Citizen Cope, "The Clarence Greenwood Recordings"
-album cover courtesy of RCA
Every weekend a hopeful singer-songwriter can be found up on a stool in a darkened bar, intimately holding onto his acoustic guitar. He sings and strums to an audience that probably can't hear his words over their drunken arguments and smoky conversation. Every so often though, the audience will turn their ear toward the stage and shut their intoxicated mouths, only to find out that they should have been listening all along.
Enter Clarence Greenwood, a.k.a. Citizen Cope. Here is a young singer-songwriter who performs as if his audience spends much of its time on the early morning corners of a corrupt street.
Forget the boyish, sweetie-pie charm of John Mayer and the ridiculous pretty-boy-toy-of-an-artist Ryan Cabrera, and enter the intellectual. With all the clowns holding acoustic guitars nowadays traveling solo through manufactured and corporate sugar-coat celebrations, it is a huge relief to see that this generation has its own John Lennon.
For a folk album, "The Clarence Greenwood Recordings" is bigger than hip-hop, and for a hip-hop album, it is far too streetwise to be folk. Much like contemporary musicians Beck, Lauren Hill and Everlast, Citizen Cope holds tight to his six-string hollow body and sits firmly planted front-row center to make folk music cool again. Much like his contemporaries, Cope also chooses his subjects very wisely within his lyrics to reflect on his own misfortunes and the human race's shortcomings.
Street credibility and enlightenment together is a fine recipe not only for pop culture successes but also for the successes of human history. Personal relationships, social commentary, and political bitterness combined with optimism and honesty are a call of the wild.
It is rare that a Marvin Gaye or a Neil Young, a Tupac or a Bob Dylan should come around to actually speak a little bit of truth in a culture that tolerates its popular music in the form of falsity with acidic lip-sync refluxes and wardrobe malfunctions. Citizen Cope sings with stone-glazed, worrisome eyes and a stiff upper lip. His modest harmony and his lock-jaw singing style fit perfectly with his porch-blues loneliness.
Cope keeps it catchy and upbeat even though most of his medium is remorseful. Wow, an artist who has honest feelings for his subjects? Has the music world finally found a real human with real emotions in his performance? You be the judge.
At times, Citizen Cope falls flat into ambience, for his energy seems to be sort of contained, making his powerful words somehow become indolent. His voice is a David Gray without the excitement, so perhaps if Citizen Cope wishes to hit a little harder in vocal energy, he should pay attention to the folk furiousness of Bright Eyes' "I'm Wide Awake It's Morning."
What gives Cope's album its beefiness is the way the beats seem to pull you right into each acoustic note. The soft tones of Cope and his guitar lay quite comfortably over the raw hip-hop head bobbing.
Some key tracks include the melodic single "Bullet And A Target," the imprisoning eeriness of the song "Penitentiary," and the reggae-groove feel of the love song "Pablo Picasso." "My Way Home" has Marvin Gaye written all over it, and the song "D'Artagnan's Theme" helps lighten the mood with a waltz-like sound to it.
Citizen Cope should be a must-have if either folk or emotional hip-hop sits in your collection. Clarence Greenwood sounds homeless but not hopeless. It's as if a voice from an ugly alley is a sigh of relief, and as if the streets have enough room for the sublime to fit in.
DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid and Dave Lombardo Present, "Drums Of Death"
-album cover courtesy of Thirsty Ear Records
Hailing from New York City, DJ Spooky is one of the most integrative artists ever to win over the likes of mainstream music and also hold on to his raw sound, while at the same time highlighting the club scene and gaining credibility in critics' ears. Don't be fooled by his name, for "Spooky" is a lot deeper than you think.
DJ Spooky can be categorized under his philosophical turntables. He was one of the revolutionaries in combining ambient and haunting sounds with the energy of club and dance hall music. Think DJ Shadow with fewer ghosts and a few more drinks. It is spooky music, but the drums are here to keep this album in shape as well.
Joining DJ Spooky on "Drums Of Death" is a drummer known as Dave Lombardo. For those who don't know whom he is, Lombardo played drums in the thrash metal band Slayer. Now, some of you may be thinking that funk and metal just can't fit together, but don't forget the days of Rage Against The Machine where cyborg guitar styles and hip-hop vocals and drums combined to make a prizefight for music history.
But the metal chops that are sampled are more thrash oriented and shoot for meanness over contagiousness. Collectively, the album would sound like another Linkin Park/Xecutioners matchup if it weren't for the Led Zeppelin-esque drum solos beating you to death every once in a while.
DJ Spooky is an intelligent artist with the knack for a catchy tune, but the combination of funk styles and heavy metal mentalities seemed to work better in the early days of the Red Hot Chili Peppers or the early '90s with the Southern California psychotic band Infectious Grooves. Together, the crescendo that both musicians are searching for on "Drums of Death" could be hidden within these contradicting styles.
Slayer fans will probably not pick this album up unless they have a club side to them. Most listeners might wonder how it is possible for a man to share the stage with an intellectual DJ and share the stage with the nihilistic presence of Slayer guitar-axe-murderer Kerry King. Well, find out for yourself.