A young Algerian songstress has taken the world by storm, and although we’ve never heard of her here in the States, she’s been at the top of the rest of the planet’s charts for months. Born in Algiers, Souad Massi moved to Paris to avoid the civil war in Algeria in the ’90s. She recorded her first, widely acclaimed album Raoui there and has recently followed it up with Deb.
This latest album (the title of which means “heartbroken”) is a lilting and melodic collection of songs about love and hardship. The album is a brilliant mix of oud, soft Spanish and steel-string guitar, Arabic lute, stand-up bass and mixed percussion—Massi herself writes, sings and plays guitar. Spanish music traditions are a huge part of the cultural heritage of Algeria due to the waves of migration of Moors, Jews and Andalusians back and forth between the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa, and this album definitely profits from that exchange.
Most of the album is sung in Arabic, but its eclectic elements make it more of a French production. The arrangements highlight Massi’s gripping voice, and tracks 5 and 12 are easily two of the sexiest songs ever. So it turns out that rai music is not the only thing Algeria had hidden up its musical sleeve. (Colin Ruggiero)
Covers albums are usually pretty dismal propositions, pitched somewhere between sorry self-indulgence and the audible sound of a high-centered band, creative wheels spinning in thin air. Then again, there’s a big difference between a band that’s been together three years putting out a covers record and one that’s been together for over 30. At this stage in the game (the last proper Rush album, Vapor Trails, was excellent), Mssrs. Lee, Lifeson and Peart can pretty much do whatever they want.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean they should. Feedback (an appropriately, ponderously Rushian title for such a dirt-simple idea) finds Toronto’s most prestigious musical ambassadors taking it back to the basement to pay tribute to the songs that inspired them to pick up their axes and sharpen their falsettos as young teenagers circa 1966. But why? Would anyone otherwise have doubted that Rush could play a perfectly workmanlike version of “Summertime Blues?” Or “The Seeker?”
The criminally dull choice of material unfortunately cripples what might have been a warts-and-all exercise in letting it all hang out from a band that’s been known to let one wrong note postpone a live release for years. Muffled sound quality makes Feedback that much less appealing. The boys are playing beneath themselves, here. I’d almost rather have it the other way around: an album of ambitious but musically under-endowed bands getting in over their heads with their favorite Rush songs. Pass. (Andy Smetanka)
The Tipping Point
Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book in 2000 called The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference, in which he describes how small events can spread through various channels to achieve an impact beyond their humble origins. In their new album by the same name, Philadelphia’s Roots expend most of their lyrical energy explaining that they are just such a phenomenon.
This is disappointing because the beats on the album have a potential that goes beyond MC Black Thought’s flash self-justification. I guess that kind of comes with the territory, though, and although the feel of this album is a little more slick and produced than the band’s previous efforts, it’s musically pretty strong. The first track is a fantastic cover of Sly and The Family Stone’s “Everybody Is a Star,” although it might be stretching things to call it a cover, since they really just sampled parts of the song to lay under their own beat and lyrics. “Don’t Say Nuthin‚” is another catchy tune produced by Scott Storch, who has worked with Dr. Dre, Christina Aguilera and Beyoncé, among others. A good listen, but a little disappointing that a group with such obvious rhyming power couldn’t come up with more important things to say. (Colin Ruggiero)
Gettin’ in Over My Head
I wanted to like this record—five decades into Brian Wilson’s music career, still just his third solo outing—more than I actually do. Well, that’s not exactly right. You know how when you have to force down some nasty-tasting medicine, you can make yourself not taste it by keeping your nose occupied elsewhere? That’s what I’m doing with Gettin’ In Over My Head: listening, but only halfway. The record is fine as long as you can focus on the voice as instrument and not as a conveyance for the lyrical banalities.
Lyrics have never been Wilson’s strong suit, which is why even on the soon-to-be-officially-released Smile—Wilson’s “teenage hymn to God” at the expense of his fellow Beach Boys—most of the spiritual traction was provided by collaborator Van Dyke Parks. For his own part, pop’s most reticent man-child seems hardly to have evolved past “Help Me Rhonda.” You can surmise as much just from the song titles on Gettin’ In Over My Head: “How Could We Still Be Dancin,” “Soul Searchin’” and the title track—those are just three of the first four.
On the other hand, if there were a Nobel Prize awarded for vocal arrangements, Wilson would snag it handily. That’s what’s good about Gettin’ In: that old familiar Beach Boys sound, unsullied by hip-hop beats or any other rank anachronism to dispel the illusion that we’re all going surfing one more time. (Andy Smetanka)