The Michigan Daily - Wednesday, September 9, 1998 - 19
JNDIE QUEEN PHAIRER THAN MOST
Medeski, Martin & Wood, oh my!
In the recording industry, there
tend to be a lot of negative connota-
tions associated with the term "long
awaited." More often than not it is an
indication that an album might be
over-produced and bloated, if not
Liz Phair has a high mark to
match too. Her debut album "Exile in
Guyville", released in 1992, will
*ost likely be remembered as one of
the great masterpieces of the '90s
indie rock world.
Paving the way for less intelli-
gent, although more commercially
successful acts, such as Alanis
Morrisette and Meredith Brooks,
"Exile..." patented Phair's direct-as-
nails approach to subjects such as sex
and relationships. One might observe
e direct line between Phair's "Fuck
d Run" and Morrisette's "You
But with her first full length
release since 1994's bland sopho-
Medeski Martin and Wood is not
a band that rests on its laurels.
Though it gained popularity by
attracting the post-Grateful Dead jam
band crowd with the extremely
danceable grooves of its last album,
1996's "Shack-man," MMW refuses
to become trapped within a formula.
Thus, the instrumental trio's new set,
"Combustication," explores a more
experimental sound, to sometimes
While the album is MMW's first
for the classic jazz label, Blue Note
Records, the tracks find the keyboard,
drum, and bass combo looking toward
Med Md, wa
Daily Arts Writer
the future of
music, not the
past. Indeed, the
opening track is
one of three col-
DJ Logic, who
arsenal of noises
experiments, the result is not always
successful; Logic's contributions are
sometimes more of a distraction than
an improvement. But when it works,
like in the gentle build-up at the cen-
ter of "Start-Stop," the outcome is
Outside of the DJ tracks, MMW
continues to explore by injecting
healthy doses of avant-garde jazz into
many of the songs. Medeski insti-
gates this exploration by relying less
on his trusty Hammond B3 and clar-
inet, instead adding atmospheric tex-
tures through synthesizers and
Rhodes electric piano. This switch
allows Martin to take center stage on
much of the album, carrying the jams
along with complex polyrhythms and
unique percussion tools. The apex of
this sound and the centerpiece of the
album is the nine-minute "Latin
Shuffle," where Martin unexpectedly
accelerates and decelerates the beat
beneath Wood's funky bass line,
while Medeski pounds out a spastic,
dissonant piano solo.
Other experiments like the spo-
ken-word collaboration "Whatever
Happened to Gus" and the church
organ reading of Sly Stone's (or is
that Toyota's) "Everyday People" are
less successful, but the album is nice-
ly balanced with tunes reflecting the
MMW of past albums.
The playful organ and funky bass of
"Hey-Hee-Hi-Ho" and "Coconut
Boogaloo" are sure to keep the prep
school hippies dancing through the
But let those hippies beware:
"Combustication" is not as danceable
or instantly accessible as "Shack-man."
By means of a willingness to expni-
ment, Medeski Martin and Wood send a
musical message to their audience:
don't just dance ... listen.
Daily Arts Writer
Liz Phair has
graced us a
an album that
witty and intro-
cism with a
Where on her past records, Phair
often let her songs' catchiness take a
back seat to the lyrics, a highly devel-
oped pop sense finds its way into
most of the tracks on
Coupled with the more well-cal-
culated song structures is a less liter-
al and more oblique lyrical tech-
And although the bash 'em over-
the-head brashness of Phair's past
records does find its way into a few
new numbers, such as "Johnny
Feelgood" ("I never realized I was so
dirty and dry/ till he knocked me
down/ and started dragging me
around/ in the back of his convertible
car/ ... and I liked it"), most of the
the album expresses a sense of long-
ing and delicacy, quite possibly
byproducts of Phair's recent transi-
tion into motherhood.
most likely will not make as many
waves in the music world as "Exile in
Guyville," it is just as good for dif-
By fusing brilliant harmonies with
more sophisticated subject matter,
Phair has escalated her career into the
realm of Joan Baez and Paul Simon
in terms of poetic quality.
