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213's ‘The Hard Way' is hard to resist

Supergroup delivers airy summertime gangsta rap, plus other review
/ Source: The Associated Press

The first album from rap supergroup 213, Shyne phones in his new release, Travis Tritt reflects on his 'Honky Tonk History' and Saliva gets sick in this week's albums.

“The Hard Way,” 213
It doesn’t exactly mark a return of the G-funk era, but supergroup 213 has used its first album, “The Hard Way,” to nicely update the distinct Southern California sound its members helped popularize a decade ago.

Snoop Dogg, Warren G and Nate Dogg each bring the baggage of up-and-down careers to the long overdue collaboration, which is exactly the messy, frivolous ear candy we’ve come to expect from them.

Snoop, the overexposed superstar, betrays his boredom at times while imbuing rhymes with a veteran’s irony and winking wisdom.

“I’m entertainin’ folks,” he explains on the Kanye West-produced “Another Summer,” before warning against gun violence by noting “it’s too hot for all that.”

Warren G, who has always been more of a producer than rapper, can seem stuck in 1994 with his earnest approach to lines like “not ’cuz your beauty, it’s your booty I’m attracted.”

His voice, however, is as crisp as ever, and provides a perfect contrast to Snoop’s languid flow on the compelling, reflective “Gotta Find A Way.”

Nate Dogg’s choruses have lifted one hip-hop hit after another up the charts, and he seems relieved to have time to sing full verses.

He’s showcased on the nonsensical but fabulous chorus of “Absolutely” as well as “Keep it Gangsta,” in which he eagerly dusts off the familiar cry “IIIIII can’t be faded ...”

The trio deals out some complete failures, including the sluggish, juvenile “Joysticc” and “Lonely Girl.” And they’re saved by top-notch production on less lyrically interesting tracks. Whizzing Neptunes-style beats propel “213 Is Da Gangsta Clicc” and “Lil Girl” floats atop church organ flourishes.

Though there’s less true funk flavor than expected, “The Hard Way” is airy summertime gangsta rap that’s actually hard to resist.— Ryan Pearson

“Godfather Buried Alive,” Shyne
Shyne’s personal story has caused more buzz than his music itself.

Signed by Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, Shyne’s deep voice and sometimes insightful lyrics were compared to the late Notorious B.I.G. when he made his debut in 2000. But just a few months later, his just-launched career was derailed by a famous nightclub shooting that led to charges against both Combs and Shyne. Combs was acquitted; Shyne was convicted.

He’s now serving a 10-year prison sentence, lending credibility as well as logistical problems to his second album, “Godfather Buried Alive.”

The 12 songs includes dated material (he references the 1999 New York City police shooting of African immigrant Amadou Diallo several times) as well as raps Shyne delivered recently from behind bars. The hard-to-understand 50 Cent dis track “For The Record” was literally phoned in.

Clear-eyed criticism of government and culture is blended with bleak depictions of ghetto life, a refreshing tack for a mainstream gangsta rapper. The opener “Quasi O.G.” succeeds with a mournful Bob Marley sample, an angry jab at President Bush and the question: “Black people don’t own no ports or boats, so tell me how ... we getting all this coke?”

Cleverly phrased, occasionally smart verses abound, but the album as a whole is too cold to enjoy. Beats are predictably repetitive and Shyne suffers a glaring lack of charisma that undermines his arrogance, apparent on the forced R&B-rap of “Jimmy Choo.”

He also falls into the ugly trap of believing his own hype. “Vicariously through me, (people) live out their dreams,” Shyne raps on “Here With Me” in one of too many overly self-important rhymes. Ugh.

Shyne blows his opportunity this time, but he’s talented, obviously persistent and remains a potential star.— Ryan Pearson

“My Honky Tonk History,” Travis Tritt
Country music rebel Travis Tritt’s “My Honky Tonk History” begins with the sound of a gunshot, which is appropriate because this long-haired sun-of-a-gun hits the bull’s-eye with “History.”

The lyrics are standard redneck fare, often entering too-much-information territory. “I love the smell of cigarettes and whiskey on a woman’s breath,” Tritt growls during the opening track. Yee-haw! These no-holds-barred revelations make the supercharged CD an honest and genuine affair.

Unlike many contemporary gelled pretty-boy country stars, Tritt’s an outlaw. But he’s got allies. John Mellencamp joins Tritt for a raspy and catchy duet on “What Say You.” Gretchen Wilson seamlessly screams in the background on “Too Far to Turn Around,” a song she co-wrote.

“History” has a rough country-rock edge that will appeal to both listeners who wear trucker hats because they’re hip and listeners who wear trucker hats because they’re truckers. The pace is as frenetic as a bar room brawl, moving from a cheesy spring break tale about a woman going wild reality TV-style (“The Girl’s Gone Wild”) to an infectious lawyer-bashing anthem (“It’s All About the Money”).

