Stuck Mojo

Though she has taken a moon-based moniker and has a spacey writing quality to match, Luna is actually 20-year-old Houston native Cindy Duhe, who has been playing piano for more than half her life. This 15-minute, nine-track EP is her musical introduction as singer, player, composer and arranger. And a decent introduction it is.

Luna's musicianship is skillful enough. She plays exceptionally on the wistful instrumentals "This," "That" and "Until." The only track on which she sings, in a clear and airy voice reminiscent of a Lilith Fairy, is also a standout. On the opener, "What Do I Think," she sweetly sings: "I can't stand the sight of your ugly face / Stop bragging about your life and get away from me." This track is also perhaps the most effective for its multilayered instrumentation. It has a kick that the other tracks could've used.

It's difficult to judge Luna as an overall talent, since Fragments -- true to its name -- consists mainly of snippets and snapshots. Numbers slip in and out of each other to a disadvantage. Just as the listener starts grooving along to the smoky jazz flavor of "It Was," the song is quickly transformed into the dirgelike and sleep-inducing "Them." Likewise, "Grandfather Dog" wanders aimlessly. The high school lyrics don't help, either.

Just as the moon assumes various shapes, Fragments shows the different phases of Luna. Still, they're promising sketches, which may or may not become actual paintings some day. -- Bob RuggieroDon't blame Bob Dylan for this CD, or James Taylor or Joni Mitchell. It's not their fault that sometime during the 1960s and 1970s the singer-songwriter genre became popular. The conceit goes a little something like this: My life, thoughts and inspirations should be heard in song. So I'm going to play and sing them. And the world should listen.

Not all of it has been bad. In fact, a wealth of wonderful songs has arisen from the simple idea that self-penned, folk-based music is a worthy pursuit. Sadly, the obvious sincerity and earnestness behind Houston singer-songwriter Melissa Adams's Firefly can't help redeem her mediocre tunes. Her husky voice is, at best, okay, and the melodies and arrangements are, like Adams's lyrics, hopelessly clichéd. The mood of this whole affair is subdued to the point of soporific.

Is it cruel to wonder what the point of this venture is? Adams no doubt has some friends, fans and peers who find something to like in her music. And that's a good thing. In fact, one of the beauties of music is that there's an audience for almost everything. Yet the aesthetic problem remains: This may not be bad music, but it isn't very good, or in the slightest way special or distinctive. Some stuff is best left played in the living room, around the campfire or at amateur open-mike nights. This is that sort of stuff. -- Rob PattersonAtlanta's Stuck Mojo is its label's biggest-selling band. It's gotten that way not by trickery or hype (which it has a lot of), but by the high road of releasing accomplished metal album after accomplished metal album, then staying out on the road seemingly forever in support. On its latest studio album, Declaration of a Headhunter, the band has even written a song about its work ethic, "Set the Tone," which praises the value of seeing the glass as half full and working one's ass off to keep it that way.

Such pointed self-empowerment is a message worth communicating. There are more than enough people needlessly down on themselves in this day and age of the quick buck and cheap celebrity. Stuck Mojo is also right to be proud. Declaration of a Headhunter shows the band taking its best assets and refining them to a higher degree than ever before.

Uniqueness goes a long way here. Turntable edges meet staccato riffs over rapped vocals on a song like "Hate Breed." And soaring '80s metal vocals make an impact as much as the soaring metal guitar lines (courtesy of Rich Ward) on a track like "Set the Tone." Harpsichord interludes occur here, dub beats there. Yet nothing feels patched together. "Drawing Blood" might be the CD's high point, what with strong hook after strong hook lending immediacy to the cut.

Seems the Mojo has a bone to pick, though. To wit: The United States is filled with too many lazy, system-sucking scum to survive. The only real solution, according to the album, is to get rid of them, like, for good (refer back to "Drawing Blood"). And if you don't want to participate, the next best thing to do is at least have a little pride in yourself and your country.

Ward, who writes all of Stuck Mojo's lyrics as well as the music, is skilled at his craft. The lyrics not only conjure up vivid pictures, but force the listener to consider the world around him. This is a talent that should not go unnoticed, especially in a world of Third Eye Blinds.

Unfortunately lyrics like those in "Hate Breed" ("This hate makes me a better man / My hate helps me take a stand / Strong inside, clear of purpose / Heart of stone, never nervous") are too easy to take literally. Regardless of whether they're sincere or artistically true, lyrics like these only fuel the fires of a specific type of intolerance Stuck Mojo (three white guys and a black lead singer) is pushing. Call it Darwinism.

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Chris Smith