"Album Reviews"

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Ultramax - Ultramax

Maxx Records
Back in the late ’80s/early ’90s, there was an influx of rock bands that added some funk to their mix and hit pay dirt. The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Primus, Faith No More, and Living Colour led the charge, with 24-7 Spyz and Fungo Mungo vying for some time in the spotlight as well. With the onslaught of grunge, the movement died a premature death. Well, Ultramax says it ain’t dead yet! This band of talented players busts out some serious grooves, yet adds some melody and feeling. Opening track "Alternative Love" opens with some cool guitar work and drum fills before breaking into a funky verse, complete with Bootsy Collins-ish background vocals, and a semi-pop chorus. "Train" features some wah-wah guitar that brings to mind James Brown circa 1974-75, along with passionate vox from Marshall Jones. "Cometboy" actually could be a hit on an old Elton John record, and "What ‘Cha Want" has a slight Janes Addiction feel that chugs along with power and conviction. 1989 would be a great year for this band, but they do have the chops to make some people wake up and smell the groove now!
- Brendan Hagin

The Gigolo Aunts - Minor Chords and Major Themes

E Pluribum Anum Records
The group that brought you "Where I Find My Heaven" is back with Minor Chords and Major themes. The album kicks off with the fast-paced "C’mon, C’mon," moving gently into the fantasy of "Everyone Can Fly." The optimistic view does, however, come to "Everything is Wrong," but there is nothing wrong with this album. Whether’s it’s the "Major Themes" or the oldies-nineties sound that grabs your attention, music fans everywhere should prepare to carry a new favorite through the new millennium.
- Tyler Moore

Pawnshop - Three Brass Balls

Home Office Records
With excellent mixtures of acoustic, easy-listening, and electric, keep-’em-up energy, Pawnshop is the group that can soothe the nerves or get the party started. Newport, RI native Sean Smith is on vocals and wrote most of what you hear. Many others collaborated with him in getting the end product. "I often trip, but I never fall" is a phrase from "Trip" and is probably very descriptive of Pawnshop’s future as a hit band.
- Tyler Moore

Placebo - Without You I’m Nothing

Virgin Records
Heard a song recently on the radio that I thought was an old Rush tune I had somehow missed or something brand new by them (but Geddy Lee’s voice wasn’t quite at the maturity level that he has). Kept hearing this song, and I thought it was fantastic. Well, I eventually found the CD by the three-person group called Placebo from England. On this 12-tune disc, the faster songs all sound like Rush, and the slower tunes sound like the London Suede. If you are looking for something a bit different than what is currently being played, give this one a try. I sure was not even a little disappointed.
- Tom DeMann

Doctor Hadley - Premium Sound Machine

BuzzChunk Records
Strong hooks, infectious rhythms and groovy guitar riffs dominate this modern rock band's approach. It's difficult to pin down just who they sound like, perhaps a little Third Eye Blind here, a little Sponge there. But that's irrelevant! What is important is that they have their own agenda and they carry it off well. Frankly, they're a cut above most things you'll see on MTV and VH-1 combined!!!
- Eric Harabadian

Explorers Club - Age of Impact

Magna Carta Records
Over the years there have been some pivotal albums that have defined "progressive" music. One could rattle off Yes' "Fragile," Jethro Tull's "Thick As A Brick," Emerson, Lake & Palmer's "Trilogy" or Genesis' "Selling England By The Pound" among some of the best. Well, if there is any justice out there, you can add the Explorers Club to the lot as well. Not only are there featured representatives from today's leading prog giants like Dream Theater and Magellan, you've also got the input of seasoned vets Terry Bozzio, Billy Sheehan and Steve Howe on board. The album, which deals with man's struggle with his inner and outer stimuli and motivations, is a five part piece rooted in the finest "art rock" tradition. The performances, both lyrically and instrumentally, are grand in scope and bring hope that creative music is carving a fresh new path toward the millennium.
- Eric Harabadian

Backstreet Boys - "I Want It That Way" (single)

Jive Records
Some would say that teen heartthrob groups like Backstreet Boys -- along with ‘N Sync, New Kids on the Block, etc. -- should be seen by little girl bedroom poster eyes, and not heard. But this single from the Boys’ new album Millennium combines urgent singing with a memorable melody. "I Want It That Way" succeeds at being both easy on the eyes, and the ears.
- Dan MacIntosh

Doc Hopper - Zigs, Yaws & Zags

Go Kart Records
 Doc Hopper is a nerdy little rocking band. One where the drummer never gets bored, since most everything is played in double time. Chris "Gobo" Pierce writes the band’s smart-ass lyrics, such as the anti-empathetic "She’s A Cokehead." Come to think of it, at the pace these guys go, one wonders if there might be a few stimulants in their bloodstream. Maybe it’s nothing harder than Folgers in their cup, but something strong is certainly making Doc Hopper hop.
- Dan MacIntosh

Third World - Generation Coming

Gator Records
Reggae band Third World has descended from its major label days on Island Records, on down to the indie level. Nevertheless, this group -- which once sounded a little too pop for my roots-reggae tastes -- has never sounded better. This is a reggae album that covers The Police ("De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da"), The O’Jays ("Love Train") and even Randy Newman ("Baltimore") without ever sacrificing its commitment to Jamaica’s most treasured musical export.
- Dan MacIntosh

Silverchair - Neon Ballroom

Epic Records
Silverchair has gotten a lot of press for this album simply because classical pianist David Helfgott (who was the subject of the movie Shine) plays with them on one cut. But where that man’s infectious insanity made him such fascinating subject matter, Silverchair’s been there, done that Nirvana-isms make for dull listening. The Kama Sutra is pictured on one page of this CD’s booklet, but there’s nothing sexy or attractive about this dire disc of plodding music.
- Dan MacIntosh

Ph Balance - Ph Balance

Daemon Records
It would be all too easy to recommend a band called Ph Balance specifically to the hairing impaired. But all puns aside, Ph (singer Pam Howe) brings a Latin feel to these gloomy, slow moving songs; songs and sounds that would make bands like Portishead proud. The group even gives bassist Aaron Platt credit for providing the spliffs, so you can probably guess what inspired much of this music. Go ahead, give these guys your un-conditioner love.
- Dan MacIntosh

Foxtrot Zulu - Frozen In Time

Phoenix Media Group
Despite its trendy swing-friendly name, Foxtrot Zulu is a high-stepping world music outfit that incorporates the horns of ska and the limber-fingered guitar work of African music to its eco-centric and politically correct songs. Foxtrot lyrics are blandly black and white, unlike its colorful sounds, as the opener simplistically calls its villain "The American." But if you’re like most music listeners, you ignore the words anyway, so plop this disc on and just dance.
- Dan MacIntosh

The Selecter - Cruel Britannia

The Harry May Record Company Ltd.
It must be discouraging for aging ska bands to see groups like No Doubt topping the charts, while outfits that were a part of the genre’s 2nd wave back in the ’80s rarely scored such pop hits. This album finds The Selecter joining the 3rd wave with a comeback. They still retain their original energy, and except for the needless profanity on "Respect Yourself," originally by The Staple Singers, it’s a comfortable trip down memory lane.
- Dan MacIntosh

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