CD Reviews

Betty Davis/They Say I’m Different

Betty Davis


            Very rarely is an artist capable of producing a vicarious sexual thrill in the listener. Janis Joplin managed to convey an onanistic dervish in the first couple of seconds of “Cry Baby.”

            Betty Davis, one-time model and former Mrs. Miles Davis, took that momentary catharsis and stretched it into two LPs of throbbing funk and guttural promises that really sound more like threats.

            Of the two, her 1973 self-titled debut is the stronger. From the opening moments of “If I’m In Luck I Might Get Picked Up” through the warning If you don’t give it to me right, you won’t feel this good in the morning in the previously unreleased “You Won’t See Me In The Morning.”

            Lord. Have. Mercy.

            They Say I’m Different is a fine record as well, it just lacks the visceral libido stoke of the first album. Perhaps after exhausting oneself with the former, it would behoove one to take a rest, a grace period if you will, before attempting to “do it till the chicken crows” with the latter. —Michael Steiger


The Cost

The Frames


            Assessing one of the most overlooked bands of the last 15 years always puts the reviewer in the conflicted role of both cheerleader and objective critic. One can’t say enough about the staying power of The Frames’ work, ranging from their subdued “For the Birds” to “Burn the Maps.” The Cost has a kind of permanence so few rock albums have. Their sincerity disallows any mechanized pomp. In their poetic “People Get Ready,” we hear a ’60s call to action that returns to the personal: We have all the time in the world to get it right. Even when fretting on “When Your Mind’s Made Up” and saying There’s no point trying to change it, the song’s melody reminds us how optimism always accompanies humanity. Yet the album’s clincher is the self-referential “Sad Songs,” in which Glen Hansard sings how too many words make for sad, sad songs. On the surface, it seems this veteran band paints a world in dire straits, but this fear gradually emerges as lingering clouds that haunt the album’s tracks. With each song, The Cost sloughs off its pessimism for a hope that remains so hidden among the dark skies. —Patrick Mulloy


Bazaar Bazaar

Birds of Avalon


            The ’70s were good to Raleigh, N.C.’s Birds of Avalon. On Bazaar Bazaar, the band veers between Queen, Yes and Zeppelin. Culled from the husband and wife team of The Cherry Valence’s Cheetie Kumar and Paul Siler, the sound is steeped in the familiar watery tones of prog tinged with harder-edge blues.

            The disc was produced by a cast of thousands, but most notably by Mitch Easter (I was a big Let’s Active fan), so I expected much going in. I’m sad to say I’m a bit let down as fuzzy guitars overpowered vocals, and bass and drum lines tripped over each other.

            Bazaar Bazaar may not be a stellar effort, but if nothing makes you happier than looking back through a haze of smoke to rock memories of those bygone heavy days or if you’re young and want to “Somewhere in Time” them, look no further than Birds of Avalon. —L. Park



The National


            The National (a NYC rock band with strong Cincinnati ties) has created a sometimes strident, often quiet, always beautiful new record. With a sneaky virtuosity, these songs recall early U2 or Psychedelic Furs at their most urgent (without being pop or obvious about it). Their guitar arrangements deepen on repeated listens … mainly clean and precise, creating a strangely heavy sound. The bass and drums are smart and up-front, pushing through songs that would be too sentimental in other hands. The lyrics are a weird marvel … nostalgic, full of urban barbarism and wit. Violins, piano, too? Yeah — and they play with a nice inhibition — staying nasty with the rest of the band. Given a little time to sink in, this album has started to haunt my brain, working equally as a soundtrack to 7 a.m. coffee on the porch and anxious midnight freak-outs.

            The National perform on Tuesday at Headliners with talkdemonic and Shapes N’ Sizes. —Jason Noble


Black Pompadour

The Zincs


            The opening of “Head East, Kaspar” from The Zincs’ Black Pompadour sounds strangely like an 8-bit church organ before frontman James Elkington’s half-Ian Curtis, half-Stephen Merritt voice joins in over top reverberating drums and nice-but-not-too-distracting guitars. If this sounds appealing to you, then The Zincs might be your new favorite band of the first half of 2007. If not, then you should at least be thankful you heard a nice overview of the entire album inside the first minute of listening.

            The Zincs establish their formula early on in Black Pompadour and rarely stray from it. That’s not to say the album doesn’t have its moments. “Coward’s Corral” is energetic and refreshing, and “Burdensome Son” brings in some haunting, echoing guitars that give the song an almost Wild West surf-rock feel. For the most part, however, Black Pompadour sticks to its format without venturing off into the sorts of directions that might warrant more thoughtful consideration or repeated listening. —Justin Keenan