Hipper than the Lillith ladies and
smarter than Alanis, she has regained
her spot as rock's coolest big sister.
Medeski's organ riffing, while bassist
Chris Wood and drummer Billy
Martin provide the beats. Like most
cated sense of melody and pop-craft.
The album opener/title track,
"Big Tall Man," "Uncle Alvarez,"
"Only Son", "Fantasize" (which fea-
tures all of R.E.M., sans Michael
tipe), and, especially, the single
olyester Bride" are among the
most tuneful tracks that Phair has
Welcome to Breaking Records, a
weekly collection of reviews of the
music industry s new releases written
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Music staff Lookfor Breaking
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online at http://www.pub.umich.edu/daily
**** - Classic
** - Fair
* - Poor
No stars - Don't Bother
Sophomore effort sounds s'well
Maxwell, in his relatively short music career, has been
oompared to everyone from Marvin Gaye to Prince in his
;oneg one-man crusade to resurrect good old sensual,
pi 1 soul music.
And on his sophomore effort, "Embrya," Maxwell proves
ith his new soul sound that he is an old soul indeed.
Weaving dreamlike beats and grooves around classic
and-melt-with-you lyrics, "Embrya"
brilliantly and melodically proves
what Maxwell's 1995 relationship-
Maxwell concept album "Urban Hang Suite"
suggested - that Maxwell is monoga-
'* Embrya mous ... monogamous to the sweet
Columbia Records sounds of soul.
Reviewed y But all of this musical sweetness
Daily Arts Writer seems to have has gone to Maxwell's
Bryan lark head, judging by his newfound taste in
punctuation -- Maxwell seems to
have found the colon left unused since Terence Trent
D'Arby last wished me to love a wishing well.
With titles like "I'm You: You Are Me and We Are You"
and the even more cumbersome
'Eachhoureachsecondeachminuteeachday: Of My Life,"
M ~xwell comes off as more than a touch pretentious as he
s convincingly coming on to his lady and ladies every-
Me to you: Ditch the heady pretense and stick with the
silky smooth soul voodoo (such as the funky Stevie
Wonder-meets-Duran Duran concoction "Luxury:
Cococure" or the swirling, seductive "Submerge: TitWe
Become the Sun") that you do so damn well.
Griffin's ablaze with hot new recording
After the small-scale, Ark-level success of the acoustic angel
routine perfected on her debut, "Living with Ghosts," Patty
Griffin's quiet delivery and tortured inner demons seem to
have been exorcised forever.
rnaybe they were just scared off by all the amps and feed-
That's not all you might find on Griffin's follow-up
"Flaming Red," as the album is chock-full of diverse rock nuts,
from the kicking and screaming of the title track, to the sensi-
tive balladry of the album-closing "Peter
Alternately urban-chic (dabbling in
electronic beats, which often seem out of
Patty Griffin place) and country-fried (trying an
accordion and slide guitar on for size),
Flaming Red "Flaming Red" remains coherent
A&M Records through Griffin's pop sensibility and
Reviewed by compelling, story-driven songs.
Daily Arts Writer Songs such as the kooky teenage sui-
Bryan tak cide tale "Tony" and thc gorgeous sym-
girl ditty "Christina," exemplify Griffin's talents as a storyteller
unrecognized by VH1.
But Griffin also has a talent for letting down her hair and, as
she reminds you on the lazy, catchy "One Big Love," she rarely
forgets the lawn chair.
fffn, the formerly furious folkie, actually relaxes enough
to'Wuce you on numbers like the breathy torch song "Go
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Plugged-in and turned-out, the new Patty Griffin and her
"Flaming Red" have crafted a solid pop/rock foundation to
build a bigger career upon. She's no longer living with her
ghosts, she's set them ablaze and danced on their ashes.