It's appropriate that performances by Juliana Hatfield appear on the soundtracks for the movie Reality Bites and the TV series My So-Called Life. After all, the core of Hatfield's music is her angst-ridden lyrics, filled with more anguish and anxiety than even Prozac can handle. If it weren't for Hatfield's waifish vocals and bubble-gumish accompaniments, her songs would be more bitter-pill music than enjoyable pop tunes, the latter being just what the 14 tracks on her latest release, Only Everything, are. Placing "all guitars and vocals by Juliana/all songs by Juliana" dead center on the back of the CD insert shows a certain amount of confidence and pride; in this case, Hatfield should be damn proud. Only Everything is her best effort to date. Her songs are as endearingly catchy as ever -- from the simplistic "OK OK" to the can't-understand-it-cuz-it's-in-French "Fleur de Lys" -- and make good use of cutting guitar riffs to underscore the gritty songwriting. Even "Live on Tomorrow," with its story of one really fucked-up relationship, sounds disarmingly sweet. Hatfield's been underappreciated so far, but Only Everything may very well change things. That will be great --just as long as success doesn't cause Hatfield to lose her angst.
-- Joe Hon
Innovation and eclecticism abound in many of the current crop of up-and-coming British bands, and U.K.-based musical collective D*Note is no exception. This band holds its own in a London-based music industry always looking for the next wave in music trends. Its second release, Criminal Justice, is not only a highly creative exploration of different musical styles, but also a strong political statement. The title cut, for example, is a biting commentary on the passing of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act in the U.K.
Over the space of nine tracks, Criminal Justice ranges from down tempo ambient tunes to interesting variations on jazz to techno beats. D*Note, the brainchild of songwriter/arranger Matt Wienevski, is known for its experimental jazz/soul/hip-hop compositions, and was one of the first U.K. bands to take the leap from acid jazz to the new rage, "jungle music." The jungle vibe is aggressive; whether or not a rapper is used, the grooves are highly percussive with fragmented jazz elements.
Ambient track "Deep Water" is a dramatic instrumental piece that sounds, impressively, like something from a film soundtrack. Vocalist Pamela Anderson supplies refined, soulful vocals, particularly on the austere "Place in the City" and the jazzier, more sophisticated "Solomon's Blade."
-- Marlynn Snyder
Hilary and Bob James
Flesh and Blood
Bob James is best known for his work as a jazz pianist; his daughter, Hilary, for her acting career. Together, they're one of the finest pop duos seen in years.
Flesh and Blood, their first full-length release, began as musings in Bob James' home studio during his daughter's visits home. Those jam sessions became a demo that led to the father/daughter combo being signed by Warner Bros. Over the next two year, the pair recorded bits and pieces that finally resulted in their new CD. It was worth the wait.
Flesh and Blood is a mellow mix of jazz and easy pop with Bob's solid piano under Hilary's seductive and delicate voice on tunes ranging from the upbeat, infectious "Shelter Me" to the melancholy "Storm Warning." Bob James is refreshingly subtle, his performance restrained, going for the nuances rather than the big finishes. Hilary matches him note for note, with mature phrasing and lush, lovely interpretations.
The bittersweet "Somebody Make Me Laugh" is one of the CD's finest cuts, and Bob James' charming arrangement of the Elvis Costello/Kate O'Riordan tune "Baby Plays Around" makes good use of a cello solo performed by Maxin Neuman. Guitarist Lee Ritenour and singer Luther Vandross also join the James duo, adding their considerable skills to two tracks.
-- Olivia Torre
Every rap fan knows about L.A. rap's G-Funk, the melodic keyboard-heavy grooves of guys such as Dre, Snoop and Warren G that has, in the past few years, completely reshaped the sound of hip-hop. But there's another, less celebrated side to Angeleno rap that's been harboring some of the nation's most talented rappers. Rhymers such as Ahmad, the Pharcyde and the now-defunct Freestyle Fellowship -- dissenting voices to Dre's gangsterized clique -- have looked back to the East and taken New York's old-school dynamics and freestyle lyrics to new levels of technical proficiency. From this retro-minded school of West Coast doggy dog refuseniks comes World Ultimate from the duo the Nonce.
More than any of their South Central cohorts, the Nonce get permanently stuck in a New York state of mind. Juggling old-school styles with new-school production, the pair come closest to A Tribe Called Quest's jazzy hop. The single "Mix Tapes" is one of the few spots, though, where the Nonce's retro action sounds inspired rather than unoriginal. A tasty shot of authentic first-generation rap -- with handclaps, scratches, regular cadences and hip-hop culture references -- the song no doubt pushed the nostalgia buttons of American Records head Rick Rubin, who once made records very much like "Mix Tapes" for Def Jam before he packed up and headed to Burbank.
-- Roni Sarig
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