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Matthews strikes familiar chord

Reviews: First solo album ‘Some Devil’ filled with forlorn heartbreak
/ Source: The Associated Press

Dave Matthews’ first solo album, “Some Devil,” and Elvis Costello’s voyage “North” are among the new CDs being released this week.

“Some Devil,” Dave Matthews
The muse for Dave Matthews’ first solo effort, “Some Devil,” may have been sitting opposite the angelic counterpart who inspired the Dave Matthews Band, but it was whispering the same message.

Matthews moans over the same rumbling acoustic guitar workings on “Some Devil” as he has on previous albums, and tells of audience-tested brokenhearted moments in simple terms, as he has before.

“Dodo” and “So Damn Lucky” open the album in a moment of whimsy as Matthews sings feel-good stories over Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio and Matthews’ friend Tim Reynolds filling the band’s void.

They also fill in on “Gravedigger,” a bitter rebuke of death that appears in an electric and acoustic version, offering an intimate look at another side of the artist.

Perhaps the most refreshing moment — and the closest to something new — is the title track. “Some Devil” features a broken, lovelorn Matthews crying out over a sad electric guitar. His voice is heavy with emotion and cracks at all the right moments.

Many of the songs on “Some Devil” were conceived and hammered out during off-hours while recording the Dave Matthews Band’s “Busted Stuff.”

But instead of an album fueled by vision and performed with a fresh break from everything he’s done before, “Some Devil” continues in the comfortable vein Matthews knows oh, so well. (RCA, $18.98)

— Ryan Lenz

“North,” Elvis Costello

Never shy about experimentation, Elvis Costello applies his lyric scalpel and considerable voice talent exclusively to the ballad on his new album, “North.”

Even casual fans — who may have skipped his collaborations with the Brodsky Quartet or Burt Bacharach — have seen glimmers of this side of Costello in songs such as “Allison” or “Shipbuilding.”

But the tendency here is more contemplative — a shade slower and more lush. Not quite so angry (though still unforgiving of his own foibles). Perhaps sadder, but wiser, too. And we are all the richer for that. (Deutsche Grammophon, $18.98)

— Rich Harris

“Speakerboxxx-The Love Below,” Outkast

As their fifth album drops, it’s hard to be surprised by OutKast.

We already know that they’re the new Parliament-Funkadelic. That Big Boi is the gangster-pimp and Andre 3000 the vegan-freakaholic. That they love nothing more than experimenting. And that no matter how far apart they may stray on this double CD (one disc is a Big Boi solo effort; the other all Dre), the duo insists they’ll never break up.

Still, this album will raise eyebrows higher than the pitch of the falsetto Dre uses on his half of the project.

If you thought you’d seen and heard it all from Dre — who’s been known to perform wearing only a Technicolor raccoon-tail cape and tighty-whitey underwear — then listen to “The Love Below.” For one thing, he only raps on two of the 20 tracks, crooning his way through the rest. It’s hit or miss, succeeding mostly when Dre sings in the barbecue-soaked twang that’s closest to his normal tone of voice.

Dre’s music, almost entirely self-produced, is more intriguing than his voice and just as impossible to categorize. One minute it sounds like the Beatles (“Hey Ya!”), the next George Clinton (“She Lives in My Lap”). Then there’s the entirely instrumental drum-and-bass interpolation of John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things.” How much did it cost to clear that sample?

While Dre’s musical landscape keeps shifting, his topic stays the same: girls, girls, girls. Dre famously forsook wine and weed after OutKast’s 1994 debut album, so maybe he’s got to hold onto the women — but not too tightly.

Most of the songs express a weary, wary tone — “one day our kids will have to visit museums to see what a lady looks like,” he says at one point. One hopes that sentiment is not the result of Dre’s fractured relationship with his baby’s mother, singer Erykah Badu — a sad story that OutKast already mined for their 2000 hit single, “Ms. Jackson.”

That was pretty much the last time we heard Dre and Big Boi on the same song. Which is a shame, because their contrasting styles provide the spark.

Big Boi’s half of this project, “Speakerboxxx,” is everything you’d hope it to be: infectious beats, catchy hooks and rapid-fire vocals on everything from the stripper pole in Big Boi’s basement to war in the Middle East (don’t forget, OutKast dropped the single “Bombs Over Baghdad” in 2000).

With irresistible production and head-spinning lyrics, “Speakerboxxx” firmly cements Big Boi’s place as one of the best in the game. And “The Love Below” ensures that Dre will be remembered as the world’s most surprising MC. (Arista, $13.49) — Jesse Washington

“Murphy's Law,” Murphy Lee
St. Louis, the current epicenter of rap, gives another worthy artist in the Nelly-esque Murphy Lee and his big-label solo debut, “Murphy’s Law.”

