One of the most impressive hip-hop releases this year, Pharoahe Monch returns after an eight-year absence. Labels like Shady and Aftermath were calling, and check-writers like Diddy were paying for his phantom compositions. Fear of a Neutered Rapper? I’m glad to say, not here …
Fully one-third self-produced, don’t be surprised to see his name in the production line of your favorite rapper’s next single. Alchemist, Denaun Porter and longtime Monch producer Lee Stone also appear. Desire may be the best effort we’ll ever see toward successfully toeing the line between commercial and underground hip-hop. Whereas others who have tried to please these often disparate crowds often piss off one side or both, this is an album that could bridge that gap between this new generation’s rap and the relatively new genre of grown folks’ hip-hop. Hopefully it doesn’t take another eight years for the next one. Who does he think he is, Sade? —Damien McPherson
Seems Elana James is someplace rosining her bow while spitting chewing tobacco on a wall (“Goodbye Liza Jane”). Visions, not of sugarplums and fairies, but of cornstalks and one-liners, are paradise for this woman.
Although nasal qualities prevail in her vocals, her talent with the fiddle shouldn’t be overlooked. She’s a visual beauty in a world of strict old-time country music, the kind your grandpa’s grandpa had played at his funeral.
James offers her sultry side, “I’ve Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good),” her whimsical side, “Twenty-Four Hours A Day,” and a broken heart with a candy kiss in “One More Night.” One might suspect her admiration and respect for Bob Dylan through this remake, though delivery alone does not support. This is light-hearted and simple enough to make any afternoon house-cleaning easier to bear. —Michelle Manker
Black Earth Tiger
Fans of modern rock screamo 30 Seconds To Mars or Kill Hannah would do well to investigate this 9-year-old Louisville act, which crafts aggressive yet melodic and sensitive songs. On Black Earth Tiger, the group’s second full-lengther, lead screamer Matt Breen careens from sad-boy melodies to ear-shredding shrieks rather effortlessly, while his band sounds tight and downright ferocious.
“Scenotaph” begins as harshly as any hardcore act, with Breen’s vocals bellowing all death-metal style before hitting the breakdowns. Other cuts don’t back down, either.
“Abandonment Star” is a nail gun of tension and regret, all rolled up in a fireball of punk aggression, whereas “Let The Die” is a mid-tempo ballad of sorts, and sounds more radio-friendly (read: less vitriolic). Emanuel’s aggro riffs and indie-metal approach is not especially unique, but it certainly brings plenty of energy and conviction, no doubt about it. I enjoyed this one. —Todd Zachritz
Letters from Sinners & Strangers
Eilen Jewell’s sophomore CD, Letters from Sinners & Strangers, won’t change your life and possibly won’t even change your day, but it’s a competent blend of country, roots and folk.
Jewell offers up a mix of her own songs along with the seemingly requisite Bob Dylan cover (“Walkin Down the Line”). The songs are catchy and easy to digest — now if only that were as complimentary as it might sound.
I am no great expert on country music, I only know what grabs me, and while I am on my fourth go-round with this record, I have yet to feel sufficiently pulled in. The opening track, “Rich Man’s World,” is the strongest on the record, along with the lounge-y “High Shelf Booze.” However, all too often, Jewell drops into a sort of hazy, generic rootsy blur, and I’m assuming she didn’t intend for this record to be classified as lovely background music.
That said, Jewell is a cutie (she reminds me a bit of Hope Davis) with a sweet voice. Jewell plays at 8 p.m. Saturday at ?Mom’s Music (1710 E 10th St.) in Jeffersonville. Tickets are $10 advance, $12 door. —L. Park
All That to The Wall
Whether it’s via the meandering, poppy, chaotic guitars, the Kinsella-esque vocals of lead singer Sam Axelrod, or the often nonsensical lyrics, you cannot listen to All That to the Wall and not think of Cap’N Jazz and its successors, Joan of Arc and The Promise Ring. Oh, and throw in some Braid.
This would seem to indicate a lack of progression for The Narrator. And it may. The band puts its best foot forward with the CD’s first song, “Son of the Son of the Kiss of Death,” which creates what so many of the other songs don’t: atmosphere, a room in which the listener might dwell entirely.
If only the CD had 10 more songs like the first. (The other wonderful track on the CD is a well-produced cover of Dylan’s “All the Tired Horses.”) According to some, this is the “most cohesive and listenable full-length” from The Narrator yet, which, depending on your opinion of All That …, may be genuine praise or a back-handed compliment. —Adam Day