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Xzibit Leads the Week's Releases

Reviews of Xzibit, Etta James, Silverchair and more

December 11, 2000 12:00 AM ET
Xzibit Restless (Loud)

Like the sixth man who busts his ass out of the shadows of the frontline talent, Xzibit has scrapped his way to the starting lineup of contemporary hip-hop -- he's now ready for the shoe endorsements, posters and all the other pomp that comes with that jump into superstardom. Though Restless is his third album, this year's Xzibit comes with all-star stats. There was the appearance on Snoop Dogg's remix of "Bitch Please," high profile appearances on Dre's Dr. Dre 2001 and Eminem's The Marshall Mathers LP and the subsequent Up in Smoke and Anger Management tours. Thus X's Restless is a lock to walk all over the modest 160,000 units that 40 Dayz and 40 Nightz has moved to date, in its debut week.

While the album is certain to fly off shelves, how does it play the game? While Restless suffers from the illness that riddles all too many hip-hop albums (chronic fatigue stemming from swollen length), the album is still loaded. With Dre's fingerprints all over the place, the laid-back production provides an inspired counterpoint to X's aggressive style; the warring moods lock together creating storm-like torrents that, at their most inspired, are furious and beautiful, like the symphonic-synth that drives "Best of Things" and "Get Your Walk On." Xzibit's lyrical collaborations are as crisp as his partnership with Dre; again, the contrasts provide the highlights. Be it Snoop's uber-lazy drawwwwl or the coiled paranoia that X and Eminem initially mined on Dre's "What's the Difference" and return to on "Don't Approach Me," Xzibit further develops his talent as master collaborator, even as he steps into a role every bit as prominent as his cohorts. And while Xzibit's style lacks some of the sexist venom that mars the work of his peers (and much of popular music for that matter), there's still little preparation for an angry, young rapper's honest yet sweet offering, "Sorry I'm Away So Much," for his son. Restless is an album built on contrasts, and "Sorry" provides a striking shift in speed to the Hennessey-soaked, "bitch"-heavy wordplay of "back that ass up" in "Get Your Walk On."

But Restless's high-flying moments (which are plentiful) are all the more intense due to some of the album's lulls. It isn't until the fifth track, "X," a tailor made opener if there ever was one, that Restless finds its legs. The consummate call tune, the keys-and-drum-driven "X" perfectly addresses Xzibit's move to the prime time. "The first day of the rest of my life/I stand behind the mike like Walter Cronkite/Y'all keep the spotlight I'm keeping my rhymes tight/Lose sight of what you believe and call it a night," he spits. Tight rhymes and production embellishments that come along when you least expect them, Xzibit's sound proves that the post-Death Row generation of West Coast hip-hop is as potent as that of his pioneering predecessors. His creative restlessness just might make good on his promise that stardom won't affect his craft. (ANDREW DANSBY)

Etta James Matriarch of the Blues (Private Music/BMG)

As she ably did on Mystery Lady, Time After Time and Love's Been Rough on Me (tackling jazz, pop standards and country, respectively), James injects the songs of others with a healthy dose of rootsy feminism and mettle while coloring the lyrics with her passionately seasoned and gravel-edged voice. On Matriarch of the Blues, James shows that with strength, experience and love of life and music comes an enviable and inimitable depth. She turns "Try a Little Tenderness," first sung with fiery sympathy by Otis Redding, into a statement of quiet strength in the face of bone-deep weariness. The Rolling Stones' "Miss Ya" becomes a sly come-on with a subtlety of wisdom and world-ravaged pungency the original lacked. On "You're Gonna Make Me Cry," James and organist-vocalist Mike Finnigan create a flow of hurt and longing recalling the timeless pairing of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. But mostly James wears her emotions on her sleeve, as she does with aplomb on the seductively persuasive "Let's Straighten Out," the proud "Born on the Bayou" and the yearning "Come Back Baby" (a Ray Charles classic), making no apologies and needing no permission to sing it like she feels it. (MARIE ELSIE ST. LÉGER)

Silverchair The Best Of: Vol. 1 (Epic)

