Reviews of latest releases from Hot Water Music, Bill Evans and Paul Thorn

Hot Water Music Caution

One of the most enthralling live acts anywhere, ever, Gainesville posthardcore quartet Hot Water Music was known for years as a band whose recorded output never quite matched its visceral, cathartic sets. Even the best studio effort of their No Idea days, Fuel for The Hate Game, was an uneven affair, and one that cemented their riff-heavy style as made for the stage rather than the stereo.

When the quartet signed with punk rock Megalodon Epitaph Records a couple of years back, the doubters and naysayers claimed an irrevocable change in Hot Water would follow. And in a way, they were right; armed with the time, budget and experience they needed, the band finally made a thoroughly spectacular album in 2001's intricate, eclectic A Flight And A Crash. Flight's indie-rock experimentation signaled a shift in HWM's process from chunkage to tunefulness, with a tighter focus on songwriting.

That focus tightens even further on the streamlined, raging Caution, which comes a mere 15 months after its predecessor. Favoring succinct, immaculately crafted linear blasts, Caution sounds more like a punk record than anything Hot Water's ever done, but remains shot through with their patented emotional purge. Drummer George Rebelo and bassist Jason Black provide taut, inventive rhythms, while the blistering guitars and somewhat less gravel-mouthed vocal work of Chris Wollard and Chuck Ragan create an inimitable melodic tension.

Everything from the rending opener Remedy through the aptly named The End takes a straightforward, rollicking tack, though tracks like Trusty Chords, the moody, excellent It's All Related, Not for Anyone and Alright for Now stand out by dint of some exceptional touches.

Sonically, Hot Water Music's seventh full-length is a 180-degree turn from their last outing, taking a pass on exploration to hone a more traditional form. But the attention to detail is the same, and the result is equally satisfying.

Fans of the band's earlier, more metal-tinged moments will surely be a bit miffed; those gut- punching, heart touching elements that made HWM so compelling in the first place, however, are still in abundance. And here, they've been fused to the group's most readily listenable material to date. (Epitaph, www.epitaph.com) Release Date: Oct. 8.
Hot Water Music performs at the State Theatre on Thurs., Oct. 3, with Thrice and Coheed And Cambria.

—Scott Harrell

Bill Evans Alone

Bill Evans preferred playing piano by himself. He needed audiences, yes, if for none other than economic reasons, but his inclination toward solitude made him an absolute master of the solo piano idiom. Until Evans, most pianists used the solo format as a showcase for jaw-dropping chops and/or ebullient stride/boogie endeavors. Evans saw it as a means for probing, for mining an array of emotion from his work. Alone, a studio recording from 1968, is an exquisite, gorgeous exploration of melody, far-ranging harmony and pliant rhythm. Evans' true genius in this realm was his ability to simultaneously recast and remain melodically true to a song. So we get the full dose of ennui heard in the rueful Here's That Rainy Day, but the pianist's improvisation becomes more gregarious as it progresses. On Never Let Me Go, he takes another tack, constantly referencing the pensive melody and keeping more continuity of mood throughout the song's 15 minutes. Occasionally, Evans' playing on Alone becomes a bit too ornamental and fixated on big chordal flourishes, but these cocktailisms are kept to a minimum. The nearly 76-minute CD contains some particularly enticing extras, including previously unreleased alternate takes of every song and the first recorded version of his original Two Lonely People. (Verve, www.ververecords.com)
—Eric Snider

Paul Thorn Mission Temple Firework Stand

Since releasing his debut in 1997, erstwhile professional boxer Paul Thorn — he went six blood-soaked rounds with Roberto Duran in 1988 — has released three albums to little commercial avail. However, he has received a steady flow of royalty checks thanks to recordings of his songs by commercial country favorites like Sawyer Brown, Tanya Tucker and Billy Ray Cyrus. Which is puzzling, because Thorn's songs (usually co-written with longtime collaborator Billy Maddox) are clearly more alt-country than Music Row — rounded out with generous nods to soul and gospel. On Thorn's latest CD, Mission Temple Fireworks Stand, the gospel element plays a more prominent role than ever before, in terms of lyrical content and arrangement. Thorn projects his worldly sermons across Stonesy riffs, organ runs that sound as if they're emanating from beneath a steeple, and a male trio of African-American backup singers hand-picked by Thorn from a church in Tupelo, Miss. Titles such as Downtown Babylon, Ain't Livin' In Sin No More and Nothing But the Devil are the norm — all of the songs address some aspect of Christian spirituality. However, unlike certain rock/gospel albums hurled at pop audiences, such as the ones Bob Dylan released during his evangelical period, Thorn's songs observe rather than point a finger. He assumes the role of a man who has toiled in Babylon awhile but whose foundation is still built on the Rock of Ages. The album's amusing yet telling title-track is a story regarding a black preacher who quits his church and starts selling firecrackers on the side of the road, but feels compelled to continue espousing his love for God publicly, sans jeremiads, just as long as it's outside the stuffy confines of the chapel. Coming from a man who was born, raised and currently resides in Tupelo, the son of a Pentecostal minister who traveled the countryside preaching to white and black congregations, the song could easily be interpreted as an allegory for where Thorn currently sees himself as a performer (Back Porch, www.paulthorn.com).
—Wade Tatangelo