Sure Lee treads well-walked ground, and sure he’s got the “dirty Nelly” banter down pat, and sure it’s all about gleaming cars, girls and game. But Lee explains the player life in authentic-enough fashion, and there are plenty of catchy hooks to hold this rap ship steady.

Lee kicks into high gear with “Don’t Blow It,” a showcase coming-out tune for his rapid-fire lyrical skills, but the hook is poorly mixed, leaving the listener wondering if he should pay attention to the background chants of “ohh-aay-ohh-aay-ohh” or the foreground rap. Lee clears it up on the track soon enough with a few choice words for those jealous onlookers: “You know they watchin’ the person who’s watchin’ the person who’s jockin’ my Johnnie Cochran.” Even if I didn’t know what he meant, it’s fun hearing him say it — which is part of rap’s appeal anyway.

The first half of the — whew — 18-track album is solid, and Lee gives us fun tunes across several rap genres, including the crunk-pit styled “Home Is Where You Make It,” one of the top tracks.

But Lee could and should have stopped with half as many songs and reworked the rest for solo album No. 2. (Universal, $18.98)

— Ron Harris

“The Long Road,” Nickelback
“The Long Road,” the latest album from Nickelback, is an angst-ridden mess, with plenty of pounding guitars and fatalistic lyrics but no substance to back it up.

Nothing on “The Long Road” comes close to being that memorable. The lyrics and sound are so similar on most of the tracks that they begin to run together in a blur of misery. Only “Do This Anymore” and “Someday” manage to spark any interest.

Those tracks work because the band injects them with a distinctive sound and real emotion, instead of simply going through the motions. Angst is all well and good, but the litany of complaints and noise that make up “The Long Road” sound more artificial than cathartic. (Roadrunner Records, $18.98)

— Rachel Kipp

“The Mavericks,” The Mavericks
Fans of The Mavericks who have been anticipating the band’s first new album in five years won’t be disappointed. “The Mavericks” is wonderfully diverse, with something to appeal to just about any musical taste.

The first single, “I Wanna Know,” has a bouncy pop-rock sound that makes you want to put the top down and go cruising. “In My Dreams,” with its lush orchestral background, spotlights frontman Raul Malo’s soaring tenor, best compared to Roy Orbison. He goes torchy with “A Little Too Lonely.”

“Shine a Light” adds a Cuban-Miami flavor to the mix, and the brassy “Would You Believe” is reminiscent of the band Chicago in its early days.

The Mavericks, who won a Grammy for best country group performance in 1995, revisit their Nashville roots in “Time Goes By,” with Willie Nelson sharing lead vocals with Malo.

The only song not written or co-written by Malo is a cover of “Air That I Breathe,” which rivals the 1974 Hollies’ version, thanks to Malo’s haunting vocal and the band’s versatility — both of which are hallmarks of all 11 tracks. (Sanctuary, $14.99)

— Tom Gardner

“Untying the Not,” The String Cheese Incident
After playing together for nearly a decade, The String Cheese Incident has begun to break away from what jamband fans would expect.

And that difference, heard on their new album, “Untying the Not,” is refreshing.

Beginning with “Mountain Girl,” the bluegrass-funk band explores electronic, almost dance-driven beats, complete with spoken-word, leading to a more intense sound. Following with four-part harmony, twangy “Lonesome Road Blues,” the music again twists into the dark tone of the album, with more hard-to-understand voices.

Piano-based “Elijah” proves how powerful music with no words can be. Written for a family member who passed away, the band expresses sorrow through every note. The bittersweet “Just Passing Through” and “Sirens” also evoke thoughts of immortality.

Yet despite the somber moments, “Untying the Not” leaves listeners eager for more. (SCI Fidelity, $13.99)

— Melissa Mansfield

“Voz D'Amor,” Cesaria Evora
In “Voz D’Amor,” Cesaria Evora again proves herself a master at recreating the reposed temperament of Cape Verde, using her voice and traditional instruments. You almost expect to hear the palm trees of her island nation swaying in the background.

Although the album delivers 14 new songs, Evora breaks no new musical ground. What she gives listeners is more of her trademark style: thoughtfully sung pieces steeped in simple acoustic arrangements.

Songs of romance and longing, somber “mornas” characterized by their mournful lyrics, and lighthearted ballads about young love and stealing kisses fill the album, but the shifts in mood aren’t always noticeable.

One standout is “Velocidade.” A choir and fanciful clarinet line accompany the honey-voiced Evora on this song.

Those who love Evora will add this album to their collection, but there’s nothing here to cultivate a new audience for this worthy talent. (RCA, $18.98)

— Aimee Maude Sims