JACK JOHNSON - IN BETWEEN DREAMS

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Album: In Between Dreams
Artist: Jack Johnson
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As Jack gently finger picks the intro to Better Together and the band joins in to provide the relaxed melody that they have become known for, it is easy to see that Jack hasn't changed his style for his first release (In Between Dreams) after blowing up. His second release on his own label (Brushfire Records), will be on display on shelves at Walmart, HMV and any record store in between. That being said, this album shows that the Jack's song writing is going new places and the band is growing.

This review is probably biased. I have been a huge Jack fan for years. I've seen him 10 or 11 times live, and even named my book (Cupid Only Misses Sometimes) after one of his songs. His relaxed mellow reggae grooves have always hit home. This album still has that, but for the first time I think the band has some freedom to play. They even grabbed Zach from ALO playing piano on a few tracks. I can't help but notice that Staple it Together sounds more like a G. Love track than a Jack track, and these influences add a lot to the album.

All in all, like every Jack album, there are great songs (Better Together, Never Know, Good People, Sitting Waiting, Wishing) and some filler (Belle), but the album is such an enjoyable listen that I don't know how any fan of his past music could complain. I was surprised to see another version of Breakdown (released on Handsome Boy Modeling School latest album - White People) included, but it is a solid track and it uses the eukele. C'maan guy, it's a euke!

So buy this album, hear it on the radio, at Starbuck's or at every party you go to for the next 6 months. This is one artist I actually hope everyone supports.


RIVIERA REGIME - THUGZ OF WAR

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Album: Thugz Of War
Artist: Riviera Regime
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Wow, what can I really say about the Riviera Regime. The Regime is comprised of Klee Magor and Benny Brahmz and they're representing Finch West in North York, Ontario. As you might have already read, I bought this CD from one of the dudes in the group on the subway ride home after a beer-filled Saturday night. So I didn't really have high hopes for it, I just thought it would be some funny content. But I said I'd try and do a serious review, so here goes. But first, let me add this caveat: this album just isn't in my wheelhouse as far as the hip hop goes right now. I'm being as objective as possible, but I'm sort of biased against it from the start.

Right off the bat my objectivity is strained by the name, Thugz Of War. I guess it's not enough to be thugged out or down with war, but a combination was required. Perhaps it's a play on "Dogs Of War", I have no idea. But enough of that, I have some objectively positive things to say about the album, so let's do those first. First off, the production on here is not that bad. Considering it seems they produced and recorded the album themselves, the album sounds more professional than I expected. It doesn't sound like they've used many samples, so it's decent considering they must've programmed all the sounds themselves. And I should say they sound decent over those beats. They have pretty good flows for the most part and sound like they just might be down with both thuggery and warfare. The album almost has a dirty south feel to it at times, as on the feel-good opener Don't F@#k Wit Us, where they break out some double time rappin' styles.

But what they're saying in those flows is the big issue for me. The CD is 18 tracks long and only one track (Feelin' Fine) really offers a break from the themes of dealing drugs, doing drugs, killing you, killing your family, and f@#king them hoez. I mean don't get me wrong, as a dude who's listened to mainly hip hop for 15 years, I've heard my fair share of the sex, drugs, and guns talk. But at 30 I can't listen to a whole album of it, especially when these dudes are serious as a heart attack while they're doing it. I mean compare it to the last album I reviewed, R.A. The Rugged Man. That dude talks about some nutty stuff, but he does it with some humor.

The Regime might also want to take the Alkaholiks' advice and spend a little time with their rhymes. Some of the verses seem a little rushed and sound like fairly generic, cliched gangster talk. This kind of thing: "I'm illin' like a villain and my eyes be on the killin'" is what I'm talking about. There's also another song that mentions "Hit the LCBO to cop a 4-O" and meeting the homies at the BBQ. Sounds like they're filming Nuthin' But a "G" Thang: The Sequel in North York. But maybe they are, I have no idea. Are the players still drinking 40's? My point is this: if you must do the gun talk, do it well. Come up with something original, tell some gangster stories. I listened to this album twice and both times by about track 13 I was worn out. "I was born to get jiggy like a 60's hippy, but I'm not picky, you can suck on my dicky". Did hippies get jiggy? I thought Will Smith invented that in the 90's?

So there you have it, the Riviera Regime's Thugz Of War - perhaps available on a subway car near you.


