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I Can See Clearly Now (2/23/2001) Write to CD Shakedown
Dwight YoakamDwight Yoakam, Tomorrow's Sounds Today (Reprise 2000) - Grammy-winning country singer Dwight Yoakam has been an ambitious man of late, with two new CDs in the past year. Tomorrow's Sounds Today has a brash, up-tempo flavor that defies Nashville conventions.

But then, Dwight Yoakam has never walked the Music Row line. Instead, the California-based Yoakam draws more from the honky-tonk Bakersfield sound of the sixties.

Dwight YoakamWhich is not surprising, as Yoakam has worked for many years with Bakersfield native Buck Owens, including appearances at Owens' "Crystal Palace Theater" in Bakersfield.

The band includes Yoakam on vocals and acoustic guitar, long-time producer Pete Anderson on lead guitars, Skip Edwards on keyboards, Taras Prodaniuk on bass, Jim Christie on drums, Scott Joss on fiddle, and Gary Morse on pedal steel and lap steel.

Dwight YoakamGuest musicians include singer/songwriter Jim Lauderdale on harmony vocals, Chris Hillman (from the Flying Burrito Brothers) on mandolin, and Don Reed on fiddle on the weeper, "A Promise you Can't Keep."

Yoakam has a California-colored country sound, with a hint of twang. His send-up of the Cheap Trick favorite, "I Want You to Want Me," is the highlight of the album, with a bouncy feel and just the right splash of steel guitar.

Dwight YoakamYoakam teams again with Owens on Tomorrow's Sounds Today on two of the most effective tracks: "Alright, I'm Wrong" and "I Was There." In particular, "Alright, I'm Wrong," is a bouncy, Tex-mex flavored track, with the legendary Flaco Jimenez on accordion.

Yoakam's the real deal - confident of his skills and fully engaged in his material. Tomorrow's Sounds Today is more that your average country fare.

ShaggyShaggy, Hotshot (MCA 2000) - Talk about being in the right place at the right time. Shaggy scored the 1996 Grammy award for Best Reggae Album with his platinum-certified, Boombastic, but was then dismissed by his prior label, Virgin. (Remarks the artist, "I don't think they were looking at reggae as a career type of music; it's like chewing gum: you chew it and when the juices run out, you spit it out.")

Yet Shaggy has enjoyed the last laugh, signing with MCA Records and running up the charts with the crossover hit, Hotshot. Blending textures and grooves, Shaggy has unleashed an up-beat and sexy party record. With these 13 tracks, Shaggy shows himself a master of many styles, from reggae to dancehall to pop/r&b.

ShaggyNow age 31, Shaggy was born in Kingston, Jamaica. The reggae-influenced singer with rap sensibilities scores on Hotshot because the album reflects a fun, yet mature attitude. Says Shaggy, "It was meant to be tongue-in-cheek.. I think you can put adult content in a record without being explicit."

"Dance & Shout" contains a sure-fired recipe for success, with samples from Michael Jackson's hit, "Shake your Body (Down to the Ground)" and production by the Minneapolis-based hit-making team of Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis.

ShaggyShaggy's maturity obviously builds from his hitch in the Marines and service in the Gulf War. Explains Shaggy, "I walked into this recruiting office, and the Navy had these bell bottoms on and the Army had these shitty-blouses, like a little girl's blouse, and the Marines had this real-mean looking, hot uniform, and I'm like, 'Yo, if I can't get chicks in this uniform, forget it, dude.' Little did I know that it was the smallest branch out of all of them, and the hardest."

ShaggyShaggy struggled to maintain dual employment. "I was never a model Marine. I use to drive from New York to North Carolina every weekend, just to do records. They took my stripe away because I was late. I dug a lot of holes. Because when you get into trouble, they give you a shovel and tell you to dig a hole the size of a five-ton truck. And I dug many a hole."

Shaggy crosses genres effortlessly; "It Wasn't Me" reflects a sophisticated vibe, and "Angel" combines samples from Juice Newton's "Angel of the Morning" and The Steve Miller Band's "The Joker." Hotshot also includes a new version of the hit, "Luv Me, Luv Me," originally featured on the soundtrack to How Stella Got Her Groove Back.

