Country, hip-hop and metal, side by side
Blake Shelton”Pure BS”(Warner Bros. Nashville)Blake Shelton’s penchant for fusing traditional country with strong doses of modern, hook-driven accessibility served him well on his first three albums, each of which yielded a chart-topping single. The 31-year-old Oklahoman continues to trade on that synthesis on “Pure BS,” leaning on ready vocal character and a slightly off-center approach.Shelton’s rugged vocals show considerable versatility as he splashes his good-natured growl over hearty portions of country-rock grit and channels Conway Twitty’s relaxed swagger on the simmering backwoods anthem “Can’t be Good.” For all their produced polish, his songs are always well within the borders of country, whether the piano-dappled honky-tonk rumble of “The More I Drink” or the racing, electric guitar-lined Southern fire of “The Last Country Song.” Guests George Jones and John Anderson punctuate the latter tune.Shelton emphasizes songs with secondary meanings in their lyrics – mild twists such as the taste of cheating amid tenderness in the breezy “She Can’t Get That” and the frank inner turmoil nestled within the bobbing rock twang of “It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Me.” His results are occasionally wobbly as he looks for clever plays on classic country themes of loving, losing and drinking, but he deserves credit for consistently trying to give them a fresh spin.- Thomas Kintner, Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service
Bone Thugs-N-Harmony”Strength & Loyalty”(Interscope)This is a Bone Thugs reunion, but let’s be clear: It isn’t the full-scale, five-man get-together Bones fans have been awaiting. That will probably occur next year, when Flesh-N-Bone is likely to be paroled and the always-unpredictable Bizzy Bone undoubtedly will change his mind for the millionth time and rejoin the fold.Meanwhile, although the group’s signature speed raps suffer without Bizzy’s haunting high harmony, the Thugs’ collective ear for a hook remains undiminished. “Little L.O.V.E.,” the all-star Ohio pairing with Bow Wow (as well as Mariah Carey), and the Akon team-up “I Tried” are sleek commercial hip-hop that make it seem the group’s 5-year powder from a major label never occurred. Meanwhile, “Order My Steps (Dear Lord)” is a not-as-unlikely-as-it-seems pairing with Yolanda Adams that emphasizes the gospel undertones that have always existed beneath the group’s singsong rhymes.That there are more guest stars than ever before on a Bones outing is initially disconcerting, but probably necessary to pick up the slack for the absent members. And when they join Layzie, Krazyzie and Wish and the group is at full strength, fans’ loyalty might really be rewarded.- Dan LeRoy, Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service Dollyrots”Because I’m Awesome”
(Blackheart/Media Factory)On their sophomore album the bubblegum punk band the Dollyrots do right by label boss Joan Jett. “Because I’m Awesome” is 13 tracks of hook-filled, attitudinal girl-garage. And while the Dollyrots – singer/bassist Kelly Ogden, guitarist Luis Cabeza and drummer Chris Black – don’t do anything that Ms. Jett did during her heyday, they still deliver the rock ‘n’ roll goods.On the roaring title track, Ogden catalogs her awesomeness (“Cuz my brain is really super-sized”) to an unworthy suitor, and it’s hard to disagree with either her admittedly silly reasons or Cabeza’s infectious riff. Ogden is a fan of the sassy kiss-off on “Watch Me Go” and “Turn You Down,” but she also displays a welcome vulnerability on the ’60s girl-group homage “This Crush” (“I know he has no love for me,” she sings) and “My Best Friend’s Hot,” which chronicles life as a second banana. While the obvious sonic touchstones here are Jett and the Donnas, a more apt comparison, both vocally and emotionally, might be Gwen Stefani. The Dollyrots seem to acknowledge this as well: They’re dead ringers for No Doubt on the politically charged “A Desperate S.O.S.” and a cover of Melanie’s “Brand New Key.” As long as Stefani remains surrounded by Harajuku girls and the Donnas are M.I.A., the Dollyrots ably fill the cool-girls-in-the-garage void.- Stephen Haag, Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service Defying Gravity”Defying Gravity”(self-released)Heavy metal is like a vast ocean with a very few big fish. Those that stand out in the genre have probably been around for a while and paid their dues to the gods of rock, or sold their souls in exchange for talents that most mortals can’t even begin to comprehend.
Defying Gravity has taken on the immense task of trying to swim in this ocean and become one of those big fish. They came together about a year and a half ago, and in that time have built a local fanbase with their sledgehammer performances and grass-roots marketing campaign. Their catalog of songs has grown large enough for the band to record a full-length CD of eight tracks; the result is a self-titled release that neither disappoints nor amazes.Defying Gravity does their darnedest to mix punk and metal in their musical recipe, but unfortunately this translates into a lack of focus in either genre, and sometimes they lose impact because of this genre mixing.In the grand tradition of metal music, most of Defying Gravity’s repertoire is heavy and dark. Long stretches of crunching, distorted guitar riffs and capable drumming stay constant even while styles change often throughout each song. They stretch for a sound that is bigger than what they are capable of, though; the vocals especially can’t quite escape the small-town feel of their surroundings. It’s as if Defying Gravity hasn’t quite matured yet musically, but you can see glimmers of potential once they get a few more years under their studded belts. However, these guys get utmost credit for having the guts to play the kind of music that is generally not well-received in a place that covets jam bands and reggae music. Defying Gravity is as far removed from those scenes as possible, and they’re carving an aggressive path not usually traveled here or in any mountain town. Without the built-in audience that jam bands enjoy, they’ll have to work double-time to enjoy any level of success, and Defying Gravity has excelled at building a Valley niche for metal where none existed before.The first track on their CD, “Brain Static,” comes at you like a bulldozer, but then abruptly makes so many transitions that it’s hard to tell if you’re still listening to the same song by the time the lyrics kick in. But as a pure metal song, it gets by on aggression and swagger.”You Can Call Me” is a short, punk-metal hybrid that skates by on the “angry ex-lover” premise, but “Beautiful Nightmare” is where the band finds the middle ground. This listener-friendly hard-rock tune takes off and stays in the air the entire time.By the time I got to track 5, I realized that they had already been all over the board, incorporating nearly every style from the punk-metal playbook. Sometimes the hard-music combo pays off, but other times it bogs down Defying Gravity’s essential energy. The band truly rallys by the tail end of the album, when they commit to the “just metal” formula that they are best at and proceed to launch into some serious “heads-down” metal riffing.Defying Gravity are taking solid steps toward their own assured presence; with each new song, they polish their sound and get closer to exposing the rough metal gem beneath.- Charlie Owen
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