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Reviews of CDs by John McEuen and Jimmy Ibbotson, Pearl Jam, Disturbed and BR5-49

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John McEuen and Jimmy Ibbotson, "Stories and Songs," (Planetary) — This project is hard to weigh. On one hand, snagging genuine talents like Jimmy Ibbotson and John McEuen and bringing them to Richmond for a live recording is a feather in the cap for Planetary Records, In Your Ear Studios and producer Page Wilson. There's the usual tasty picking from McEuen, and Ibbotson is in pretty good voice. The guitars sound crisp and woody, the banjo rings. There's an easygoing feel throughout that's remarkably coherent given the cosmic roller-coaster ride Ibbotson appeared to be on during much of the recording.

On the other hand, while I understand this is supposed to capture a moment just the way it happened and the title lays out what to expect, I have to wonder why there's so much yak on a recording intended for repeat listens. It just gets in the way of some good music. I also have to wonder why three of 12 music tracks carry the name of our fair city? If I picked this up in an out-of-town record store, I'd scratch my head about this. I love the musical spirit that McEuen and Ibbotson have captured through the years and, for the most part, on this CD. For all concerned I hope this hits No. 1 on the Gavin charts. But as Ibbotson says during the "Dance Little Jean" intro," "Let's just do the song. We've talked way long."
— Ames Arnold

Pearl Jam, "Binaural" (Epic) — Here's the secret to Pearl Jam's success: The five band members write music to please themselves. If other people happen to like it, that's no problem.

"Binaural," the band's latest album, strays from its previous effort, the guitar-driven "Yield." "Binaural" is less about distorted guitars and more about acoustic melodies. Former Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron provides a healthy contribution to the band's already tight rhythm section. He plays powerfully and still has the lighter touch of his predecessor, Jack Irons, who left the band for health reasons.

Pearl Jam's strength lies in the fact that all its members contribute music. The first single, "Nothing As It Seems," a dark, Floydian drone, and "God's Dice" were penned by bassist Jeff Ament. Guitarist Stone Gossard contributes three tracks, including the blissful love ballad "Thin Air." Cameron writes the music to the hard-rocking "Evacuation." Singer Eddie Vedder's pounding rocker, "Insignificance," and his ukulele-driven, "Soon Forget," are brighter moments. As usual, Vedder's lyrics criticize corrupt individuals such as big businessmen, but he's more relaxed and understandable on this album. Here's hoping he'll sound this way when Pearl Jam opens its U.S. tour in Virginia Beach at the beginning of August.
— Jacob Parcell

Disturbed, "The Sickness" (Giant Records) — I'll be the first to admit that I'm sick and tired of Korn wannabes flooding the nation's airwaves. When I first looked over the insert graphics for Disturbed's new album I thought to myself: "more of the same." I was soon proven wrong.

My rush to judgment might have kept me from enjoying the heavy-metal grooves, head-bobbing riffs, and hook-laden verses prevalent on "The Sickness." From the opening track, "Voices," through their amusing cover of Tears For Fears' "Shout" (re-dubbed "Shout 2000"), to the album's finale, "Meaning Of Life," the level of energy stays high and the music upbeat.

Solid musicianship keeps the songs steady, while frontman David Draiman sings with such passion one can almost see the veins in his head bulging as he fires off his lyrics. With the added dimension of electronic programming, Disturbed's sound more closely resembles that of Marilyn Manson, Coal Chamber, Tool, and Orgy than that of Korn. My use of the term metal shouldn't keep potential listeners away either. Disturbed's style is more inclusive than what is generally stereotypical of the contemporary metal mode.

"The Sickness" is a powerful and satisfying new album from this Chicago four-piece. A surprisingly bright release from what would seemingly be a dark band.
— Angelo DeFranzo

BR5-49, "Coast to Coast," (Arista) — This Nashville-based band's latest CD faithfully captures the group's lively stage show. There are no overdubs, but plenty of great singing and fancy picking to please any fan of the band. The group rolls through 11 cuts recorded in the summer of '99 at venues from New York to Arizona, and there's nary a dropped note to be heard. What is heard is plenty of solid, no-fooling country music — clear, clean vocals from Chuck Mead and Gary Bennett and whirlwind instrumentation. The mood is mostly upbeat as on "Better Than This" which features the sweet fiddle of Don Herron and a good-timing, beer-drinking and dance-inducing "Waiting for the Axe." An updated version of Charlie Daniels' '70s hippie anthem, "Uneasy Rider," is rescued by Mead's stellar guitar, and Gram Parsons' "Big Mouth Blues" gets a surprisingly passionate take. The old reliable "Six Days on the Road" likewise turns into a jaw-dropping steel guitar and guitar rave. This is a fine CD that ably shows why this band is respected for its brilliant musicianship. I just wish it would drop the country hooey of billing itself as the "Mother of All Hillbilly Bands," and the corn-pone-pose tunes such as the bonus studio cut "You're a Hum-Dinger." There's no denying this is a great country band that, I suspect, could play rock or blues with equal finesse. They don't need the distracting gimmicks to convince anyone of anything.
— A.A.

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