Thoughtful Arizona pop-rock outfit Jimmy Eat World's eponymous 2001 breakthrough LP -- originally titled Bleed American, but re-named after 9/11 -- was more than an instantly memorable collection of simple, infectious guitar-driven tunes; it was also something of a victory for the depressingly anachronistic notion that a talented band can follow its muse and still get paid big-time. Having been perplexingly, inexplicably, idiotically dropped by Capitol Records about 45 minutes prior to the Emo Explosion, the quartet pooled its savings and headed into the studio on its own dime. The resulting record, while more scrappy and straightforward than their orchestrated, melancholy 1999 masterwork Clarity, was nonetheless a fine effort. DreamWorks picked it up, and by second single "The Middle," it was obvious that 2002 was their year.
Now it's a couple of years later. The pressure's on for the band to please both its longtime loyal supporters and the fickle radio-suckling masses, and Jimmy Eat World has responded with the suitable, predictable Futures, an above-average album that pretty much defines the Warped Tour Nation's version of populist, pan-accessible arena rock, but also evinces a bit of the mediocrity that term implies.
There's an occasional disappointing sense of fishing for an obvious hit, and a few tunes (including somewhat desperate first single "Pain") come off as tarted-up leftovers from the Jimmy Eat World sessions. Fortunately, Jimmy Eat World on an off day is usually better than most pop groups at their best. Even the sub-par material is buoyed by creative, often elegant touches and Jim Adkins and Tom Linton's ways with evocative melody. They're still at their best, however, when working with a sprawling, textured canvas, as on "Kill," the eerily Queen-esque "Drugs or Me," the gorgeous, New Wave-tinged "Polaris," and inimitably trademarked closers "Night Drive" and "23."
Track to burn: "Polaris"-- Scott Harrell
If Miles Davis' 80s music had been strong and energetic (which mostly it wasn't) and the trumpeter played with chops and vigor (which he didn't), it might've sounded quite a bit like Wallace Roney's new CD Prototype. Roney's probably tired of reading that he's a Miles acolyte, but it really boils down to an if-the-shoe-fits scenario. The proof is in the hearing. But that doesn't mean he's incapable of making fine music. Prototype finds just the right blend of modernity and tradition, exemplary improvisation and flowing ensemble chemistry. Factor in a collection of formidable tunes, and you come up with an eminently listenable, often beguiling, if not particularly original album. Certainly no crime there. He's aided by a bevy of ace players -- among them pianist/keyboardists Geri Allen and Adam Holzman, saxophonist (and brother) Antoine Roney, bassist Matt Garrison and drummer Eric Allen. The disc opens with the subtle funk of "Cyberspace," with its dark, serpentine melody (and sonic fillips by DJ Logic). Roney opens his solo by blowing long, sensual notes bordered by plenty of space, with a tone so round and warm that it evokes Miles at his peak. Prototype takes a handful of welcome stylistic detours, including the title song, an acoustic ballad, and the frenetic bebop piece "Then and Now." Perhaps the disc's most seductive track is a remake of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together," slowed down to near-ballad tempo and oozing with romantic ennui (but in no way dumbed down a la Chris Botti). Maybe Wallace Roney will never shed the Miles Davis comparisons, but as long as he keeps making music like this, I say: Keep on, brother.
Track to burn: "Cyberspace"-- Eric Snyder
Tin Hat Trio
Book of Silk
Evocative of Tim Burton's Beetlejuice, 19th-century ghost towns and rural Appalachia, the Tin Hat Trio mines a particular vein of American music seldom explored by other acoustic groups. Their latest effort, Book of Silk, is its own world, containing characters and stories both engaging and endlessly romantic. Impressively, the trio weaves its narratives using only an accordion, a violin and guitar -- no vocals. The opener, "The Longest Night," is a somber lullaby, surging with layered violins and an Old World accordion harmony. It's a song that doesn't merely emote, but travels while doing so. Other tunes follow a similar course, like the ethereal "Company" and the closer, "Empire of Light." Within a single album, an entirely new, redemptive meaning has been given to the term "accordion music."
Track to burn: "Empire of Light" --Mark Sanders