Hit or Miss?

2009-06-02 09:12
Hit or Miss?

No such problems for the godfather of punk though, who takes a rock hiatus to make a jazz and blues album, and a young SA jazz gun who knows how to keep it real. Meanwhile a jazz songbird does pop covers, while the king of Afrikaans singer songwriters gets another heartfelt homage. Oh, and did we mention Bok is back?

Eminem – Relapse
"Do I want to be Elvis or Donald Trump?" is the question every rapper has to handle when they hit their mid-30s. 'course Marshall Mathers isn't every rapper. Ever the conceptualist, Em's Rehab diaries reanimate Slim Shady's serial killer fantasies, homophobic hard-ons and sexist satires with B-grade booty hop ballads, doped out ragga rap joints and allsorts of self-deprecating skits about sitting on the celebrity self pity pot and being past-his-sell-by-date. While Dre's urban beat collage is fly - but not fabulously funky - Em's quest for late career creativity oozes a conviction that hasn't been heard since 2002's The Eminem ShowVerdict: Hit. Buy the CD.

Proverb – Write to Passage
Can the 'Kimberly Diamond' still cut it in an Mzansi hop scene tailoring its flow towards Black Diamonds in da clubs? Almost. Pro insists he couldn't care less about pimping himself as some bling-bedecked, booty chasing playa. Problem is his 'proverbial' lyrically conscious rhymes are castrated by too much tell and too little show. His biographical raps about rediscovering his flow in fatherhood and marriage ("Bread Winners" feat. HHP) may be attempting to keep the art of emceeing real, but whether it's club bangers ("Dance to the Music", "Hands Up") or hip-hop history lessons ("Let's Take it Back" feat. Tamarsha) he's just not spitting enough fire or funk. Verdict: Miss. Buy the CD 

Mandy Moore – Amanda Lee
Ex-teen actress attempts to escape her processed teen pop pigeonhole with an acoustic lucky packet of confessional folk ('Merrimack River'), symphonic jazzy Broadway ballads ('Pocket Philosopher') and...is that a bit of prog rock? ('Song About Home') recorded in her home studio basement. The "this is the real me" sales pitch (FYI: Amanda Leigh are her Christian names) is cute, but over-airbrushed production and her too pitch perfect coo insists that pristinely perky pop ditties ("Nothing Everything") are still her best Billboard chart bet. 
Verdict: More Miss than Hit. Buy the CD 

Ciara – Fantasy Ride
The 'First Lady of crunk' on this flawed set of urban contemporary superhero concepts (yep, she bills herself as "Super C"). While sexed up sista spiels ("Like a Surgeon") and resigned blissful ballads ("Keep Dancin' on Me") courtesy of hipster producers the Dream and Christopher "Tricky" Stewart (Rihanna's "Umbrella") flaunt her bipolar bite with flair, collaborations with Justin Timberlake ("Love Sex Magic") and Missy Elliott ("Work") are bizarrely bloated dancefloor killers, rather than fillers. It's only when she re-imagines the killer crunk of "Oh" on operatic R&B electro booty banger "High Price" (featuring Ludacris) that she sounds spontaneous and convincing. Verdict: More Miss than Hit. Buy the CD

Theuns Jordaan – Koue Vuur 
The golden boy of Afrikaans adult contemporary rock goois another singer-songwriter bulls-eye with this long awaited set of all-Koos Du Plessis covers. It's a masterful tribute to the undisputed king of Afrikaans songwriters with Theuns' slow bruised baritone nailing not only Koos Doep's difficult dark emotional places on those bittersweet ballad classics ("Kinders van die Wind", but also his wistful poetic luisterliedjies about life, love and everything in between. "Skadu's teen die muur" and with "As almal ver is", "Skielik is jy vry", "Groet sonder woorde", "Sprokie vir 'n stadskind" and "Gebed".spare acoustic sighs () remain the artistic and commercial standard to which discriminating Afrikaans singers and songwriters aspire. Verdict: Hit. Buy the CD

Bok Van Blerk – Afrikaner Hart
History may one day consign Bok to a controversial novelty song footnote, but the 'De la Rey' dude does his damndest to avoid being pigeonholed as a one trick protest pop pony here. Not that you initially notice with songs about a man looking back on the border war ("Die Kaplyn"), the exodus of South Africans overseas ("Tyd Om Te Trek") and a critique of black empowerment ("Kleur van My Vel") all aimed at making news headlines. It'd be a pity though, as Bok's about more than just politics. He knows his demographic, dishing out frivolous volk sketches ("Brandewyn Het Nie Brieke Nie"), rugby hero shout outs ("Super Schalk"), fishermen fables ("Seilvis Skoffel") and a rewardingly emotional duet with Steve Hofmeyr that's perefcet for Father's Day ("Pa en Seun"). Verdict: HitBuy the CD.

