Music » Record Reviews

Short Cuts

Mississippi-bred singer-songwriter makes a local return.

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Sing into Me

Neilson Hubbard

(Parasol Records)

From Garrison Starr to Easley-McCain Recording Studio, this Mid-Southerner has plenty of Memphis connections. But on his third solo album, Neilson Hubbard doesn't stray far from his Mississippi roots. Recorded at various Oxford locales and mixed at Sweet Tea Studio, Sing into Me neatly bridges the gap between the almost-giddy pop of The Slide Project and the downward-spiraling despair of Why Men Fail. From the opening "Stars" on through to the closing "Praise to You," Hubbard focuses on a higher power on these softly lilting tracks, with even Lou Reed's "Jesus" getting a gentle reading here. It's as if Hubbard used the late Chris Bell's "There Was a Light" as a jumping-off point. On tracks like "Everything's Starting," he channels the Big Star guitarist's wistful poignancy without a single misstep.

Religious subject matter seems to be a dividing line for all music fans, and Hubbard's unwavering faith might be a turnoff for his usual barroom crowd. But Hubbard makes it clear that faith is a personal choice, and with such lyrics as "Angels sing perfect melody/Heavens fall down at your feet/Praise to you for this night," most of these tracks could be translated as love songs. Intimate and unflinching, Sing into Me shines like the evening stars in his songs. -- Andria Lisle

Grade: B

Neilson Hubbard will be performing at the Hi-Tone Café on Friday, April 18th, and at Cat's Midtown at 5 p.m. the same day.

Birdland

The Yardbirds

(Favored Nations Recordings)

Yeah, The Yardbirds. Well, a couple of them at least: founding members rhythm guitarist (remember when there was a distinction between rhythm and lead players?) Chris Dreja and drummer Jim McCarty. No Paul Samwell-Smith, no Eric Clapton, no Keith Relf, and no Jimmy Page. Jeff Beck phones in a performance on one "New Yardbirds" original tune, and three faceless, middle-aged British journeyman rockers try to fill some mighty large shoes. There's a plethora of guitar guests -- six-string murderers like Steve Vai, Brian May, Slash, Joe Satriani, and grizzled old Jeff "Skunk" Baxter. Even that hapless dingus from the Goo Goo Dolls sings on a remake of "For Your Love."

So why doesn't this record suck like the low-rent Santana guest-artist project it's trying so shamelessly to be? Frankly, I have no idea. It should suck in a loud, vigorous manner (and it does in a few patches), but somehow the eight updates of classic Yardbirds tunes and a few of the new originals are more than pleasantly competent. This crew of has-beens and guest guitar-slinger wannabes should barely qualify as a geezer-squad hoping to milk some nostalgia bucks and casino bookings from the endlessly forgiving classic-rock-concert market. Instead they've made a pretty decent recording. Go figure.

For one thing, the celebrity guitarists and the new members are remarkably tasteful in their re-creation of the Yardbirds' signature sound. A lot of what made the original group so great was down to the late Relf's distinctive nasal vocals. Well, they've found a guy who can do a pretty passable imitation of him, and that's fine with me. The nattering guitars stay in the background for the most part, while the Relf imitator wails on top of the proceedings. This production approach works very nicely actually; the singer is often louder than the guitar army backing him. In fact, the Yardbirds have once again become what they started out as: a pretty good pop band. Just pray that none of the special guests tours with them anytime soon. -- Ross Johnson

Grade: B+

Human Conditions

Richard Ashcroft

(Hut/Virgin)

Maybe the drugs did work: As Verve frontman, Richard Ashcroft made one of the decade's best Britpop albums, Urban Hymns, singing about kicking the habit and trying to get on with life. Since the band imploded in 1998, Ashcroft has found some fulfillment and gone solo -- all to the detriment of his music. Despite "Song for the Lovers," which brazenly lived up to its bombastic production, his Verve-less debut was just that: Alone with Everybody was a lifeless record with an unimaginative sonic palette and paint-by-numbers lyrics.

But that dull album couldn't even hint at the atrocities on the follow-up, the inexcusably titled Human Conditions, which is an early entry for worst album of the year. Here's a laundry list of offenses, which only scratches the surface: half-melodies that are lazy and aimless; production that favors everything-and-the-kitchen-sink bluster over subtlety and tune; vocals that are as pompous as they are detached; and lyrics that steadfastly refuse to let head-scratching meaninglessness interfere with their lofty pretensions. (My personal faves: "Don't drink me/I'm like turpentine" and "'Cause when you're runnin' on your own/You know you ain't like a rolling stone/Because a stone will find its place.")

This is the man who famously sang "I'm a million different people from one day to the next," so we know he can change change ch-ch-change. But here in this moment, I'm hoping the remaining 999,998 personae are more compelling than this one, however well intended it may be. -- Stephen Deusner

Grade: D+

Lullaby for Liquid Pig

Lisa Germano

(Ineffable/iMUSIC)

This fifth solo album from the former rock violinist (she toured with John Mellencamp, Simple Minds, and a host of others in the late '80s) delves yet again into her own twisted little universe, diving deep then surfacing to offer us a few fragments of her harrowing world. Ostensibly a paean to alcohol's numbing effects and the alienation that ensues, Lullaby for Liquid Pig is really a larger piece about any crutch one uses to survive the demons within, be it sex, drugs, or alcohol. Part delicate, twisted fairy-tale music for a demented soul, part metal-machine crunch that mirrors 21st-century angst, the listener may get the uneasy feeling of eavesdropping on someone's nervous breakdown. Germano sings in a breathy, sometimes whispered voice of wounds that we'd rather not know about. Trouble is, her songs are often just too intimate and maudlin to stand alone. She often fails to transmute her personal trauma into art, into something universally recognizable. When she does make this breakthrough, however, as she does on about three tracks here, the results are mesmerizing, like the hypnotic "Liquid Pig," with its urgency and subterranean soundscape, the subtle "From a Shell," and the manic, techno-tinged "Candy."

Though Germano has always been determined to be a one-woman show (she usually writes all the songs, plays all the instruments, and self-produces her records), her work definitely improves with some outside input. On the cuts in question, she had help from Neil Finn of Crowded House, Johnny Marr of the Smiths, and former Eels drummer Butch, among others. These guests bring an added texture that transports these tracks out of Germano's own private wrist-slitting realm into something altogether more accessible. -- Lisa Lumb

Grade: B

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