DUSK AND SUMMER
Dashboard Confessional (Vagrant)
Chris Carrabba, the creative center of Dashboard Confessional, has a knack for zeroing in on that moment right before something big and life-changing is going to happen.
Usually it's a breakup or a makeup that he's going on about, and there's two ways to look at Dashboard's fourth release: either Carrabba is a wunderkind at crafting emotionally wrenching emo ballads or "Dusk and Summer" is one long, hackneyed soundtrack to a lost episode of The Gilmore Girls.
Carrabba's strength is undeniable. He really does have a way with grandiose, lush melodies that echo The Smiths, most notably on the single "Don't Wait." These are songs that are crafted, which makes them anthemic, weighty, and full of neat hooks, like the surprise appearance by Counting Crows' Adam Duritz on "So Long, So Long."
But, lord, the guy is so serious. And too often that translates into overwrought weepers that share cookie-cutter sonic similarities. Each song starts with a broad lyrical stroke that sets the emotional stage, followed by a building of tension and then big epic choruses built on multi-tracked guitars that rock, but never so hard they're not pleasant.
It's hard not to picture a couple of teenagers - you know, like the ones on The Gilmore Girls - in the midst of a romantic crisis agreeing to meet down by the lake to work things out before summer is over when you listen to Dashboard Confessional. Whether that's a good thing is a matter of perspective.
- ROD LOCKWOOD
COLD AS ICE
John Lee Hooker, Jr. (Telarc)
If the blues can be both hot and cool at the same time, then Hooker has the recipe. A little bit of jazz flavoring added to the steamy stew helps cool it all down. The son of one of the genre's masters, he adds a contemporary feel as he continues to develop his individual style, taking his own solid vocals and tight backup musicians to success with his unique sounds. There is a tribute, "Do Daddy," that hails Hooker, Sr.'s tenacity, and "I'm In The Mood" is a lowdown cover of one of his father's big hits. The rest shows why Junior will probably be a blues force for years.
- KEN ROSENBAUM
SUPERMAN RETURNS: ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SCORE
John Ottman (Warner/Rhino)
In his liner notes for this disc, composer John Ottman pays homage to the original 1978 Superman film and the composer of the original soundtrack, John Williams. Ottman's dedication and respect are felt throughout this score, a triumphant one in its own right. This disc is a collection of music that is bold, brave, and, at times, even a little tender. A 97-piece orchestra brings out the beauty and nuances of Ottman's work in rich detail.
- TOM HENRY
Zero 7 (Atlantic)
Zero 7 - Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker - go down a new "Garden" path, musically speaking, with their third CD. Known for electronica-tinted chillout, the duo now brings in diverse influences. These include California-style harmony rock (the opening "Futures," featuring vocalist Jose Gonzalez, recalls CSN&Y), folk-oriented sounds reminiscent of the Incredible String Band, plus Latin and even big band. It sounds like a musical mess, especially with so many voices (Gonzalez, Sia Furler - whose raspy tone is just right for the electro-rock "You're My Flame" - and Binns share vocals). But it holds together really well, and "The Garden" matches a chilled vibe with an individual sound.
- RICHARD PATON
THE BEST OF GUITAR SHORTY: THE LONG AND SHORT OF IT
BLAST OFF: THE BEST OF ANSON FUNDERBURGH
HEART AND SOUL: THE BEST OF RONNIE EARL
Ronnie Earl (all Shout! Factory)
A wonderful trifecta of "best of" compilations from three hot yet largely overlooked blues masters. Guitar Shorty is one of the few people who can claim to have influenced Jimi Hendrix. Listen to his own gritty version of "Hey Joe" and you'll find out why, and be dazzled by his robust, free-form anthem, "Go Wild!"
Culled from nine albums, the work of Funderburgh and his roadhouse blues style is paired up with legendary Mississippi blues vocalist Sam Myers. And Earl shows his versatility and keen understanding of the genre, at one point worthy of comparison to the great Stevie Ray Vaughan on a song called "I Cried My Eyes Out."
Each of the discs is beautifully remastered, with some out-of-print tracks.
ADIEU FALSE HEART, The Zozo Sisters (Linda Ronstadt and Ann Savoy) (Vanguard) Marvelous vocals from Ronstadt and Savoy are the hallmark of this folk/Cajun-influenced collection of songs from writers who include Richard Thompson and Bill Monroe, plus a version of Left Banke s Walk Away Renee. The instrumentation is acoustic, and the pace is slow maybe too uniformly downtempo, ultimately causing the disc to drag. R.P.
THE BEST OF MIAMI VICE, Various Artists (Hip-O) Culled from the first two of three previously released soundtracks from the hit TV series, Miami Vice strikes a chord with Glenn Frey, Pat Benatar, and Tina Turner s Better Be Good to Me. Plus, there are two versions of Jan Hammer s Miami Vice theme. While the material thins out toward the end, you still could do a lot worse in revisiting music from the 1980s. T.H.