After selling four-million copies of its 1995 debut Frogstomp, by cloning the sound of American grunge gods Nirvana and Pearl Jam, teenage Australian trio Silverchair decided it was high time to try developing their own identity. The band's two subsequent albums -- which experimented with everything from string-driven ballads to Korn-inspired metal freak-outs and even Zippo-waving rockers -- tanked. But this compilation, put together without the members' input or consent, skims the cream from all three of its major label endeavors to deliver a shockingly solid set. While Silverchair never quite succeeds in setting its own path, the band proves quite competent and creating more delectable rock thrills than anyone could have ever imagined. (AIDIN VAZIRI)

Tool Salival (Volcano)

While many a Tool fan has been known to drool puddles over anything with the band's name attached, Salival is barely a reason to get wet. Easily mistaken for a box set, this is nothing more than the ol' sure-sell holiday treatment -- one disc of elongated live material and some hard-to-find cuts, and a compilation VHS tape (or if you prefer, DVD) of four videos. Since Tool infuses plenty of art house with its hard rock, it's stunningly packaged. It's what's inside that's the problem. With a total of eight tracks clocking in at seventy-four minutes, one of the world's most inventive rock bands gets lost in the live, psychedelic wankery of longer, lesser-known offerings like "Third Eye" and "Pushit" and covers of its members' lesser-known side band's songs, like Peach's "You Lied." Frontman Maynard James Keenan's choking-tight vocals only really show themselves on a live ripping of "Part of Me," an eleven-minute version of Led Zeppelin's "No Quarter" and a lovely, almost-folk romp called "Lame" (although you have to meander through a seven-minute interlude to get to it). Fans who trip to Tool will be in heaven; those who want to rock will be better off waiting for the band's -- four years and counting -- next new studio disc. (J.R. GRIFFIN)

Various Artists Dracula 2000: Music From The Motion Picture (DV8/Columbia)

Having been around as long as he has, you'd expect the Prince of Darkness' latest biographical film to feature some of the best metal bands around. Hence this collection, a Whitman's Sampler of hard rock's more impressive newcomers, which features unreleased (and often undeservedly so) tracks from the likes of Powerman 5000 ("Ultra Mega"), System Of A Down ("Metro"), Static-X ("Ostego Undead"), Taproot ("Day By Day") and Godhead ("Break You Down"). But, fittingly, it's the bands who seem to have been around forever that contribute the album's best moments. Pantera do their best Black Sabbath imitation with the slow and low "Avoid The Light," and Monster Magnet's "Heads Explode" will have you shivering with anticipation for their upcoming album, though it's Slayer who out-rock 'em all with "Bloodline," a crunchy groover that'll have you wondering if you shouldn't grab every Slayer album you can find. (PAUL SEMEL)

Gary Numan Pure (Spitfire)

Sounds like Gary Numan, Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson have formed mutual admiration societies. Just as the dark and beat-driven industrialists embraced his icy, robotic sound, Numan in turn borrowed a thing or two from the masters of techno/goth with the commercial edge. Pure combines a series of songs devoted to a faith that's been shattered, begging the proverbial question, "why do bad things happen to good people?" Wrapped in metal hitting metal and keyboard synthetics, "Little InVitro" and "A Prayer For The Unborn" (with its pleading vocals and trademark soaring keyboards) echo the Tubeway Army-era Numan sound; the percussive title song and "Listen To My Voice" are flashes of programmed soundscaping. Numan's heavenly gothic is a sound that will inspire the Numanoids and may even capture a handful of skeptical and non-believing humanoids. (DENISE SULLIVAN)

David Coverdale Into The Light (Dragonshead)

If there were any justice in the world, singer David Coverdale would be as known for his work with Deep Purple and Whitesnake as he is for cavorting with Tawny Kitaen in those Eighties music videos. But listening to this, his latest solo album, it seems even he has misconceptions about whom he should be. Though such tunes as "Cry For Love" and "Don't Lie To Me" recall the Dave of old, Light is too often bogged down by sappy power ballads, while the over-wrought production makes such should-be rockers like the title track sound anemic. In fact, it isn't until the midway mark, and the song "Slave" on which Coverdale really opens up his impressive pipes, inspiring his band to follow suit that Light doesn't seem so, well, dull. (SEMEL)

