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Published: Saturday, 8/16/2008

Sounds: Simon Collins forges his own musical identity

OK. Let's get the obvious question out of the way first. As the son of pop star/rock star and Genesis alum Phil Collins, does Simon sound like his dad?

Kind of.

There's that same muscularity in the drumming, the same irresistible force propelling the songs. And his vocals are at times reminiscent of Collins senior.

But Simon Collins has his own musical identity on this compelling disc, and he is quick to establish that on the opening, title track which is atmospheric and melodic, yet resonates with a dense wall of sound.

Collins artfully mixes a softer, almost pop element among tough, funkier tracks showing his range as a writer and performer. That's true even when he is joined by his father on the - obviously - percussive instrumental "The Big Bang," and by erstwhile Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett, who lays down some soaring lead guitar on the rocker "Fast Forward The Future."

Collins has some socio-political points he wants to make, especially on "Eco," but his musical message is most clear when pushing his excellent band forward with the force of his drumming and the dynamics of his songs, which run from chart-ready pop-inflected "Unconditional" and more optimistic "Us (Love Transcends)," to the darker "Between I & E."

This is a tremendous U.S. debut album from Collins. Due for release Tuesday, it finds him defining his own style, skillfully bringing together taut rhythms and potent arrangements with a melodic center, while the quieter songs offer a counterpoint to the otherwise intense rock.

- RICHARD PATON

There should be an edict issued for any musicians who have been around for 20 years or more:

You can only redo your old songs if the new versions are somehow better than the originals. Because while it might seem like a good idea, and plenty of bands - ranging from alt-rockers like Cracker to old-time singer songwriters like John Prine - do it, the results aren't always stellar.

Little Feat's "Join the Band" is exhibit A for leaving well enough alone. Working with a gaggle of big-name guest artists like Jimmy Buffett, Dave Matthews, Bela Fleck, Vince Gill, Bob Seger, and Brooks & Dunn, the iconic Feat plow through their best-known songs and come up far short of the original versions.

Something's missing and it's obvious: the late Lowell George. He was the key to the oddball sensibility of tunes like "Fat Man in the Bathtub," "Dixie Chicken," and "Spanish Moon" and without him, no amount of guest artists is going to make these versions better.

Ultimately "Join the Band" just ends up being depressing, no more so than when Brooks & Dunn mangle the magnificent trucker ode "Willin.'" Something tells me this never would've happened if George was still alive.

- ROD LOCKWOOD

The long-legged toe-tapper from Austin is back with another joyful album of swamp blues.

There's a food-and-family theme here: Besides Ball's title track, which is wonderful in its own right, there's a song with a lot of zesty, memorable swing that celebrates the beauty of, er, watermelon. In another song, she extols the virtues of married life. And there are moments of storytelling and deep reflection, of course, such as a post-Katrina ballad entitled "Where Do You Go?"

Ball, a Grammy winner and recipient of multiple blues accolades, was born in a small Louisiana town near the Texas border, and was influenced by some of New Orleans' greatest pianists. She has been touring the Ann Arbor-Detroit circuit at least once or twice a year for the past decade or so.

Her steady line of dependable albums remains a sure-fire bet, thanks to her sweet, rollicking voice, her killer keyboard chops, and her unpretentious charm.

On this album, she has written or co-written eight of the 13 songs. Dr. John, singer Tracy Nelson, and zydeco accordionists Wayne Toups and Terrance Simien appear as guests.

- TOM HENRY

"Gravity's Our Enemy," the second release from the Nashville-based quintet Cadillac Sky, hits stores on Tuesday.

Bryan Simpson's vocals and harmonies beg comparison to Rascal Flatts, and banjos and fiddles fly much like Nickel Creek or Union Station on two instrumental tracks, so the album should find a home in any bluegrass fan's collection.

Perfect vocal harmonies float on "Bible by the Bed," a disturbing ballad about an abusive relationship: "Yeah, she's still got faith but lately he scares her to death; So, she always keeps a gun under the pillow and a Bible by the bed."

"I Hate How Happy She Is" charges from waltz to a Charlie Daniels-style jam session, and the breakup ditty "It Won't Be Over You" ought to be an instant classic.

- BRIDGET THARP



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