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Volume 91, Issue 38
Wednesday, November 5, 1997
Nip it in the bud
Hey Joe, don't Vent about Progress
On paper, The Vents seem to have it all a songwriter capable of writing radio-friendly pop songs; an airtight, musically-solid backing band; and a glossy sounding new album with slick production values.
That's precisely what makes their debut offering, Venus Again, so perplexing. While this should be a pleasant enough album, there's something about it that will leave even the most casual listener wondering where it all went wrong.
Maybe it's the lack of passion. While The Vents seem to have it all in the musicianship department, they're decidedly lacking when it comes to substance. All 12 tracks here seem to be devoid of any palpable emotion. Instead of passion, the listener is given meaningless guitar solos and layer upon layer of pointless instrumentation. It all sounds good on the first listen, but closer inspection reveals there's nothing more to be discovered; there's no purpose or underlying messages to be found.
Unfortunately, Venus Again is also way too clichéd and convoluted to work as a straight forward rock album. Lead singer Devin Powers fails to explore any new musical avenues and instead resorts to using tired blues riffs to fatten out his hopelessly pointless compositions. Sadly, The Vents are simply not good enough to get away with sheer unoriginality and, as a result, the album flops on all accounts.
There are minor traces of promise on Venus Again, but if The Vents ever hope to gain serious credibility as artists, they're in need of serious retooling. Until (and if) that happens, they'll continue to be nothing more than one of many mediocre paint-by-numbers rock bands.
All That I Am
Joe could easily win the title for having the slow jam album of the year. Joe (Joe Thomas) has a voice that can be described as a cross between Luther Vandross and Teddy Riley from the group BlackStreet. His sound is unique from other R&B groups because of his combination of the classic love song, the modern slow jam and the beat that defines R&B music.
"Don't Wanna be a Player" was first released on the Booty Call soundtrack in 1996 and can also be found on Joe's debut album. In this song he sings about abandoning his womanizing ways and willingness to commit to that one special woman.
All That I Am is an album that sings from the heart about relationship situations everyone can relate to. The song "Love Don't Make No Sense" describes the confusion one sometimes feels when involved in a serious romantic relationship. The lyrics of "All the Things (Your Man Won't Do)" tastefully combine seduction and romance with the accompaniment of guitar, keyboard and background vocal harmony.
In the title song, "All that I Am," Joe pours out his heart and sings from the soul about his love for a woman. The primary instrument in this song is the acoustic guitar, which creates a sound that is pure and romantic.
Joe co-produced most of the songs on the album with his manager Michelle Williams and other love song greats such as Gerald Levert. His personal touch can definitely be felt in the music. The more the album is played, the more one can appreciate the depth and feeling in the lyrics.
Motion Picture Soundtrack
United Artists Inc.
Hoodlum, the Motion Picture starring Lawrence Fishburne and Andy Garcia, is an entertaining film to say the least. The soundtrack is even more interesting.
The variety of genres on this CD ranges from Wu-Tang Clan to 112, Mobb Deep to Erikah Badu and from Tony Rich to The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. This variety does not diminish the quality of the CD by any means. Check out the first song Mobb Deep's title track featuring Big Noyd & Rakim. For those who love to just kick back and chill, it will do just fine. 112 provides a slower offering with "I Can't Believe," featuring Faith Evans, widow of the late Chris Wallace (AKA The Notorious B.I.G.). It is a mellow song that will bring back unwanted memories of past relationships. This track is also on 112's own debut CD.
Another song to pay special attention to is Wu-Tang Clan's "Dirty the Moocher." It will probably be the last time Ol' Dirty Bastard receives an introductory solo opportunity. Aside from a beginning that is tough on the ears, the song takes off. And for those who know the Wu, they know the style works well. Those who practice Baduizm will be spiritually elevated on hearing Erikah Badu's innovative style in "Certainly." Again, it is also on her own debut CD. Hoodlum also has tracks from L.V., Tony Rich, Davina, Rahsaan Patterson, Chico DeBarge and Cool Breeze.
For the Jazz element of the production, Adriana Evans and The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra provide a thorough sample of bombastic brassy vocal jazz. Ms. Evans' "Lucky Dayz" has a Christmasy feel to it, but one gets lost in the marching bass of the song. If you like orchestral jazz, the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra is outstanding and L.V. (from Coolio's "Dangerous Minds,") is the featured lead vocalist.
If you have seen the movie Hoodlum and enjoyed it, you will definitely want to buy the soundtrack.
Despite the loss of several key band members, Urban Circle was finally able to release its debut CD Progress this past summer. After the exodus, the three remaining members were forced to depend on computers to help them finish their album. While the completion of any album under these circumstances is no small feat, it is apparent this band has not fully recovered from its losses.
The band's musical themes are concerned with humanity and question the morality of mankind. While it is encouraging to see a band refer to these important issues, the music accompanying their messages is less than impressive. The combination of piano and electric guitar give this band a very unique, yet confusing, sound.
Urban Circle's new bassist and drummer are currently performing in and around the Toronto area. There is no question a few committed musicians would do this band a world of good. Once they decide on a musical style, Urban Circle may be relatively successful in the Canadian music industry. When and if that day comes, we will all be able to look back at this first album and laugh.
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