Lawrence's own Appleseed Cast defies the dreaded sophomore slump with its second Deep Elm release, "Mare Vitalis." The record is a huge step forward from the band's ethereal debut, "The End of the Ring Wars," showing a group that has matured and gelled through a steady diet of rehearsing and touring. "Fishing the Sky" (the hands-down winner for guitar riff of the year) is a gorgeous slice of sonic nirvana, combining the best elements of "Ritual"-era Jane's Addiction, "Reckoning"-era R.E.M. and AC's own fiery sensibilities. "... And Nothing Less" is a sublime, sky-blue stereolab of musical bliss, while "Forever Longing the Golden Sunsets" is a dusky landscape of sound and fury. "Vitalis" is a guitar record at heart. and local hot-hand Ed Rose's nuanced, shimmering production lends a mysterious, dreamy complexity to the group's sound. Guitars chime here and explode over there, as singer-guitarist Chris Crisci spins reconstructed fables of love lost over the roar of Aaron Pillar's ocean-size strumming. The ultrasuede (and greatly improved) bass playing of Jason Wickersheim clicks perfectly with the powerhouse drumming of newcomer Josh Baruth, giving AC an added rhythmic kick and newfound confidence. With "Mare Vitalis," Appleseed Cast has lived up to the potential of "Ring Wars," creating one of the best local albums of this or any year.
The Roots Come Alive
Hip-hop has a well-deserved reputation for being marginally effective in concert music. Old-school, "throw-your-hands-in-the-air" cliches abound and many rappers just can't cut it without the comforts and crutches of studio production. More importantly, all the DAT machines in the world can't replace the energy of a good live band. Philadelphia's Roots, a six-piece rap outfit that actually plays real instruments, are busy redefining the in-concert experience for hip-hop heads. With a touring schedule that would leave Phish gasping for breath, the Roots have globetrotted its unique flavor of hip-hop around the world since its early-'90s inception. The band, which began by performing on the streets of Philadelphia, has always been about kicking it live. Thus, it's no surprise that a concert album -- culled from shows in Paris, New York, Switzerland, et.al. -- has finally found its way to record stores. The Roots lineup consists of rappers Black Thought and Malik B., who rhyme over a band consisting of drums, bass and organ, and a DJ who scratches and mixes sounds. Four solid albums give the group plenty of good material to work with and the songs on "Come Alive" sound freer and more fluid than their studio counterparts. The Blue-Note funk of "The Next Movement" is equal parts Jimmy Smith and James Todd Smith, blending jazz, rap and funk with effortless, airy grace. An extended version of the group's only hit, "You Got Me," features original singer Jill Scott blowing Erika Badu completely out of the water with vocal histronics that wouldn't sound out of place on a Betty Carter record. Though it probably won't achieve the career-defining success of the Peter Frampton album from which it took its name, "The Roots Come Alive" is pure hip-hop, no hype.
Live Era '87-'93
Guns N' Roses
Let's face it, Gun N' Roses was once a great band. Climbing their way out of the dregs of L.A.'s spandex-metal scene, the quintet brought a genuine intensity and realism that was nowhere to be found on records by Poisonous hair-band peers. GNR was the real thing, which, like other groups who live it like they sing it, caused the group to careen out of control and implode on its own success. The multi-platinum success of GNR's remarkable debut, "Appetite For Destruction," didn't stop the tidal wave of internal problems that plagued the group from the outset. Lead singer Axl Rose morphed from a streetwise, serpentine rocker into a prima-donna rock star, refusing to attend rehearsals, walking off the stage at the drop of a hat, delaying concerts for hours and discarding band members like Kleenex. Drummer Stephan Adler was first to go, because of a drug problem that turned his snappy chops to muddled mush. Rhythm-guitarist and primary songwriter Izzy Stradlin was next, departing the group in disgust and forming
Way Out West In Kansas
The Euphoria String Band
Local country-bluegrass-folk outfit The Euphoria String Band kicks up its heels with a quirky blend of see-saw fiddlin', knee-slapping rhythms and down-home harmonies. Pundits of regional music will love the title track, which perfectly sets the tone of this 16-song collection. Jim Krause's "The John Deere Song" is a hilarious tale of a man who receives a Dear John letter on the seat of his tractor one morning. "The name on my tractor says it all," the group sings poker-faced, a wry gleam in its collective eye. Odes to gooseberry pie, old beat-up houses and Kansas sunsets are perfect back-porch barbecue music for a Sunday afternoon.
-- reviewed by Geoff Harkness