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Home > Matt Wilson‘s Arts & Crafts

ALTERNATIVE ROCK

Modest Mouse -- "We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank" (Epic) ***

Between the album‘s mordant title and the news that the septet‘s front man, Isaac Brock, intentionally cut his chest with a knife during a gig in South Dakota a week ago, it‘s easy to grasp that Modest Mouse‘s latest isn‘t exactly a life-affirming affair. Those seeking placid relief from reality should steer far away from "We Were Dead...," but those willing to set sail through its rough waters -- yes, this album is filled with sea imagery -- will be set alight by its energy and intensity. Brock continued his performance March 18 bloodied but not seriously injured.

The Seattle, Wash., group added an important new member in British guitarist Johnny Marr, formerly of the Smiths. His taut, rhythmic playing still brings back pleasant memories of past glories. As far as Brock‘s vocals go, he often sings like a man in the midst of a nervous breakdown, especially on the unhinged opener "March into the Sea" and epic "Spitting Venom."

People who are just discovering Modest Mouse undoubtedly will hear how the Pixies and Talking Heads are major influences, with squalling passages giving way to brittle funk and punk. Just when cacophony threatens to drown everything out, enough melody and harmony will emerge to make a song palatable.

Modest Mouse‘s seventh studio album is perfect if you‘re in the mood for something twisted and rousing, but you might want to keep some Norah Jones tracks around in case you need a quick antidote.

By Martin Bandyke, Free Press special writer

JAZZ

Matt Wilson‘s Arts & Crafts -- "The Scenic Route" (Palmetto) ***

Drummer Matt Wilson seems to aim for pure fun with his charismatic and versatile quartet Arts & Crafts. They romp exuberantly through diverse material ranging from the funky Hammond organ boogaloo groove of the title track to the sprightly free-bop of Ornette Coleman‘s "Rejoicing."

On Monk‘s "We See," trumpeter Terell Stafford dances above the bouncing beat of pianist Gary Versace (heard elsewhere on organ and accordion), bassist Dennis Irwin and Wilson. A small vocal choir, the Swayettes, makes a couple of cameos, most enjoyably on the ruminative coda, a medley of Donald Ayler‘s "Our Prayer" and John Lennon‘s "Give Peace a Chance" that pulsates with sadness then hope.

By Mark Stryker, Free Press music critic

POP-R&B

Joss Stone -- "Introducing Joss Stone" (Virgin) ***

There comes a time when a young diva wants to break free and declare herself a career-controlling woman. So Joss Stone, the 19-year-old British R&B singer, did what any girl who wants respect as an auteur would do: She stripped naked, got slathered with psychedelic paint and straddled her producer for the liner art to her new CD.

She says "Introducing Joss Stone," her third album, unveils her true musical vision: glossy neo-soul with light hip-hop accents. But Stone made her name with a collection of sultry covers of vintage songs, "The Soul Sessions," when she was 16. She looked like a blonde hippie sprite but had the big, knowing voice of a twice-divorced blueswoman who gargles with Southern Comfort.

With "Introducing," producer Raphael Saadiq propels her music into the future: the ‘80s and ‘90s. Several tracks, like the upbeat "Put Your Hands on Me," would have worked on the "Footloose" soundtrack. There are several cheery ‘60s tributes, but her makeover seems too urban for her Starbucks-mom base and too retro for urban radio.

By Sia Michel, New York Times

Vocals/Electronic

Tracey Thorn -- "Out of the Woods" (Astralwerks) ****

It has been eight years since the last album by Everything But the Girl, the British duo of Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt. And it has been 25 years since Thorn‘s solo album. Those are two reasons why her second solo album is such a shock.

"Out of the Woods" cleverly upends cliches about what grown-up pop should sound like. Working with computer-friendly producers Thorne, 44, created a sumptuous album full of propulsive dance tracks and mournful ballads. "It‘s All True" is a plushly upholstered club track..

"Hands Up to the Ceiling" could be a playful dance-floor invitation, but it‘s a quiet, languorous ballad.

Thorn has never sounded better.