Archive for July, 2002

Gusto

Artist: Charo
Label: Charo Entertainment
Genre: Dance/Latin
Rating: ** (2 out of 4)
Availability: Widely Available / eMusic Download
(Sign up for eMusic – get 50 free mp3’s)

Cuchi CuchiCharo is not a name you hear much any more. Apart from reruns of The Love Boat on TV Land, the Cuchi-Cuchi bombshell has for the most part faded into that realm of legend inhabited by Nessie and the Bell Witch – frequently sighted, but rarely seen.

The redheaded latina bombshell is mostly remembered these days for her appearances on kitsch television and her catch phrase “Cuchi Cuchi.” Most people remember that she did something with music – most would prefer not to think too much about her disco days.

After winning a Grammy award for her serious flamenco album Guitar Passion, Charo made this foray into modern dance – proving that it’s tough to keep a disco diva down. Given the upswing in dance music’s popularity, the increasing nostalgia craze, and the newly-found mainstream status of Latin music, Charo’s dance album was a natural.

Of course, the question remains – how good is it?

Well, it’s not very creative. It’s not fantastic art. It won’t add anything to your consciousness of the world around you, it won’t give you a deep insight into the artist’s soul, and the chances are that the lyrics alone won’t cause you to bond emotionally with the songs.

In fact, if you don’t care to dance this album is not one for you. If you only like your music to be something that plays in the background while you sit and type at the computer, this is probably not for you. If you’re a cyberpunker looking for the latest hard-edged techno rhythms as you live your poseur life in the AOL chatrooms, this is definitely not for you1. If you only like music that’s going to cause you to contemplate the inner workings of the human mind or allow you to dissect your own life with its hard-edged artistry, you won’t get that from this album. This is not stationary music.

This is rump-shaker music. It is a “shake-your-ass” album, without doubt.

I like this album, I’ll admit it. That’s because I like to dance. Angels cry when I dance2. I like upbeat, danceable music in the kitchen while I cook. It adds flair to everything I do, and the good vibes make the food taste much better.

The thing about this particular brand of dance music is that it’s fun. It’s peppy and it’s hard to sit still while you listen to it. The chances are that if you’re busy thinking about it, you’ve missed the point of the music entirely. This is music to include in your playlist for your latin-themed dance party. Everything from hardcore shake-your-booty Latin-flavored goodness (the unfortunately-titled “Give Me Cuchi”) to a light dance cover of “Besame Mucho” (sounding slinkier than any old Latin Lounge piece has a right to sound).

My first experience listening to this album would have looked much like an iPod commercial – save for the fact that my mp3 player is a Nomad3. Put it in a portable player, and chances are good that you’ll try a dance step somewhere along the way.

The final verdict? You’re not going to find great art here. Instead, you’ll find music that makes you want to move. For home-dance enthusiasts, exercise caution – check to make absolutely sure you’re alone in the house before you load this album up. Or, at the very least, take off the shades and put on some pants. It didn’t work for Tom Cruise, it won’t work for you.

[photo from:Charo at Club Josh]


1Although you’d probably have more real-life friends if you’d turn off the Prodigy once in a while.

2Granted, they’re usually tears of laughter.

3If a specific computer/home electronics company has anybody reading, I’m willing to do endorsements. Call me.

Tuesday, July 30th, 2002

Drunken Lullabies

Artist: Flogging Molly
Label: Side One Dummy
Genre: Celtic/Punk
Rating: *** (3 out of 4)
Availability: Widely Available / eMusic Download
(Sign up for eMusic – get 50 free mp3’s)

You can hear the traditional Irish strings playing over a thudding bass drum – and you know right away this isn’t your usual Celtic folk album. This is Flogging Molly, and their music is very clearly of the Celtic variety, but it’s also very punk.

There’s a certain rugged beauty to the combination of traditional Celtic instruments mixed with loud, distorted guitars and a driving drum line, while a full-on punk voice rips through lyrics on traditional themes common to the Celtic listener.

Witness “What’s Left of the Flag” – an Irish nationalist anthem with lyrics that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Silly Wizard album. But underneath all of it, the guitars blare through and the drums just won’t quit.

What is this music? What do you call an aggressive jig? A punk-rock reel? What is punk that’s been aged at the bottom of a barrel of Irish whiskey? How do you define and quantify music like this?

You don’t. You crank up the volume and you sing along.

Friday, July 19th, 2002

Blood Money

Artist: Tom Waits
Label: Anti
Genre: Jazz, Theatre
Rating: **** (4 out of 4)
Availability: Widely Available / eMusic Download
(Sign up for eMusic – get 50 free mp3’s)

Released concurrently with the superb Alice, Blood Money is the music for another Robert Wilson work of avant-garde musical theatre, this time based on Woyczek.

It may seem strange for an artist to release two albums at the same time, but in a way Alice and Blood Money make for an ideal two-CD set. Together, they run the gamut of Waits’ musical style – which is no small task.

While Alice dealt primarily with Waits’ earlier, more jazz standard sound, Blood Money is its snarling cousin. It’s much more brutal, much more earthy, and with a lot more dirt to the sound. From the opening of the first track, “Misery is the River of the World,” Waits lets you know that you’re in for quite a ride.

