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June 18, 2007

A NATURAL PROG-RESSION

The Bad Plus shows a gentler side

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It's common for jazz acts to interpret outside material, although songs by Black Sabbath, Nirvana, David Bowie and Tears for Fears are not typical choices.

Don’t tell that to The Bad Plus.

"It's a great challenge for us to take that music and try and arrange it because there really is no school for it," says drummer David King. "We are one of many, many jazz artists who interpret other music -- it's just that most of them don’t tackle the disparate influences that we do."

Since 2003's These Are the Vistas, the band's debut CD, The Bad Plus has included at least one cover song on each of its studio albums. Prog, released in May via the group's own Do the Math label, features four covers and opens with a rendition of the Tears for Fears hit "Everybody Wants to Rule the World."

Starting the album with something as mellow as that song, says King, was part of a larger band objective -- to show "a gentler side" that The Bad Plus always had but, by choice, hadn't really captured on an album.

King credits producer/engineer Tony Platt and his "natural approach to recording" with playing a big part in achieving the goal.

"We had no discussions about the way we played," recalls King. "The way we play is quite dynamic, and he wanted to capture that. He didn’t want to have flat, bold mixes on everything."

Engineers usually don't discuss their recording techniques, and Platt was no exception, according to King -- although a look from Platt while he miked King’s drums did speak volumes.

"He put an extra mike right by the rim of the snare," says King. "[As he did it], he looked at me, smiling -- it was one of his secrets. It was a deep technique. . . . he searched for how to get that tone and got it for me."

-- By Chris M. Junior

June 11, 2007

DISC DISCUSSION -- ANCHORED IN LOVE

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Some very familiar names have joined forces to honor the late June Carter Cash. George Henn and Mike Madden have the lowdown.

George Henn: Anchored in Love is a tribute album put together by Johnny and June Carter Cash's son, John Carter Cash, to coincide with his new book of the same name and perhaps (call me cynical) cash in a bit on the success of Walk the Line, the acclaimed big-screen account of his late parents' courtship. And just as with many a Hollywood production, there is some questionable casting on this CD.

Most notably, Sheryl Crow is barely recognizable and utterly lifeless as Willie Nelson's duet partner on "If I Were a Carpenter," while Elvis Costello's easy-listening arrangement of "Ring of Fire" downright extinguishes any of the lyrical passion that makes the song great, and it seems better suited for his next collaboration with Burt Bacharach.

Mike Madden: It's true that "If I We're a Carpenter" is a misstep, but that's due in part to both Nelson and Crow canceling each other's performances out. It makes perfect sense for them to be on the project, but why together? If you took lesser talents and matched them up with both, then you'd have a better chance at a memorable pairing.

The second duet on the album, Carlene Carter and Ronnie Dunn's take on "Jackson," also has no spontaneity to it, but that's primarily due to Dunn's over-polished vocal delivery.

Henn: At least Carter and Dunn combine for some pleasing harmonies as well as the right amount of playful interplay. Elsewhere, Kris Kristofferson's weathered grumble contrasts well with Patty Loveless' sunny voice on "Far Side Banks of Jordan."

The only other vocal collaboration also is one of the disc's more disposable tracks; once you get past the puzzling inclusion of Billy Bob Thornton reciting the verses on "Road to Kaintuck," the angelic choruses by the Peasall Sisters are quite enjoyable. Thankfully, there are no more actors making cameos on the disc, only singers who for the most part bring much more emotion and charisma to the songs, particularly in the case of Grey DeLisle's convincing rendering of "Big Yellow Peaches."

Madden: That emotion is certainly what makes Loretta Lynn's version of "Wildwood Flower" so charming. She was a true contemporary of June Carter Cash and delivers a performance that can be summed up as a country singer singing like a country singer.

But she's not the only performer that's sticking to the genre's humble roots. Brad Paisley, a big-selling success in Nashville but critically ignored, shows on "Keep on the Sunny Side" that country/folk can be fun without mentioning beer and beaches. And this is in direct tribute to the music of the Carter Family as well as that far gone era in music history.

Henn: If we're going to single out classic country singers who deliver on this disc, then we can't ignore the ever-elegant Emmylou Harris' contribution to close the album. "Song to John" is June's extremely personal and spiritual message of assurance to Johnny about the strength of their bond and their faith, and Harris exudes such warmth and affection in her voice that she could be mistaken for the songwriter herself. For all of the album's inconsistency, at least it ends with a performance homespun and genuine enough to rate with those of June Carter Cash herself.

June 08, 2007

2007 SONGWRITERS HALL OF FAME INDUCTION AND AWARDS CEREMONY

Red carpet arrivals
June 7
New York

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Jackson Browne

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Jimmy Jam

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John Legend

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Joss Stone

Photos by Chris M. Junior

June 01, 2007

SIGHTS AND SOUNDS

New Atlantic hones stage act, finds musical focus

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A singer's voice can't be 100 percent every night, and at some shows, it can be close to a whisper.

That's when a singer has to rely on showmanship.

Last month during the Bamboozle festival in East Rutherford, N.J., New Atlantic singer Giovanni Gianni, who was suffering from a sinus infection, had to rely on his stage smarts to get through his band's set.

"I had almost no voice at all," Gianni recalls. "I tried to sing the best I could, and the only thing I could think of was to ask the kids to sing as loud as they could."

It wasn't the only time he involved the crowd when his sinuses troubled him.

At another show when his voice was fading, Gianni -- realizing he "had to do something cool" -- took a stage dive and had the crowd carry him back to New Atlantic's merchandise table.

"[It seemed like] the kids thought it was the greatest thing they had ever seen in their life," he says.

Gianni has seen his share of audiences in recent years. New Atlantic -- previously known as Glendora and co-founded by Gianni and guitarist Christopher Hindley when they were students at the College of New Jersey -- has toured the United States with regularity, and this spring, the band has been on the road supporting its debut album, The Streets, The Sounds, and the Love (Eyeball Records).

New Atlantic had met with other labels, but Gianni says Eyeball was the first "that really threw everything down on the table and said, 'We want to sign you tomorrow, if we can.' They weren't beating around the bush."

The quintet went to Seattle last fall to record The Streets, The Sounds, and the Love, which was released in April. Gianni credits co-producers Casey Bates and Bobby Darling for putting New Atlantic on track to be a "legit pop-rock band."

"Bobby said to me, 'I want New Atlantic to be the Third Eye Blind of 2007,' " recalls Gianni.

-- By Chris M. Junior

New Atlantic on tour (schedule subject to change):

* June 3: Java Jazz -- Houston

* June 8: Culture Room -- Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

* June 12: The Casbah -- Charlotte, N.C.

* June 14: The Ottobar -- Baltimore

* June 15: First Unitarian Church -- Philadelphia

* June 16: Knitting Factory -- New York

* June 17: Axis -- Boston

* June 21: The Hangout -- Edinboro, Pa.