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Pop Music | Record Rack

Caught on Tape: Echoes of Lives and Dreams

June 09, 2002|Steve Hochman; Randy Lewis; Agustin Gurza; Marc Weingarten; Steve Baltin

*** 1/2

DJ SHADOW

"The Private Press"

MCA

With his stunning second album, DJ Shadow has created a true shadow world. On the long-awaited follow-up to his groundbreaking 1996 debut, "Endtroducing," the Bay Area DJ hasn't merely assembled sounds. He's pieced together bits of lives--or lives' ghosts--that he found on vinyl recordings, ranging from a melancholy 1951 audio letter to obscure artifacts from pop's legion of no-hit wonders. In his hands, these are echoes of peoples' hopes and dreams, woven into a work as emotionally evocative as it is sonically arresting.

Closer to the sophisticated experiments of found-sound manipulators the Tape-Beatles or People Like Us than to Moby or Fatboy Slim, Shadow nonetheless shares the latter pair's dance music and hip-hop grounding and populist leanings. The only piece with real song structure is "Six Days," marrying a colorful relationship-as-war lyric by obscure '70s Liverpool band Colonel Bagshot with oddball psychedelia from just-as-unknown U.S. '60s artist Dennis Olivieri.

But this is hardly a difficult album. "Fixed Income," with electro-funk pulse, a harpsichord passage and barely audible spoken lines, rivals David Holmes' darkly breezy soundtrack work. "Un Autre Introduction," "Monosylabik" and "Mashin' on the Motorway" offer audio chop-shop whimsy. "Walkie Talkie" simultaneously honors and mocks hip-hop swagger. But tying it all together is an underlying sense of sadness and celebration as Shadow (who headlines L.A.'s Mayan Theatre on Wednesday) gives new life to these spectral mementos.

--Steve Hochman

*** 1/2

VARIOUS ARTISTS

"Divine Secrets of the

Ya-Ya Sisterhood" soundtrack

DMZ/Columbia

"O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack producer T Bone Burnett proved himself a musical archeologist and synthesist extraordinaire, and he reaffirms that in "Ya-Ya Sisterhood."

The film covers a span of some 60 years and territory from urban New York to rural Louisiana. That yields an invigorating and diverse batch of songs with a wider stylistic range than "O Brother," while reflecting the same passion for American music sources.

Even though six decades separate the ancient-sounding track by Cajun musician Blind Uncle Gaspard and a new number Bob Dylan wrote for this album, "Waitin' for You," they're linked by the traditional Cajun waltz form as well as the unadulterated emotions they stir.

Tracks bounce across the decades with ease, from World War II-style big-band swing (Macy Gray's delightful take on "I Want to Be Your Mother's Son-In-Law") to '70s British folk-rock (Richard and Linda Thompson's achingly lovely "Dimming of the Day") and '90s cabaret electronica (Vincent & Mr. Green's ominous "Drug State").

Just as Harry Smith did a half century ago with his revolutionary "American Folk Music Anthology," Burnett shows up musical boundaries for the meaningless marketing constructs they are.

--Randy Lewis

*** 1/2

ALBITA

"Hecho a Mano"

Silva Screen/Times Square

This Cuban singer-songwriter was once the glamour girl of Miami's high-powered Latin music machine, produced by Emilio Estefan for Sony, tailored by Armani, coiffed and packaged as a South Beach showcase. Those days ended in 1999 when she and the company parted ways after her disappointing sales.

Albita's career crash evokes the old Spanish folk saying, No hay mal que por bien no venga. Indeed, good things can come from bad, and we have this new album to prove it.

The title captures the state of her art: Made by Hand. This is a finely crafted work, burnished rather than glossed. The songs, all written and arranged by Albita, are warm, intimate and soulful. Without the pressure of courting radio play, they feel organic, taking unexpected turns and lasting as long as they need to. Some are stunning, such as "Son Sin Concepto" (Son Without a Concept), with its arresting, enigmatic monologue, and "La Magia de Ochun," with its dark doubts and soul-wrenching, reluctant plea to Santeria, the Afro-Cuban religion.

Albita's tailored five-piece band, plus the singer on guitar, creates a spare yet sophisticated acoustic sound, evoking her Cuban country roots. Far from nostalgic, though, this album gives us Albita reborn, more natural and honest but still sophisticated.

--Agustin Gurza

** 1/2

RAPHAEL SAADIQ

"Instant Vintage"

Universal

Saadiq would rather lay back than throw down. He's got a touch of Smokey Robinson's liquid satin in his phrasing and a complete absence of grit. His voice is a supple instrument that commands your attention because it insidiously draws you close and then envelops you. That's why despite a wildly successful tenure with Tony Toni Tone and a somewhat less earth-shattering stint in Lucy Pearl, Saadiq's voice is more recognizable than his name.

Can Saadiq's politesse make it in a bump-and-grind world? This album (in stores Tuesday) is really one long, tastefully arranged quiet storm. The drums tap out gentle rhythms, guitars strum minor chords, and Saadiq sings imploringly to his lover like a man who doesn't want to ruffle any feathers.

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