Tritt’s ninth studio CD isn’t all guns and punches. “Circus Leaving Town” is a quintessential twangy ballad suitable for crying in beer — or cotton candy. Tritt becomes a sad clown wailing about the complicated end of a relationship. The steel guitar stings in just the right places.

Throughout “History,” Tritt balances between being a whole lot of country and a good share of rock ’n’ roll. “History” just might go down as his best work to date.— Derrik J. Lang

“Survival of the Sickest,” Saliva
Straightforward, unpretentious heavy guitar rock is back, or so Saliva would have you believe with their new album “Survival of the Sickest.” To be certain, there’s plenty of yelling, cursing, speed guitar riffs and big rock bridges here.

It’s just that most of it isn’t very good.


There’s not a single melody on the album that sounds completely original. The riffs sound like Poison; the chords sound too much like Motorhead; and Josey Scott’s lead lyrics just sound overblown, as though he’s packed 40 years of hard rock living into one weekend on a tour bus.

He hasn’t, and if he had there’d be more substance here than songs about waking up hung over on the road.

On “Bait & Switch” Scott wails about the trappings of fame. “Saturday, I wipe the sleep away and play in front of 30,000 plus, Sunday I woke up between two girls who cough because we’ve got a smoky bus.”

Sure, Scott knows the lifestyle can be cheesy, he admits in a later lyric. Which begs the question: What do these guys feel is meaningful and worth singing about? The answer isn’t on this album.

The lone bright spot is “Open Eyes,” a heartfelt ballad on which Scott stops screaming for a moment. The song has a little emo around the edges and the guitar work isn’t simply the ghost of bad rock songs past.

Saliva has potential to fill a certain listenable hard rock niche. Whether they’ll reach it remains a mystery.— Ron Harris

“Take It All Away,” Ryan Cabrera
On “Take it All Away,” Ryan Cabrera laments about being dumped by a girlfriend about a dozen times. He thanks a girl for her life-affirming love at least a dozen times more.

And Cabrera (otherwise known as Ashlee Simpson’s boyfriend on her MTV reality show) does it all with bland, uninspiring lyrics that plague his major label debut. Co-produced with John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls, the album’s biggest fault is it’s riddled with the kind of material that makes it easy to ignore, like standard issue ballads such as “True” and incomprehensible rambling exemplified by “40 Kinds of Sadness.”

An exception to the rule is the sharp “Shame on Me.” The singer’s date just wants to talk about her day. But it’s to no avail, because Cabrera is too busy taking himself to task for “the way I fantasize about/What I’d give, what I’d do/I just want to work you out.” He may be a stereotypical guy, but at least he’s honest.

The first single, “On The Way Down,” is also one of the rare quality tracks. Cabrera’s sweet singing voice and effective guitar strumming saves the album from being a total bomb.— Rachel Kipp

“Upstairs at Larry’s: Lawrence Welk Uncorked,”
Various Artists
Some people shouldn’t mate. The same can be said about some musical forms.

One such musical mismatch is found in “Upstairs at Larry’s,” a 15-track CD of super-wholesome standards by the Lawrence Welk Orchestra that have been given the dance remix treatment by various DJs.

False starts, multiple repetitions, monotonous beats and reverbs are dominant elements in arrangements that sometimes go beyond novel and right into nerve-racking. Surely, Welk loyalists — and even many non-fans — would prefer the original versions.

Among the songs victimized — some deservedly so, some as innocent bystanders — are Duke Ellington’s “Caravan”; Michel Legrande’s “Watch What Happens”; Henry Mancini’s “Baby Elephant Walk”; and “Blue Velvet,” Bobby Vinton’s pop classic.

Also on the playlist: the already annoying feel-good song “You Are My Sunshine”; “Honey,” Welk’s version of Bobby Goldsboro’s saccharine ode to his late love; and a vocal rendition of “Let It Be Me” by one-time Welk daughter-in-law Tanya (who here sounds a bit like Madonna).

And although the CD features Welk’s signature tunes “Champagne Time” and “Bubbles in the Wine” — the latter interspersed with uncredited dialogue about choosing and drinking sparkling wines — missing are two instrumentals that were pop-chart singles for Welk during the early 1960s: “Apples and Bananas” and “Calcutta.”

The music is occasionally punctuated by intros and dialogue spoken by Welk (“My friends and fans, you have been such a wunnerful audience”) and members of his Musical Family.

It’s a strange, even surreal mix of novelty and nostalgia, of old and new, that might be best appreciated as background music at a party — a loud party.— Ron Berthel