Yes, the title of veteran alt-rockers Cracker's new album is ironic, which should only be surprising to anyone who's never heard the band.
Sardonic, cynical, and sarcastic, but never slick, Cracker churns out pointed observations of a culture gone awry, illuminating little details to make bigger points about just how screwed up things can be. Images of punk rockers, weary soldiers, and lovers just looking for a place to "Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out With Me" abound on this, the band's ninth album.
For the most part it's a blistering rocker, with David Lowery's yowl of a voice high in the mix along with Johnny Hickman's guitars. "Yalla, Yalla (Let's Go)," "Time Machine," "Hey Bret (You Know What Time It Is)," and the title track are uncompromisingly fast reminders of the band's punk roots.
"Sunshine" is a nice return to form from 2006's less-focused "Greenland," and it's good to see a bunch of guys in their mid-40s can still land a knockout punch.
- ROD LOCKWOOD
The Sugar People are based in the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area, but their debut sounds more New York than Michigan. It's chilled and dubby, retro soulful, lounge, urban, jazzy, hard and soft.
And very good.
It also requires a little patience. One listen isn't enough to get into this, to dig the depths that are in its snaky and sinuous grooves, the intelligent songwriting, the mingling of vocal styles from smooth to harsh, sometimes within the same song, including the opening "Roots."
In fact, vocalist Uneq'Ka is a strong presence throughout, equally impressive with the disc's different moods, but especially effective on the gentle "Scars Unseen."
Elsewhere, check out exciting, funky retro-cool sounds like the chaka-boom-boom, get-down "Chemistry;" totally modern-sounding, pumping hip-hop beat, rap, and hot vocals of "Hot Breath," or electro trip-hop/hip-hop "Can You Keep A Secret."
There is a misstep or two - "Reality Killed My Dreams," a reggae-grooved social-awareness song, is a little too obvious - but those are quickly bypassed and forgotten amongst so much great music.
On the basis of this release, with a sound as compelling as it is original, groove-filled and expertly performed, it surely must be just a matter of time before the Sugar People break out to a wider audience.
- RICHARD PATON
As I listened to this pair of national debut releases from hot and fiery guitarist Shane Dwight, the same thought kept running through my mind: Here's one wild cat with great potential who needs a manager.
Forget how pretentious it seems to release not one but two discs at the same time - especially at the beginning of your career.
The simple truth is, Dwight doesn't have the material to support two discs. Give me one tight and solidly edited release and I would have been happier. Still, when it comes down to it, Dwight - who hails from the rough-and-tumble east side of San Jose, Calif., and now calls Nashville home - plays a mean guitar, whether he's rocking, delving into roots, alt-country, R&B, or hitting you in the gut with searing, straight-ahead blues.
His group was the 2002 winner of the Monterey Blues Festival Battle of the Bands. Dwight's vocals are good though unspectacular. But he plays with charisma, heart, and energy. "Gimme Back My Money" displays his versatility and ability to adapt to various genres; the title track is particularly good. "Plays the Blues" is the higher-octane rocker of the two, though be forewarned that the decision to mix it up with half live and half studio recordings wasn't totally seamless from a recording standpoint and there are some variances in sound quality.
Each disc contains a version of "Ode to Albert," presumably Dwight's tribute to the late Albert Collins or the late Albert King or both.
- TOM HENRY
If you are a fan of Jamaican roots music or just want an introduction to traditional reggae and the more contemporary dance hall variations, this album is a good place to start. For 16 years, this label has been releasing reggae compilations of the biggest recent hits. Like earlier albums, this is a fine package of 18 tracks.
The second disc is a DVD with videos of five of the top tracks from the music disc. The DVD contains glorious video of the best Jamaica has to offer travelers in an enjoyable island visit put together by the Jamaican Tourist Board. Sure, it's an unabashed advertisement, but it's informative and good watching.
The music disc is a tasty mix of modern reggae with its steady, rhythmic beat and the dance hall styling that features a heavy dose of rap. It's all sort of hypnotic, while the listening is easy and the lyrics are simplistic at best.
- KEN ROSENBAUM