ShaggyIn addition, the album includes one of the most-user friendly enhanced CD sections that I have ever seen. No goofy Macromedia, no funky Apple Quicktime. Instead, the enhanced CD section opens up to five buttons: Help, read me, the video to "Dance and Shot," a play CD button, and web links.

For my taste, I would have included a biography section and some photos. But I hold the enhanced CD section in high regard: Easy to use, and it doesn't take over your computer.

Shaggy shows the credibility that can only be earned through honest effort. Hotshot is a legitimate hit.

Jaci VelasquezJaci Velasquez, Crystal Clear (Word/Epic 2000) - Just age 19, Jaci Velasquez is already an established star on the Christian circuit, with three hit albums (including Heavenly Place, the fastest-selling solo debut in the history of Christian music) and four Dove Awards.

On Crystal Clear, the singer seeks a broader audience, with pop influences ("You're Not There" and "He's My Savior"), horn-inspired Latin pop ["You Don't Miss A Thing" and "Escuchame (Listen to Me)"], as well as the more traditional Christian ballads ("Imagine Me Without You" and "Adore").

Jaci VelasquezJaci records in a Nashville setting, with a core band consisting of Scott Williamson on drums, Jackie Street on bass, George Cocchini on guitars, Javier Solis on percussion, and Lisa Bevill on BGV's. Strings are provided by Carl Gorodetsky and the Nashville String Machine.

The Christian elements are a centerpiece of Crystal Clear. Explains Jaci, "Relationships come and go, but what matters most is your long standing relationship with Christ. I want it to be crystal clear to people that I am who Christ has made me to be."

But the message isn't heavy, and Jaci Velasquez is a deserving star. Even if you don't listen to Christian music, give Crystal Clear a chance.

La PesteA3, La Peste (Columbia 2000) - You know A3 (formerly Alabama 3) as the musicians behind the theme song to the HBO hit show, The Sopranos. With their second release, La Peste, the band continues down the same dark, techno-influenced trail; think The Doors meet Robert Johnson, with U2 sitting in the background.

Which gives you a feel for A3's roots. The band draws from Hank Williams' country-and-blues, but liberally mixes techno elements and London politics, all in a hothouse of pseudo-revivalism (called The First Presleytarian Church of Elvis The Divine).

La PesteThe creative core of A3 consists of Rob Spragg (a.k.a. Larry Love) and Jake Black (a.k.a. The Very Reverend Dr. D. Wayne Love), who form the vocal and MC front line. The polished combo is rounded out by programmer Piers Marsh, percussionist Simon Edwards, keyboardist Orlando Harrison, guitarist Mark Sams, and drummer Jonny Delafons (a.k.a. LB Dope).

I saw A3 last fall in Los Angeles, and I can attest that they come on strong. A multi-piece unit, A3 opened with a deep groove reading of "Woke Up This Morning and Got Myself a Gun," and featured cuts from the new album, including "Too Sick to Pray," "Cocaine (Killed My Community)," and "Sad Eyed, Lady of the Low Life."

La PesteBut the frustrating part of A3 is an attempt to find their defining center. While the band melds politics with tales of drug-sickness, God-sickness, busted parties, and kinky coppers, there's a feeling that it's all a bunch b.s.

Let's not kid ourselves. "Wade into the Water," has a great groove, and "Hotel California," is a challenging reworking of the Eagles' classic (adds Rob, "It's also a wicked lyric about cocaine alienation").

La PesteBut why wouldn't A3 perform this California rock classic when performing on the Sunset Strip? And remember - the killer Sopranos version of "Woke up this morning" isn't on their 1997 debut, Exile on Coldharbour Lane - The Sopranos version is a different remix.

You won't even find the musicians' names in the liner notes. Instead you'll find a bunch of gobbly-gook about "The Mountain of Love," "Sir Real Love," and the "Empiricist."

A3 are technically very accomplished. And La Peste is full of dark and moody riffs. But in the end, the band strikes me as insincere - these guys may talk the talk, but that's what it is - a bunch of talk. Play it straight guys, if you expect us to take you seriously.

- Randy Krbechek © 2001

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