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MUSIC REVIEW

Diva with Skills

Alicia Keys Brings a Fresh Face to R&B

Short Takes

Keys to Success

By Huanne Thomas

Staff Writer

The album Songs in A Minor is every bit as vibrant as the 20-year-old New York native who penned it. Yet it is only a hint of the eclectic cornucopia of her talents still to come.

Alicia Keys demands your attention with her jazzy ballads and breathy-yet-powerful voice, often reminiscent of so many popular gospel greats. This freshman effort is a collection of tunes she composed and produced, mostly by herself, while in high school.

Some might be tempted to place her in the same bucket with other recent R&B divas like Erykah Badu, India Arie, and Jill Scott. But don’t box her in just yet. Alicia’s youth and breadth of talent brings something fresh and exciting that other artists haven’t touched yet. And she is just getting started.

“Fallin’” is her first track to hit the radio waves, and it has topped R&B and pop charts alike. She manages to transport the listener to a smoky New York jazz club as she tells a familiar story of a young woman uncontrollably in love. She shows off the stunning range of her voice with poignant high-notes that add to complex rhythms. “Fallin’” has full harmonies that keep you swaying while you enjoy the sincerity in her voice.

In every track, Alicia drops subtle hints of her classically-trained voice among hip-hop threads. In “Girlfriend,” we get that street symphony mixture of Alicia’s jazz with Jermaine Dupri’s rap skills. The keyboard patterns draw you in and the catchy lyrics keep you there. And the keyboardist consistently adding the danceable melodies is none other than Alicia herself.

Final recommendation: definitely get the album. Let her voice accompany you on a rainy weekend afternoon. And a year or two from now when a more experienced, mature Alicia drops an earth-shattering album, you will honestly say you saw it coming.

Shangri-La Di Da

By Freddy Funes

The Stone Temple Pilots’ latest release is Shangri-La Dee Da. If you are expecting anything revolutionary or stunning, then you will be disappointed. If you are expecting “Wicked Garden” or “Plush,” you will be disappointed again. You will not find much hard rock on Shangri-La Dee Da; rather, you will find melodic and slow songs.

The first four songs that start the album are great rock songs that are reminiscent of the Stone Temple Pilots’ brilliance. The bass and guitar sounds on “Dumb Love” are crisp and elegant, while “Days of the Week” is incredibly catchy. “Hollywood Bitch” is probably the best track on the album. Singer Scott Weiland adjusts his voice perfectly to the changing music, and his I-don’t-give-a-hoot attitude that saturated the other Stone Temple Pilots albums appears in this song. Unfortunately, it is one of a few songs with that attitude.

The fifth track, “Wonderful,” is where the Stone Temple Pilots’ new style first emerges. An incredibly slow song, “Wonderful” has a decent melody, but Weiland’s voice is improperly used. As a result, the track is awkward, especially after the more up-tempo “Hollywood Bitch.”

Luckily, the album takes a turn for the better with “Regeneration.” Weiland’s voice magically flows through the song and the hard-hitting rock sound is amazing. “Transmissions from a Long Room” shows the greatness of the Stone Temple Pilots’ musical talent. The bass and guitar playing are superb.

Shangri-La Dee Da is an honorable attempt to redirect the Stone Temple Pilots’ musical talent and compose an entirely new sound. However, Shangri-La Dee Da is plagued with mediocrity and lacks flow and direction. With their latest endeavor, the Stone Temple Pilots attempt to take us through a spiritual journey; they attempt to show us that they have matured musically. They no longer need to spellbind listeners with their grunge, or so they want us to believe.

Breakfast Again

By Sandra Chung

Staff Writer

Remember “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” the ubiquitous song about the irresistible Audrey Hepburn flick being the only common thread between a troubled couple? Even way back in 1996, when the tune was no. 3 on the U.S. charts and in the top five everywhere else, many more people could sing the chorus than could name the band. It didn’t help that Deep Blue Something essentially dropped out of sight for the next few years.

Recently the Texas band re-emerged onto the music scene with a self-titled album and a new label, Aezra Records. Brothers Todd and Toby Pipes take turns on lead vocals, which have either a young John Lennon or Jon Bon Jovi character, depending on which brother is singing. Todd plays bass, while Toby and Kirk Tatom share guitar duty and John Kirtland mans the drums.

“She Is,” the first single off the CD, nails the pop/rock hit formula. The track features an electric guitar/drum base in the style of Weezer, complete with stylish guitar solo. Pipes’ pipes lean toward the Bon Jovi end of the spectrum as he sings about jealousy in his relationship with a girl he puts on a pedestal: “She is everything that I believe in/Can’t you see that she and me/Are the way things should be?”

“So Precious” is a distinctly indie mix between rock and Latin dance music, with its jaded, Cake-like vocals, tropical drum set and horn complement. Deep Blue Something continues to show off its versatility with songs varying in character from the acoustic, orchestrated “Enough to Get By” to “Who Wants It,” which walks the line between rock and metal. Some pieces start in one genre and end in another, or mix eclectic choices such as Vapors and Metallica.

“Breakfast at Tiffany’s” was a departure from the distinctly alternative album Home. The new album strays closer to mainstream pop without losing the band’s roots. Deep Blue Something starts with a solid rock guitar base and adds the indie rock touch with intelligent lyrics, nimble electronic work, and excellent artistic choice in guest instruments and percussion. Though it would be tough for any single to top the success of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,”Deep Blue Something has enough intelligent and talent behind its generally well-crafted songs to help put the band back on the charts.

Trance-Inducer

By Joseph Graham

staff writer

Containing some of the most creative and disturbed interludes ever recorded, Lateralus is 70 minutes of brutally aggressive, clear, tight, and at times trance-inducing, progressive metal. Although the album lacks most of the sardonic and contemptuous lyrical styling fans may be used to hearing from front man Maynard Keenan, Lateralus still contains haunting vocals, calming musical lulls, and violent distorted guitar busts that fans enjoy.

One of the disc’s highlights comes near the end with a 10-minute piece that is unexpected and soothing. With its Eastern influences, “Reflection” feels like the calm after the storm. Although the track sounds a bit out of place (strange to say that something actually sounds out of place on a Tool album but it’s true), drummer Danny Carey truly steals this number. His skill is also evident in Lateralus’s second single, “Ticks & Leeches.”

As the disc changes tracks, so does the attention and focus of the music. Each member seems to have their say, which is evident in the instrumental tracks “Eon Blue Apocalypse,” “Mantra,” and “Triad.” While the first single from the disc “Schism” rings clear as a total group effort and is arguably their most polished effort to date, the more experimental tracks show that the band is always progressing and taking musical chances.

All in all, Tool’s new album will not disappoint. Lateralus blends the visceral power of their earlier recordings with experimental tracks. Tool triumphs again with a combination of dense and loud artistry over anger. With most of the tracks reaching epic lengths, it is clear that Maynard and company may not score the widespread commercial appeal that most bands covet, but this seems to never have been their intention in the first place.