This is not to say that Blood Money isn’t without its understated, slower pieces – “The Part You Throw Away,” “Coney Island Baby” – but overall the album drives forward with a wild intensity. With Blood Money, Waits has composed an album that is a caged animal. It is wild yet restrained, but you know that to release that restraint would mean your death.

Tom Waits has said that he likes to write music that tells awful stories in a pretty way. Blood Money is an album of such material, and it’s a true joy to listen to.

Friday, July 19th, 2002

eMusic

Service Type: Online Music Distributor
Rating: *** (3 out of 4)
Price: Tiered contract plan.

Sign up for eMusic – get 50 free mp3’s

It’s always fun to see the pundits get together and discuss the future of online music. Online music, they sniff, will never prosper until it can give the customers what they want. It will never work until they can give them label quality artists, good-quality encoded music, and the ability to put the music onto mp3 players and burn new CDs from it. And it will never prosper as long as the labels don’t get good copy protection.

Of course, absent from the table at all of these discussions is any representative from eMusic. This is only natural, as most of the pundits involved in the discussion are actually representatives from RIAA-friendly companies who have worked hard to stifle online distribution and to destroy the mp3’s place as a legitimate form of music distribution. Many of these company reps will tell you that their game is the only game in town, and that if you want any music online you’ll have to accept streaming music.

Yes, streaming music. As in music you can’t keep on your hard drive, complete with low bit rates and choppy playback as you keep running out of your streaming buffer. Asking the consumer to pay for streaming music is about as insulting as one can get.

So, of course, eMusic would not be welcome at the table for the discussion, because eMusic’s business plan has a tendency to blow holes in the RIAA’s argument that online music distribution isn’t feasible.

First of all, eMusic uses the mp3 format for its files. This makes it possible for users to (wonder of wonders!) download music onto their computers, put it on their mp3 players, and burn CDs from it. You pay for your music, you get your music. Anybody working in the music industry should see this as a common sense approach.

Second, the quality of encoding at eMusic – while not the absolute best – is perfectly decent for just about all of your music needs. The encoding is pretty standard, and any album that is reported as having faults in its encoding is usually fixed and updated shortly.

Third, eMusic acts as a distributor for many labels (adding more ever week), meaning that while you might not get the Top Ten cuties (Britney Spears, N’Sync, ad nauseam) you will find many greats, including Tom Waits, Isaac Hayes, Belle and Sebastian, They Might Be Giants – even Tiffany – just to name a few. You get access to their music, and eMusic sees that the artists get the royalties they deserve.

Now, as to the industry’s concern. Copy protection.

eMusic asks politely that you not distribute their mp3’s to anybody else.

“The Honor System?” cries the RIAA. “How can we expect the customers to abide by an honor system?”

Well, if you provide an excellent service and a good product, the consumer will be much more willing to treat you with something resembling loyalty. Perhaps if you treat your customers like decent human beings (nudge) and treat them with respect (nudge nudge), instead of conning them out of every penny you can clutch (nudge) and accusing them of theft every chance you get (NUDGE), most consumers won’t have a problem with abiding by an honor system.

As to affordability, eMusic works with a two-tier contract system. If you sign up for a minimum of 3 months, eMusic charges you $14.99 (less than most single CDs these days). If you sign up for 12 months at a time, eMusic will charge you $9.99 a month.

In return for this monthly payment – less than the cost of a single CD – you get unlimited downloads from eMusic’s vast library of music, with more artists being added every day.

And if you want to try out their service, eMusic offers a free trial – 50 free downloads. Well worth a shot. Even if you decide that eMusic is not a service you’re interested in, you get 5 albums’ worth of music out of it (or 10 Isaac Hayes albums) for absolutely nothing.

I’ve been a subscriber to eMusic for over a year now, and in that time my music collection has grown far beyond what it was before. I have about 25 CD-Roms of eMusic downloads, and more on my computer and mp3 player. In all that time, I’ve been impressed consistently by eMusic – by their selection, their service, and the way their genre newsletters are actually informative, as opposed to some other Online Music Distributors I could mention. In fact, I’m so pleased with eMusic that I am happy to be an affiliate of the site, offering quality music distribution to the net.

Friday, July 19th, 2002

Affiliations upon Affiliations…

Some of you who are familiar with my old web site and its music review section, Let It Spin, may be familiar with my raving review of the eMusic mp3 service.

Well, I like the company so much – I’m an affiliate now.

Now when you read a review of an album I got from eMusic, you’ll generally have one of three options under availability. “Widely Available” will take you to a page on CDNow where you can order the plastic-and-paper incarnation of the album. “eMusic Download” will take you directly to the page where you can download it if you already have a subscription.

Or, if you don’t have a subscription, you can take the “Sign up for eMusic – get 50 free mp3’s” link directly below those two options. It’ll take you to eMusic where you can sign up for a free trial of the eMusic service – and get that album you’ve just read a review for.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with eMusic, I’ll be revising my review of it and posting it here, soon.

Until then…


Thursday, July 11th, 2002