September 2002

Brutal, loud, and insanely intense, the Minneapolis-based American Head Charge is so extremely over the top that at first the listener might not notice that the band is also one of the most intelligent, interesting, and compelling metal bands to surface. Singer Martin Cock is just one of the reasons why their major-label debut, THE WAR OF ART, is a brilliant album. He screams, wails, whispers, and shouts his way through the songs in an incredibly intense manner, and he actually portrays an amazing range of different styles, from the ever-present powerful roar to drugged-out chanting and strong, melodic singing. Cock is easily one of the best voices in heavy music. Further credit has to be given to the writing unit of Cock and bassist Chad Hanks, who met in a rehab center (where they began to collaborate and, essentially, started the band). The songs are furious and emotional, incorporating tempo changes, unusual structures, grinding passages contrasting lightning-fast parts, surprising shifts in dynamics, and more. The lyrics employ a great number of interesting metaphors ("Go paint the windows in front of my face/When you know damn well there's no one behind them") and match the insanity of the music ("A violent reaction/Struggling only to keep myself alive"). Together with Cock's passionate delivery, the songs make for some cathartic listening (his exhausting, repetitive shouting of, "I don't like you at all!" on "Fall" is one of the record's many highlights). With strong assistance by the razor sharp production courtesy of Rick Rubin, the band itself manages to create a multi-layered sonic tapestry. The chainsaw-like guitars and the precise rhythms are surrounded by all kinds of keyboard sounds, samples, noises, and effects. A melancholy piano line can be heard on "Song for the Suspect" (which is then turned into an epic melody when the guitars join in); there are radio static sounds, manipulated tape recordings, Buddhist chants, and zombie movie keyboards giving each track a unique character. Of course, to a new listener it feels that all the details of the record get lost in the sonic onslaught -- only repeated listenings will reveal its actual depth. At 67 minutes, the CD can be overly exhausting at first, but even then most listeners will feel compelled to listen to certain songs over and over again. In any case, American Head Charge is essential listening to any fan of heavy music.




This review was written for the All-Music Guide on September 30, 2002.

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In 1966, the bossa nova craze was at a peak, and A CERTAIN SMILE, A CERTAIN SADNESS marked a collaboration between two of its biggest stars -- vocalist Astrud Gilberto, brought to fame by her classic rendition of "The Girl from Ipanema," and organist Walter Wanderley. Even though the album is good, it is not as exciting as one might hope. While the music is remarkably innocent and sweet, with just a little underlying touch of sadness beneath the joyous, even naïve, surface, Gilberto and Wanderley do not always seem to work together on these tracks -- it often appears as if each is performing in a universe of his or her own. That being said, there are many bright sides to the album, too: Wanderley's organ playing is as enthusiastic and fluffy as ever, while Gilberto's singing (in both English and Portuguese) remains smile-inducing. Both manage to create an incredibly warm sound, and when Wanderley plays some piano (as on the beautiful "A Certain Sadness"), you can sense a spark between the two. So, while A CERTAIN SMILE, A CERTAIN SADNESS might not be the most successful album of all time, it is still a nice record that fans of either Gilberto or Wanderley will want to have. And -- even though one tends to use the word "cocktail lounge music" -- their rendition of "Tristeza" is simply irresistible, easy listening or not.




This review was written for the All-Music Guide on September 15, 2002.

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Smooth jazz usually enjoys a bad reputation with critics, who tend to complain that the music is shallow and bereft of any personality. It's thanks to albums like Gerald Albright's BERMUDA NIGHTS that this style is often dismissed. There is virtually nothing on the album which is actually worth hearing. Sure, Albright's saxophone playing is competent, but he shows little excitement and even less personal style. The backing musicians include session cats such as drummer Harvey Mason and guitarist Paul Jackson, Jr., but they do not add anything to the proceedings. Basically, the songs tend to sound alike, and even though most feature different musicians, all of them offer the same pseudo-lush plastic-keyboard approach. There are many smooth jazz albums which show that the genre is not as terrible as critics pretend, but BERMUDA NIGHTS certainly doesn't fall into this category. This album is in its essence an inoffensive piece of fluff, recommended only to fans of Albright -- who would later record better smooth jazz albums himself.




This review was written for the All-Music Guide on September 6, 2002.

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