after a tenure with Verve, drops the high-concept trappings (guest singers, movie music, etc.) and simply showcases his superior skills in playing, composition, production and band leadership. Bounce is simply a damn fine jazz record that hops between various permutations of the post-bop tradition — aggro swing ("Fred Brown"), probing ballads ("Nocturna," "Passionate Courage"), a splash of Latin ("On the Verge") and more. Blanchard and company make a couple of cool left turns with the New Orleans second-line feel of the title track and a smoldering funk take on Wayne Shorter's "Footprints." Robert Glasper stirs in some B-3 and Rhodes to augment Aaron Parks' superb piano work. Blanchard, whose playing is more mellifluous and full-bodied than most, oozes confidence and swagger. He's at the top of his game. —ERIC SNIDER
Reggae Pulse: Hit Songs —
Listing:Party album, anyone? This 24-song set cobbles together cover versions of American R&B and pop songs from the '60s and '70s, performed roots-reggae-style by a series of not-so-legendary Jamaican acts. Most of these sides were released on Trojan in the '70s. The Chosen Few take loving custody of "I Second That Emotion" and "Everybody Plays the Fool"; Ken Boothe puts the throb into "Ain't No Sunshine"; Boris Gardiner slinks his way through "You Make Me Feel Brand New"; Dave Barker & the Charmers infuse some grit into "Just My Imagination"; and so on. You'd be surprised how well Janet Kay transforms the Minnie Ripperton ballad "Lovin' You" into a bouncy Island confection. The effervescent reggae lope and the acts' earthy vocal harmonies combine with familiar hooks to create an uplifting experience. (www.sanctuaryrecordsgroup.com) 1/2—ERIC SNIDER