CD reviews |

CD reviews

Easy Star All-Stars

“Radiodread,” on sale at All That Jazz for $14.98

The problem with recording someone else’s music is the challenge of providing the composition with a new voice while maintaining the original artist’s integrity.

When this challenge is met, a song takes on a new life. A successful cover can spark newfound interest in the songwriting of an artist from a past generation, as is the case with The Black Crowes’ rendition of “Hard To Handle” (Otis Redding) or Red Hot Chili Peppers’ version of “Higher Ground” (Stevie Wonder).

Similarly, many artists record songs that have a style completely different from their own, and generate an appreciation for the original artists’ songwriting. Johnny Cash did this with industrial rockers Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt,” and Jimi Hendrix took Bob Dylan’s folk tune, “All Along the Watchtower,” and turned it into one of the greatest rock recordings of all time.

But, when a cover fails to offer a new twist, it ends up sounding like an artist couldn’t resist the urge to fawn about a favorite song. Unfortunately, this is the common scenario – A Perfect Circle playing “Imagine” (John Lennon), Metallica doing “Tuesday’s Gone” (Lynyrd Skynyrd), The Fugees’ “No Woman, No Cry” (Bob Marley).

They leave the listener longing to hear the original recording, annoyed at an imitation that pales in comparison.

As daunting as it is to record another artist’s song, it takes a fearless musician to take on the task of recording another artist’s album. Especially when that album is as critically acclaimed as Radiohead’s “OK Computer.”

But “Radiodread,” Easy Star All-Stars’ reggae tribute to “OK Computer,” tackles one of the best albums of the ’90s with a fresh tone. Although the idea of deconstructing a conceptual album about technology and modern society and rebuilding it with an organic Caribbean sound seems ridiculous, “Radiodread” is anything but.

This probably shouldn’t come as a surprise. Easy Star All-Stars already has taken a successful stab at Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” with an album titled “Dub Side of the Moon.”

The band’s ability to handle “Paranoid Android,” one of Radiohead’s most popular songs, shoots down any doubts about its vision for the project. Featuring female lead vocals, lively percussion and a horn section performing the lead guitar parts with as much fury as the original, the song proves Easy Star All-Stars did its homework. Other highlights include “Subterranean Homesick Alien,” which is given a Creole sound, “Electioneering,” exchanging the original’s obstreperous mood for a bit of soul, and “The Tourist,” which sounds right at home on the beach.

As is expected, not every song hits the target. “Airbag,” an unfortunate dud because it’s the opening track, “Exit Music (For a Film)” and “Climbing Up the Walls” all fail to offer an exciting new angle.

But, despite a few misses, the album is an entertaining take on a classic that is sure to intrigue fans of “OK Computer.”

Rating: Radiohead fans will have fun hearing a different take on the band’s lauded album.

The Roots

“Game Theory,” on sale at All That Jazz for $14.98

During a summer in which hip-hop heavyweights such as Outkast and Jurassic 5 released new albums, it’s fitting that The Roots would drop one of the last albums of the season – and outdo them all.

Proving the group is worth every bit of the hype it receives, “Game Theory” is among the best albums of 2006.

The group’s intelligent rhymes and production are reflected in its title, a reference to an economic theory that has been applied to everything from biology to political science.

Lyrically, much of the album follows in the footsteps of the song “Guns Are Drawn” from “The Tipping Point.” It takes a higher ground, setting its sights on social issues – the propaganda spread by mass media in “False Media,” corruption in “Don’t Feel Right,” Big Brother in “Livin’ In A New World,” and isolation in “Clock With No Hands.”

If it sounds heavy, that’s because much of it is. But the album also has some lighter fare, such as the anthem “Baby,” the deep-rolling “Here I Come,” or the funky “Long Time.”

The tie that binds all of it together is the always-impressive production. The Roots, hands down, orchestrate the most fascinating music in hip-hop, most apparent when listening to the albums on headphones, where the use of stereo is most evident. “Game Theory” is no exception.

The mellow guitar tones of “Livin’ In A New World,” the bluesy keys and horns of “Clock With No Hands,” and the Old World, accordion-led chord progression of “Atonement” (which samples Radiohead’s “You And Whose Army”) showcase the group’s genius and its interest in venturing into new territories.

The odyssey culminates on the album’s closing track, “Can’t Stop This,” which features a dizzying array of samples to complement its ode to a friend who died.

There’s not a single misstep on “Game Theory,” continuing The Roots’ string of near-perfect albums.

Rating: One of the few must-own albums of 2006

Gov’t Mule

“High & Mighty,” on sale at All That Jazz for $13.98

Allman Brothers Band side project Gov’t Mule is among the most popular jam bands.

And, as with many jam bands, its studio work doesn’t seem to capture the excitement the band creates during its live performances.

At times, “High & Mighty,” the band’s most recent release, has the power of classic AC/DC or George Thoroughgood. Riff-driven tunes such as “Mr. High & Mighty” or “Brand New Angel” are perfect beer-drinking, Southern-rock anthems.

But then Warren Haynes leads the band into tiresome ballads such as “So Weak, So Strong” and “Child Of The Earth.” The songs might work in concert, but they drag on the album.

Worse, they seem to highlight Haynes’ often fickle lyrics. Haynes might be an incredible guitar player, and his tone and riffs on the album are a testament to that, but his lyrics are hardly poetic.

Take “Like Flies,” for example, in which Haynes laments modern society’s lack of understanding of art. Lines such as “They would not know the difference between Vin Diesel and Van Gogh” are laughable.

During a live performance, the cheesiness of such lyrics is probably lost in the free-flowing jams. On recording, it’s hard to take Haynes as seriously as he seems to take himself.

Straight-shooting blues tunes such as “Million Miles From Yesterday” or “Endless Parade” stand as the album’s highlights.

It’s just too bad the band didn’t stay away from the ballads.

Rating: Gov’t Mule’s renowned for its live act, but its latest album might fail to please all but the biggest fans.

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