sound off

Lucinda Williams’ Essence (Uni/Lost Highway) is far from dismissable but not close to remarkable. After winning a songwriting Grammy for “Passionate Kisses,” in 1994, great lyrics seem to be in order for her. But she’s back with lovelorn narratives that don’t stand out from the usual parade of country/folk music. Lucinda’s songs include familiar topics – lonely girls, jukeboxes and loves you just can’t get close to – all spread over sad-girl folk guitar.

Country influence runs warm and deep; Hank Williams’ presence is detectable. Cutting into the tried-and-true narrative themes on the album are “Get Right With God” (a smoothly bouncing gospel tune) and “Bus to Baton Rouge” (a song that paints childhood memories clearly).

Essence is background music for a rainy afternoon, when all your friends are out with their boyfriends and you’re organizing your closet.

Do you like rock ‘n’ roll? Of course you do. But what kind of rock? There’s the Radiohead-esque curl-up-with-headphones-and-a-bottle-of-wine rock music, and then there’s the pound-on-the-dashboard-while-you-scream-along rock. If your undecided, you’re in luck; Black Rebel Motorcycle Club manages to ride the line between the two.

BRMC seem to be on the short list of bands these days that can make you slap your steering wheel in time with the music and not feel stupid for doing it. They do it by making smart, but still ass-shaking, music that resembles Dandy Warhols (who BRMC opened for on their last tour) mixed with Oasis (Noel Gallagher says they’re his favorite band) and spiced with a little Verve and Spiritualized drone-rock.

And BRMC get their rock on dirty style with their self titled debut from Virgin records. Tracks like “Spread Your Love” and “Whatever Happened to My Rock ‘N’ Roll” will have you doing those previously mentioned impromptu car rock-outs. Then they shift sounds with tracks like “As Sure As The Sun,” which is best described as trip-hop on guitars, and later with “Too Real,” a lilting, psychedelic song with hypnotic guitars and harmonizing vocals.

The final track,”Salvation,” is the best of them all, starting out with stuttering percussion and evolving into a crescendo of dreamy guitars layered with whispered lyrics.

If you want something to blast out of the windows of your El Camino while you cruise around and scare your neighbors, slap BRMC in your car’s CD player. If you want to rock out in your room with your headphones, throw BRMC on your stereo. It’s equally suited for both, and each and every song on the CD is now my personal summer anthem.

-Seth Woehrle

Not quite a Murmur (Wea/Warner Bros.), and not about to be automatically excepted by “the people” at large, Reveal (Wea/Warner Bros.) is an example of what R.E.M. has done with nearly every album they’ve put out in their 18-year-plus tenure as a band – it reveals yet another side of the R.E.M. sound.

You might say R.E.M. is a staple. After nearly 20 years of bandom and more than 15 albums, R.E.M. has certainly reached their own private pantheon. They were college rock before their was even a name for it, and they are still reigning figureheads.

R.E.M. have rarely been compared to anyone – predecessor or contemporary, yet a thorough listen to Reveal will uncover a new side to the band.

“I’ve Been High”‘s dreamy dime store organ plays over an ’80s drum machine backbeat. It makes for a delicious sound that, without Michael Stipes’ signature quaver and the delicate electronic instrumentation, would land it on the light rock station. As it stands, though, it is one of the best songs on the album.

“All the Way To Reno (you’re gonna be a star),” the second single from the album, and the only melodic pop to air on MTV in a while, is a shimmering feast of wavering guitar and hopeful Stipe lyricism. But it sounds a bit too fluffy, much in the same way songs on 1994’s Monster (Wea/Warner Bros.) sounded
unnecessarily heavy.

Track five,”Disappear,” with its vibrating string background, highlights Stipe’s new poetic frontiers. Read the lyrics separately and they sound like beat poetry.

There is little overt percussion on Reveal, at times leaving the listener feeling woozy. But in all 12 songs, the trio have managed a command of electronica and songcraft that is organic and new, yet still very R.E.M.

-Cara Spoto