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Reviews of CDs by Mike Elosh, NOFX, Elliott Smith, Bad Livers, and Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver

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Mike Elosh, "Black Ink" — The music on this indie CD comes straight out of the '60s folk era and how you feel about that will directly relate to the appeal Elosh holds for you. To these ears, it's a clean, spare sound that harks back to a time of solo acoustic guitars, introspective songs, dark nights and uncertain days. Singing with a husky, restrained baritone, Elosh recalls his tales of broken love affairs and unsolved vagabond dilemmas with an easy charm, and he conveys his thoughts with a confident and stark simplicity. He's not particularly tuneful, but the Maryland-based songwriter manages to put a poetic spin on the lyrics that outshines melodic shortcomings. "Baltimore" and "Everything to Me" are particularly affecting looks at regret. Elosh is a young folkie carrying a timeless troubadour torch and "Ink" is a fine effort that fans of singer-songwriter fare will appreciate. Catch Elosh at Poe's Pub on Thursday, July 20 at 9 p.m. — Ames Arnold

NOFX, "Pump Up The Valuum" (Epitaph Records) — Not since 1994's "Punk In Drublic" has a NOFX album been so aurally satisfying. With their newest release Fat Mike, El Hefe, and Eric and Erik treat us to 14 more songs of fast-paced, technically proficient punk.

NOFX's sound has matured, yet its music has not deviated from what it's been doing since its inception. Even their lyrics remain tongue-in-cheek. Songs such as "Clams Have Feelings Too (Actually They Don't)," "My Vagina," and "Louise" (the latest installment in the saga of fictional lesbian couple Liza and Louise) all illustrate their impeccable sense of humor. NOFX still has a social conscience as demonstrated by its assaults on big record companies ("Dinosaurs Will Die") and destructive binge drinking ("Bottles to the Ground").

"Pump Up The Valuum" is by no means a radical departure from what NOFX has been doing since the early '80s. The band has been in the habit of writing songs that are both amusing and engaging for almost 20 years now, and thankfully that's a hard habit to break.

— Angelo DeFranzo

Elliott Smith, "Figure 8" (DreamWorks) - One of the most meaningless observations that can be made about an album is that it owes something to the Beatles; most of modern pop music is created in their shadow. But listen to "Figure 8" and try not to mention them.

Elliott Smith's solo work began in the singer-songwriter vein, but he has gradually been fleshing out the acoustic guitar-and-vocal sound that got him noticed. His tracks on the "Good Will Hunting" soundtrack were a first peek above ground.

Now, with co-producers Tom Rohrock and Rob Schnapf, who worked on Beck's "Odelay," he's creating vibrant and varied music.

Echoing drums crash in on the lilting, repeated refrain of "Everything Means Nothing to Me." The piano behind "In the Lost and Found" recalls "Martha, My Dear." There's rock 'n' roll ("Son of Sam") and quiet introspection ("Everything Reminds Me of Her.")

Here's hoping Smith's experimentation continues; it serves his songs well.

— Dave Renard, The Virginian-Pilot

Bad Livers, "Blood and Mood," (Sugar Hill) — If you're that guy out there who likes to crank up tunes in the ever-popular hillbilly-techno-metal-spoken word musical genre, then you'll take to this little bit of whimsy. Otherwise, you might want to steer clear. Apparently bummed by divorce and loneliness, but hankering to create the unexpected, the Bad Livers thump through this group of songs searching for its brand of characteristic humor. Unfortunately, they come up way short, offering the listener tunes without much humor, melody or point. There's some pedal steel, banjo and guitar picking to remind a listener that a musical endeavor is going on here, but it's convincingly obliterated by thudding drums, dopey tape effects and what sounds like trash can lids clanging around. Too often the arrangements meander as fuzz guitar bleats drearily in the background. By the time the guys roll around to "Death Trip" halfway through this 10-cut mystery you sort of hope they're on to something.

— Ames Arnold

Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, "Just Over In Heaven" (Sugar Hill) — Doyle Lawson's unique stained-glass bluegrass shines upon sinners and believers alike. At times hinting at traditional African-American gospel-quartet styles, Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver weave an intricate arrangement of four-part harmonies backed by bluegrass fiddle, banjo and mandolin. The jazzy upbeat "The Man Upstairs" and finger-snapping, head-swaying "Gonna Row My Boat" are complemented by the straight-up vocals of "God is Watching Over Me" and "Safe With You at Home." These upbeat arrangements also make it easier to get through the occasional knee-bending spiritual like "The Only Thing That Matters."

But "Just Over In Heaven" comprises some great a cappella selections as well. Tracks such as "Listen to the Bells," "We Need the Light" and "I Am Glad" may not be epiphanic enough to reveal the gates of heaven, but they bring the listener pretty damn close. Following Dawson's lead, the members of Quicksilver — banjoist Dale Perry, guitarist Berry Scott, bassist James Dailey and fiddler Doug Bartlett — also show off their complex four-part harmonies in songs such as "Just Over in Heaven." Even if you typically opt for the church key over the church pew on Sunday mornings, "Just Over n Heaven" carries a tune worth sitting through.

— Kevin Finucane

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