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Reviews of CDs by Madball, The Twilight Singers, Eddy "the Chief" Clearwater and Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets.

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Madball, "Hold It Down," (Epitaph Records) — The heyday of New York hard-core music has come and gone, but a number of veteran bands from that era continue to carry on. One such band is Madball, which is still playing with integrity the music it loves, as if the '80s had never ended. Madball's lineup reads like a "Who's Who" of ex-members of both old- and new-school New York hard-core groups. "Hold It Down," the band's new album, is even produced by ex-band mate Matt Henderson, who played for many years in the most famous New York hard-core band of them all, Agnostic Front. The connection to Agnostic Front doesn't end there. Madball's frontman, Freddy Cricien, is the little brother of Agnostic Front's vocalist, Roger Miret. Big brother Roger was also instrumental in getting Madball off the ground back in the late '80s by having Agnostic act as Freddy's backup band on the first Madball EP. At the time, Freddy was 12 years old, and it didn1t seem to matter that he hadn't hit puberty yet because he yelled the words to each song. Now that Freddy has grown, and his band with him, we can hear how far his vocal abilities have come. Not only can he carry a tune and rap(!), but he can still scream his venomous lyrics when the occasion calls for it. The songs are still straightforward New York hard-core tunes with the inclusion of the unexpected rap track, "Thinking to Myself." "Can't Stop, Won't Stop," "Everyday Hate" and "Never Look Back" are the fast and furious hard-core numbers to watch out for on this one. Brace yourself, this is Madball's best release in years. — Angelo DeFranzo The Twilight Singers, "Twilight" (Columbia) — I wish Greg Dulli had stuck to his guns. Lead singer of Cincinnati's Afghan Whigs, Dulli conceived of The Twilight Singers as a band smoldering through the New Orleans night, an outlet for some of his darker, more soulful material. As it happened, though, the Whigs' "1965" album came first, and the "Twilight" tracks were widely bootlegged during the two-year wait to finish the project. Dulli shifted gears, heading to England to rework "Twilight" with mix-masters Fila Brazilia. The result sounds like a compromise. Some of the music still smolders, but there's a rawness missing. Instead of a ragged, Tom Waits bang-on-a-can beat, you get "canned" break beats. Conversely, the backing track to "Love" is a bubbling dub bass line with great echoing drums, but the flat vocals don't do it justice. "Annie Mae" feels like a whole, when Dulli gets his lungs into it, but it's an exception. Another is the '70s-sounding "Railroad Lullaby," one of three songs written completely in England. Those two tracks and the cool interlude "Verti-marte" make me think a full-on collaboration would have worked better. As it stands, "Twilight" is being pulled in two directions at once. — Dave Renard, The Virginian-Pilot Eddy Clearwater, "Reservation Blues," (Bullseye) — Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater apparently had more on his mind than the get-down-and-party routine when he cut his latest CD. Dark themes of uncertainty and oppression may mix with blues and rock grooves here, but "Reservation Blues" is nonetheless a recording that satisfies on a number of levels. The project opens with the slightly eerie "Winds of Change," but this mood quickly gives way to the Chuck Berry-style "I Wouldn't Lay My Guitar Down." Guest player Cary Bell adds his fine harp to the standard four-bar blues that follow before the laid-back title track puts everything into a mellow jazzy mood. This CD is for the most part more lyrically thoughtful than many blues recordings out these days, but if there's a point to some of the songs, Clearwater and producer Duke Robillard know how to shake things up by changing tempos, styles and arrangements to avoid heavy-handed messages. While there's nothing really earth-shattering going on here, "Reservation Blues" remains an impressive set. With 50 years in the music business as a backdrop, Clearwater has released a winning project that's somehow both contemporary and old school. — Ames Arnold Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets featuring Sam Myers, "Change in My Pocket," (Bullseye) — From the opening notes of this one it's clear "Pocket" is a keeper blues album. Rocking steady and clean, Funderburgh and his band roll their way through 12 tough cuts just the way the blues masters once did, and they show why this Dallas-based group has eight W.C. Handy Awards to its credit. Vocalist and harp player Sam Myers leads the way with unwavering Delta soul, while guitarist Funderburgh lights up every solo with touch and clarity that eschews pointless flash. Mixing originals with tunes by Willie Dixon, Little Walter and Buddy Guy, the band stays deep in the pocket throughout, playing with a well-seasoned road-band savvy that hits a listener from the CD's lead cut. Track to track the groove is relentless, whether the band is laying down solid rhythm under a greasy B-3 organ on the instrumental "Hula Hoop," or backing Myers' gritty harmonica tone during "Little Girl." This band plays with the restraint and taste of the best. Music fans hungry for classic electric-blues sounds need search no further than this highly recommended project. — Ames Arnold

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