Field Mob 613: Ashy to Classy (MCA)

With their debut album 613: Ashy to Classy, Georgia-born rap duo Field Mob promise to take hip-hop down to 'the Field'-- staying clear of the trends attracting most of today's rap acts. However, in the event of assuring a warm, non-slippery ride, country-slang spitters Boondox Blax and Kalage tend to make it somewhat bumpy and uncomfortable. Take the song "Project Dreamz," for instance. Although the two rappers are smooth in expressing such aspirations as having "a big nice caddy and a house on a hill," when they repeatedly chant the hook "if you ever been broke, put your hands up," you're aware that the Field can indeed be corny. The gibberish chorus in "Can't Stop Us" is confusing enough to make you wonder where the two are going. The scenery gets less enticing, the more personal Field Mob gets. In the somber track "My Main Roni," a lyrical open letter to their ex-girlfriends, Kalage claims "I ain't asked you for shit but you gave me crabs." In the skit "Waiting," one waits for the other to finish "takin' a shit." Although Blax and Kalage at least deserve credit for taking a different route to deliver their rhymes, going down to the Field will either get you lost or make you wish that you were. (PAT CHARLES)

Chris Mills Kiss It Goodbye (Sugar Free)

Chris Mills keeps good company in Chicago, the big city where a strong small-town roots-rock scene survives and flourishes. With a little help from his friends (Waco Bro/Mekon Jon Langford, Red Red Meat's Brian Deck, Kelly Hogan, members of Pinetop Seven, Lambchop and other like-minded musicians), Mills' third release marks new ground for the twenty-five-year-old singer-songwriter. He's always walked the line between stürm und twang, but on Kiss It Goodbye, Mills guides alternative country in a progressive direction shared by folks like Lambchop leader Kurt Wagner. On a record flavored by pedal steel and electric guitars, dobro, mandolin, piano, violins and horns, Mills' powerful "Signal/Noise" shares Wagner's fascination for classic pop-soul. And if he draws upon a modern tradition (recalling Uncle Tupelo's Jay Farrar on the somber "Napkin in a Wine Glass," Paul Westerburg -- or Lou Reed -- on "All You Ever Do," Alejandro Escovedo on "Watch Chain" or early Chi-town pioneers Souled American on "Tooth and Nail"), at least Mills has impeccable influences. Best of all, he isn't too reverent of those influences; in the end, his music's uniquely his own, as Kiss It Goodbye offers a special kind of shuffle-down elegance. (MARK WOODLIEF)

State of Bengal Visual Audio (Six Degrees)

State of Bengal (a.k.a. DJ/producer/musician Sam Zaman) is both intercontinental in perspective and transcendent of pesky genre borders encompassing the most moving elements of drum 'n' bass, bhangra and sundry sampladelic dancefloor magic. From the opening skittishly-funky salvo of "Flight 1C 408" to the sexy, tabla, breakbeat and sampled-vocal writhe of "Ek Bullet," Zaman integrates more ideas into three minutes than most DJ/producers do in a full set. That he sews it all together so seamlessly is a testament to his years of work as a key figure in London's East Asian musical scene. In the grooves of Visual Audio -- State of Bengal's debut LP -- Zaman brings together elements already heard in his previous, critically-acclaimed outings. Lessons learned from his collaborations with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Ananda Shankar and mixology evident on his remixes for Massive Attack and Bjork all come home to roost. Zaman reminds us that there is a touch of the divine in his trance-inducing beat alchemy and fuses that with a global perspective on the dance underground. (CHRIS HANDYSIDE)

Oozzies Nation Out Of Hand (Industrial Strength)

