Master of the Moon
So you get the envelope from the record company, and you tear it open. The disc inside slides out wrapped in a bio-sheet, but the top of it is visible, revealing it to be the new release by Dio. Oh, fucking great, you think to yourself. Another metal icon from a bygone area trying to stay current. I'll bet there's a re-mix from Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda on here somewhere, or maybe Barney from Napalm Death sings on a chorus. Dave Grohl probably played drums and co-wrote half the songs. But the tracklist identifies no Kid Rock appearances, no duets with that chick from Evanescence. And the thing's titled Master of the Moon, which is pretty damn "classic Dio." And the front of the disc sports the bad old Dio demon, though he's definitely undergone a post-millennial makeover. Shit, you can even still see the word "devil" in the band's logo when you turn it upside down and squint really hard.
Intrigued, you throw the disc into the computer, to discover that Dio has changed remarkably, wonderfully little over the last 20 years. The dependable march-metal riffs, gothic keyboards and evil-witch-woman/things-that-go-bump-in-the-night/together-we-rock lyric imagery are all strongly intact, like they're fresh out of a hermetically sealed time capsule.
You remind yourself to be critical, noting that returning ex-Giuffria guitarist Craig Goldy, while talented, is no Vivian Campbell, and that none of these tunes contests the flawless templates of "Rainbow in the Dark" or "The Last in Line." On the other hand, several, like uptempo opener "One More for the Road," the title track, and creepy-crawly guilty pleasure "Shivers," surpass the filler that has manifested on every Dio release since Holy Diver. All in all, you sum, writing a bit of your eventual review in your head, it's Ronnie James sticking to his guns, and doing it almost as well as he did at his best.
Then you play the record again. And it's still good. 1/2
End of the World Party (just in case)
MEDESKI MARTIN & WOOD
Never content to rest on laurels, the venerable jazz-jam trio turned to an outside producer for the first time — John King of the Dust Brothers, who helmed The Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique and Beck's Odelay. End of the World Party is not a sample-happy affair, but it is more four-square, more reigned in than MMW music of the past, which was open-ended and resonated with limitless possibility. The songs, which run in the four-five minute range, are still built around the same basic components: Billy Martin's limber, funky drumming; Chris Wood's pliant bass work (big woody vamps on acoustic, exploratory lines on electric); and John Medeski's melange of keyboard textures, from spunky organ to grinding clavinets, with lots of synthesizer accoutrements layered on. He also features piano on a couple of tunes, most notably on the Latin-esque "Miami Gato." Marc Ribot's razory guitar adds a welcome dimension on four songs, even turning the end of "Queen Bee" into a rock throw down. Elsewhere, Sex Mobbers Steven Bernstein (trumpet) and Briggan Krauss (saxophone) thicken the Meters-ish "Sasa." End of the World Party is, in all, less in-your-face and dissonant than recent MMW efforts, and as such may be the most generally accessible album that the trio has ever released. Yet much of it sounds constructed and edited, which can at times mute the group's uncanny sense of flow. Some of the songs sound like really cool rhythm tracks, while others, the better ones, develop riffs and textures into something approaching actual tunes. 1/2
Spread Your Wings and Fly: Live at the Fillmore East, May 30, 1971
My enthusiasm, or lack thereof, for female singer/songwriters is elusive; they either have that certain something — or they don't. Why does Shawn Colvin get inside my marrow, while Sarah McLaughlin leaves me cold? It defies analysis, and I kind of like it that way. The late Laura Nyro, more prized as a songwriter than singer during her lifetime, is way, way up on my list. As such, this previously unreleased concert set, recorded less than a month before the fabled Fillmore East closed, is a godsend. The loose program features Nyro, accompanied only by her own full-fisted piano, sauntering through a series of originals ("Emmie," "Save the Country," "I am the Blues" and others) and classic pop/R&B tunes like "A Natural Woman," "Spanish Harlem," "Walk on By," "Dancing in the Street," "O-o-h Child" and "Up on the Roof." Nyro's operatic soprano packed celebration and sadness in about equal measures, and also delicately balanced intimacy and power. She also possessed a knack for extending a line and bringing new melodic contours to tunes, which is most associated with jazz. Best of all, she brings out powerful emotional responses — in me. 1/2
A Celebration of an Ending
Equal Vision Records
ATTENTION YOUNG MUSICIANS: I hate to be the one to tell you this, but I've done the calculations, and the numbers don't lie. With the arrival of Before Today's technically impressive but otherwise wholly nondescript new full-length, there are officially more mediocre screamo records on the market than the average fan could possibly purchase before he or she outgrows the genre. Yes, I know that a lot of the kids have jobs these days, but they really can't put in more than part-time hours, what with school and shows to attend. Plus, you've gotta take into account the fact that a considerable portion of that income is already earmarked for Hot Topic clothing, tattoos, concert tickets, black guitars, and server-space rental for Web logs and fansites. There's simply no more room in the trendsphere for even another disc of tepid, predictably bipolar pop-metal angst. So, please, stop making them, OK?
Version 2 Version: A Dub Transmission
Another installment of producer/bassist Laswell's endeavors into deep dub. The grooves, nearly all lugubrious and mid-tempo, cagily blend funk and reggae. Monster drum-machine beats and Laswell's rudimentary bass riffs, thick as Schwarzenegger's pecs, anchor the sound; the tracks are filled out with all manner of echo-drenched filigree, from tablas to synth smears to guitar wails. In all, the results are rather static, but for fans of tripped-out, tranced-out head music, A Dub Transmission is damn near nirvana. (www.roir-usa.com)