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Keep Your Chin Up (6/16/2001) Write to CD Shakedown

Collective SoulCollective Soul, Blender (Atlantic 2000) - The boys from Atlanta are back at it again. With their fifth release in six years, Collective Soul shows the impressive guitar sound that has helped them sell more than seven million records.

Collective Soul consists of Ed Roland on vocals and guitar, brother Dean Roland on guitars, Ross Childress on lead guitars, Will Turpin on bass, and Shane Evans on drums. Blender (the name was selected after a radio contest in Atlanta) was produced by Ed Roland and Anthony Resta, and mixed by Jack Joseph Puig (who has worked with No Doubt, Semisonic, and Aimee Mann).

Collective SoulThere are no tricks to Collective Soul; just good guitar work, catchy melodies and seamless studio work. Listen for the crunchy guitars on "Why Pt. 2" and the power pop harmonies on "Skin." With a nod toward 70's FM rock, Collective Soul has carved out one of the most impressive recording careers of the 90's.

Says a bemused Ed Roland, "We were supposed to be the one-hit wonder of 1994, and then the two-hit wonder of 1995, but we never paid attention to that stuff. We always knew what we could do as a band."

Collective SoulBlender was recorded at Crossover Studios in hometown Atlanta. Says Roland, "It was a real loose vibe, which was good, because with the last record, we spent a lot of time in the studio making sure everything was performed perfectly and arranged perfectly. This time we wanted to have a little more fun. We wanted to enjoy the process."

Adds Roland, "We're a guitar band. That will always be the cornerstone of what Collective Soul does. And you can expand from that."

The best cut is the ballad-oriented "After All," which highlights all of Ed Roland's skills - excellent studio work, textured guitar riffs, and a hummable melody. "After All" features a charming guitar solo by Ross Childress, which echos the recent work by the Edge with U2.

Collective SoulAlso included is a cover of Morphine's "You Speak My Language," complete with techno-influenced vocals.

Collective Soul invited its neighbors to participate in the recording. Explain Roland, "When we were doing 'Vent,' Shawn Mullins was in the rehearsal space next door, and he heard the groove and he said, 'Hey, there's this part in the breakdown, let me do something!'"

The biggest friend to join the band was Elton John, who contributed to "Perfect Day." According to the band, "We had gotten to know Elton over the last five years, and we were all at dinner one night having gotten to a comfortable level, and we asked Elton if he would like to sing with us, and he answered, 'I would love to, as long as you let me play the piano.' It was like, well, that's the easiest deal we have ever made!"

Ed RolandSomehow, the band developed a reputation as a Christian rock act, a rumor attributed to one of the members of Creed. Explains Ed Roland, "What I can tell you is that my father is a Baptist minister and I'm very proud of him; he is a good man, but this is a rock 'n' roll band. Everyone in this band has different beliefs."

Collective Soul occupies a strange place in the rock firmament - they are radio-friendly, and have offered some of the most consistent recordings of the past several years. Yet they lack a fervent following. You might not run around waving a big Collective Soul banner, but you can't ignore the talents on Blender.

White LadderDavid Gray, White Ladder (ATO/RCA Records 2000) - Everybody loves an underdog. And David Gray certainly has the qualifications. After releasing three albums that sold only 20,000 copies total, after being dumped by three record labels, and after the heartbreak of lonely tours in the Midwest (where Gray was once billed below the bar-b-que beef special), the English singer/songwriter has a breakout hit with White Ladder, buoyed by the hit single, "Babylon."

The 32-year-old Londoner (who grew up in Wales and who took a degree at the University of Liverpool), has taken his hard knocks in stride. Gray is married to a London lawyer, and retreated to his home studio after his last, bleak U.S. tour. Recalls Gray, "It was absolutely futile, and you can just feel it. You're singing just to keep yourself sane."

David GrayAdds Gray, "Everything had gone horribly wrong, and I was smarting from the collapse of the whole thing. I had to ask, 'Dave, are you slow on the uptake? Should I be thinking about doing something else?' But I just turned around and said, 'I should be doing this, and I believe in it.' I don't want to be some bitter fuck who thinks the world's done him over."

Working in a home studio with drummer and collaborator, Clune, Gray came up with White Ladder. The album works in the classic singer/songwriter style, with overtones of techno; think edgy folk-pop. Gray used drum machines and subtle dance beats, as well as atmospheric keyboards and strings on several tracks.

While the album is built around the tracks laid down by Gray and Clune, the duo recruited help from Tim Bradshaw on keyboards, Simon Edwards on bass, and a string section arranged by Terry Edwards.

David GrayGray's no better than Canadian troubadours Fred Eaglesmith or Ron Sexsmith, but secured the good fortune of being backed by Dave Matthews. Thus, "Babylon" has sailed up the charts, with its melancholic lyric. Also listen for an extended cover of the old Soft Cell song, "Say Hello, Wave Good-bye."

White Ladder was first released in Ireland, where it conquered the charts, then moved to England, where it was another chart topper. The atmospheric sound of "Babylon" brings to mind "Horse With No Name" by America. It's unlikely he'll ever do anything as good again. But one such album is enough for me.

Black RebelBlack Rebel Motorcycle Club, B.R.M.C. (Virgin 2001) - Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (the name comes from the Marlon Brando film, The Wild One) is a San Francisco trio that plays spooky British psychedelic fuzz in the vein of the Jesus and Mary Chain or Love & Rockets. With B.R.M.C., the band matches melodic white noise against jangling guitar cords.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club consists of guitarist Peter Hayes, bass player Robert Turner, and Nick Jago on drums and percussion. The combo formed in November 1998, and has toured with the Dandy Warhols.

Black RebelRecalls Nick, "There was a review of our demo in B.A.M. and someone from a label read the review." Says Robert, "Every time we went back to L.A. after that, there was another record company person there to see us."

[Of course, it helped that bassist/vocalist Robert Turner is the son of Michael Been, who fronted San Francisco's The Call (best known for their 1989 hit, "Let the Day Begin").]

Sparse guitar arrangements with lots of feedback - that's what you get on "White Palms." While "Spread Your Love" shows the grunge overlay of Oasis, my favorite cut, "Red Eyes and Tears," finds the band working in a chamber of echoey vocals.

The group self-produced B.R.M.C. Adds Turner, "I have the crappiest old amplifier that just gives the best kind of ratty sound."

Black RebelAsked if the band can "foresee yourselves becoming a huge arena-rock band?," Nick answered, "That's not important to us right now." Continues Nick, "I like songs that are mysterious - songs that make you think and I hope people will gain that from our music."

Virgin Records has enjoyed a good run this spring, and continues with B.R.M.C. If you've been waiting for the next Love & Rockets release (which is never gonna come out), look no further than B.R.M.C.

- Randy Krbechek © 2001

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