Oakland's Oozzies have been punkin' up the Bay Area since 1996, but it's taken four years for them to get around to releasing their first full-length. Produced by East Bay Ray of the Dead Kennedys, the thirteen rants here draw on influences like UK Subs and local heroes Rancid with varying degrees of success. Fans of shout-along choruses, brisk-paced beats and treble-kicking guitars should look no further than future circle-pit favorites like "Stuck At Midnight" and "Red, White & You." Buzzy McComb's gruff, gargled-with-Drano vocals add extra spite to the latter as he beckons, "liberty and justice is just a crock of shit," but there's little innovation in sloppy, old school hardcore like "Forget About It" and "Cherry Bomb." Subpar relationship odes like "Never Enough" and "J Word" start off strong with solid grooves, yet end up nowhere fast. When the quintet hits its stride -- on the hook-heavy "Tired" and the set-peaking "Still Strong" -- the results are amazing, but there are enough misfires on Nation Out Of Hand to deem it decidedly uneven. (JOHN D. LUERSSEN)

Dion King of the New York Streets (The Right Stuff/EMI Capitol)

One of the greatest singers in the history of rock & roll, Dion DiMucci has also lived one of the music's most compelling stories. Dion and the Belmonts rocketed to fame in the late Fifties with hits like "I Wonder Why" and "A Teenager in Love." Dion soon went solo and continued his dominance of the charts with "Runaround Sue" and, his best-known song, "The Wanderer." Like all rock stars of that time, Dion was groomed to become a supper-club staple -- doomed to purveying insipid versions of his songs alongside showbiz comedians and chorus girls. He rejected that path and instead embarked on a deeply personal musical journey -- with ventures into folk, blues and gospel -- that continues to this day.

Dion's wanderings are perfectly captured on King of the New York Streets, a smartly assembled box set that, in the course of three CDs, gets to the heart of a complex, often misunderstood artist. The early songs are masterpieces of pop attitude; Dion's falsetto soaring and his intensely rhythmic phrasing -- now lingering behind the beat, now racing ahead of it -- rival Sinatra's. But his soulful readings of songs like Dylan's "Spanish Harlem Incident" and Tom Waits' "Lookin' for the Heart of Saturday Night" will surprise anyone who has Dion pegged as a strutting teen idol. This set's booklet includes tributes by Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon and Lou Reed -- artists who have felt his powerful influence. "In his voice," Dylan writes, "he tells the untold story in the seemingly secret language." Neither the story nor the language is secret anymore: King of the New York Streets has revealed them in all their shimmering glory. (ANTHONY DECURTIS -- RS 856/857)

Various Artists Ken Burns Jazz: The Story of America's Music(Columbia/Legacy)

Like the ten-part documentary of the same name that will be broadcast in January, its audio companion is a mammoth enterprise. This five-CD box set covers many, though not all, of the key players and recorded highlights of jazz in the twentieth century. For most general listeners, this will be a sufficiently awesome introduction to the music, with some of the most renowned songs by numerous jazz giants: Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Wynton Marsalis and Cassandra Wilson are just a portion of the list. Those expecting something definitive should be cautioned that the emphasis is very much on the first two-thirds of the 1900s, with just half of one CD devoted to tracks postdating 1970. Still, what's here is largely classic, supplemented by detailed liner notes. (RICHIE UNTERBERGER)

Various Artists Essential Pebbles: Volume Three--European Garage (AIP/Bomp)

If you loved the Nuggets set on Rhino because you were crazy about that mid-Sixties, deracinated and caffinated, bowl-haircut 'n Farfisa organ madness, you'll absolutely love this bizarre collection of complete garage obscurities from the Continent. Like their American counterparts of the time, these Euros were smitten by the first wave of British invasion bands and like the Americans, completely missed the boat on what the Limeys were gunning for -- the English were interpreting blues, the Americans and Euros only heard the aggression and screech in these takes and actually bleached out whatever back-beat the Stones or Kinks or whomever intended. And so you have lots of grimace and groan on this two CD set, Yardbirds and Stones covers, "Louie Louie" of course, a version of "Hey Joe" done by a Danish group called Mad Sound who re-title the song "To Masturbate" and more goofiness than one sitting allows. Fun and frantic it is, with the prerequisite crummy sound and fuzzy, reverberant guitars everywhere, this is a charming bit of history from a time when the record companies had no idea at all of what was happening and put everything out, when there were regional hits and local heroes. Really good "good old days" indeed. (JOHNNY ANGEL)

(December 12, 2000)

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