Cassandra Wilson – Closer to You: The Pop Side
Jazz songbird channels Nina Simone on this retrospective assortment of some of her hand picked re-interpretations (not covers, okay, she's a jazz singer) of U2's "Love is Blindness", Sting's "Fragile", The Band's "The Weight", Neil Young's "Harvest Moon" and more. Cassie's voice is magnificent throughout, morphing from a haunted sigh on languid unplugged aches (Van Morrison's "Tupelo Honey", Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time") and a bluesy cry on more extreme makeovers (Jimmy Webb's "Wichita Lineman") to exploratory soul readings (Ann Peebles' "I Can't Stand the Rain"). There's a compilation caveat though: cut adrift from the conceptual context of the original 'covers' albums, the slick, atmospheric arrangements almost become aural wallpaper. But hey, that's what that 'pop side' disclaimer is for. Better that one of the legendary jazz labels slap together one of those 'after hours' compilations than go into liquidation. Jazz aficianados should treat very lightly though. Verdict: Hit and Miss. Buy the CD.

Kyle Shepherd – fineArt
Remember when you were young and actually gave a damn about changing the world? 21-year old Mother City pianist, saxophonist and poet Kyle Shepherd wants you to. Which is why he eschews imported swing, hard bop and ‘snooze’ jazz sales pitches for a challenging exploration of quintessentially South African rhythms, harmonies and melodies, whose mantra is uncompromisingly simple: "This is music from home/Why wouldn't it be?/Why shouldn't it be?" While his poetry is occasionally earnest, his unqualified engagement with sax-mentor Zim Ngqawana’s improvisational philosophy ("Zimology"), Abdullah Ibrahim’s Cape jazz self-discipline ("A.I.") and Afrikaans folk and goema groove architectures ("Die Goema") proves way more than a mere rhetorical conceit. Verdict: Hit.

Iggy Pop - Preliminaires
"I got a smelly rear/I got a dirty nose/I don't want no shoes/I don't want no clothes" yelps the Godfather of punk on a New Orleans funeral jam called "King Of The Dogs". Right, so it's back to garage rock business as usual? Not even close. With The Stooges late career revival reunion cut tragically short by guitarist Ron Asheton's death, Iggy hasn't got much left to rock about. Inspired by Michel "Atomised" Houellebecq's 2005 novel The Possibility of an Island he gets his jazz groove on, complementing bluesy meditations on mortality ("He's Dead, She's Alive") and a superb French sung chansons ("Autumn Leaves") with the odd disco rock resurrection ("Party Time"). Verdict: Hit. Buy the CD

Marilyn Manson – The High End of Low
After finally giving us a glimpse of the beautiful romantic loser lurking beneath his shock rock façade with the soul-baring gothic glam rock rollercoaster ride of 2007's Eat Me, Drink Me, can a return to hyping his own degeneracy still scare listeners silly? Nope. Middle fingered song title salutes such as "Pretty as a Swastika," "Arma-Goddamn-Motherfuckin-Geddon," "I Want to Kill You Like They Do in the Movies," "I Have to Look Up Just to See Hell," prove he's still happy to piss conservative parents off. But with the exception of moments in "We're from America" (maybe) there's just way too much method acting to Manson's industrial cabaret cocktail of brooding gothic Bowie caricatures ("Running to the Edge of the World") and cartoonish NIN gone glam masochism ("Leave a Scar", "Four Rusted Horses").  Verdict: Miss. Buy the CD anyway.

It's hits, misses and several miss hits this month with the Elvis of rap rediscovering his flow and a lyrically conscious emcee losing his fire. There's also an actress struggling to escape her teen pop adolescence, an R&B booty babe who messes with her crunk formula, and a shock rocker who runs out of ideas.

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