R.A. THE RUGGED MAN - DIE RUGGED MAN DIE

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Album: Die Rugged Man Die
Artist: R.A. The Rugged man
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R.A. The Rugged Man is a rap legend. Ask him, he'll tell you. You actually don't even have to ask, just listen to his long-overdue debut album, Die Rugged Man Die, and he tells anyone who listens that he's one of the best to ever rock the mic. The story goes that R.A. had the chance to be Eminem before Eminem was even a butterhead. Around 91-92, R.A. was known as Crustified Dibbs and he was making noise. He did a song with Biggie (Cunt Renaissance, damn!) and was so hot that apparently 9 labels were bidding for his services. But he signed with Jive and they were just about their get Backstreet Boy Band on, which isn't the Rugged Man's steez, so their association didn't end well.

R.A. has been in the shadows of the underground since his major label days ended. He first came to my attention with the jam Stanley Kubrick on Soundbombing II. But I still really didn't know who he was. As he says himself on Chains, "I'm the first rapper to be mad famous for being unknown". But you'll get all you need to know about the Rugged Man from this album. He introduces himself on Lessons and A Star Is Born, but every song is pretty much the Rugged Man telling us the nutty shite he's about. Mainly he's about being the original grimy white MC and he's 10 times crazier than Eminem.

But I actually like this album. The production is solid all the way through; nothing amazing, but all quite good. The reggae vibes and semi-sped chorus of Chains, which features Masta Killa and Killah Priest, is addictive. Some songs like Dumb, On The Block, and the J-Zone produced Brawl are just bugged out, but fit R.A.'s style while they wouldn't work for other dudes. He even uses a Planet Rock sample on How Low and actually does it better that Talib Kweli did on his last album.

So if you can stand R.A.'s weird voice, and don't think you'd get tired of hearing him say he's a fat slob but also one of the best rappers of all time after two songs, then this album is worth checking out.


EDO G. & PETE ROCK - MY OWN WORST ENEMY

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Album: My Own Worst Enemy
Artist: Edo G. Featuring Pete Rock
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Edo G., the man formerly known as Ed O.G., has been repping Boston since there was still a Garden and Bird was still there wrecking shop in some snug fitting shorts. Times have changed, Edo's name has changed (sort of), but his style really hasn't. To me, that's a good thing. If you're even taking the time to read this, I'm guessing you're familiar with Ed O.G. & The Bulldogs classic 1991 album Life of a Kid in the Ghetto. Without exaggeration I can say that I Got To Have It is one of the absolute best jams from the GAOHH (can't say it anymore, acronym time). Bug-A-Boo, I'm Different, Life Of A Kid In The Ghetto, and Be A Father To Your Child were all classic jams as well; if you have never heard this album, you need to check it out. As many artists who've dropped a classic debut often find out, following up said classic is not easy. Lucky for those of us still checking for old school types, Edo has stayed on the scene through the years and collaborated with Pete Rock to create My Own Worst Enemy.

"I'm a throwback from the 90's, whose return is timely". As he says himself on the album opener, Boston, Edo's a throwback. He's got the boom-bap beats courtesy of Pete Rock (7 tracks) and even features a track from DITC legend Diamond D. There's even some Hip Hop samples scratched up in the choruses on tracks like the aforementioned Boston, School 'Em, and Stop Dat. Edo's not covering much new ground lyrically. He's letting dudes know that he's been putting in dues for years, he's repping the Bean, and he's not pleased about the many remakes of I Got To Have It. But it's not all boasting and bitching for Edo, on Pay The Price he warns young dudes of the dangers of the street life and warns the ladies about the dangers of making big bucks being a peeler. Masta Ace also joins Edo on the wistful Wishing as they wax poetic on how they'd like the world to be (we've got the universal health care in Canada Ed, you need to check us out!). The album's perhaps a tad short at 10 tracks, but it's 10 strong tracks with no skits or filler, so you can't be mad at that.

What you'll hear on My Own Worst Enemy isn't 2005 hip hop, there's nothing blingy going on here. It's not crunk and Ashanti isn't singing the hooks. But we need this. Hip hop needs albums like this to balance out the club-centric, dirty south stuff that's dominating right now. I like me some club jams and dirty south rowdiness like the next man, but I need to hear that classic, "old school" hip hop sound. Unfortunately having a DJ cut it up on the chorus is pretty much "Old School" right about now. That sucks. But that's why dudes like Edo, Pete Rock, and Masta Ace need to stay on the scene. Someone's gotta remind folks how it used to be done, and they do it better than most of the new dudes anyway.


BONNIE "PRINCE" BILLY - SUPERWOLF

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Album: Superwolf
Artist: Bonnie "Prince" Billy
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Will Oldham has crafted his own style and over the years and pseudonyms. The most frequently asked questions have been about his sincerity (personally, I think that is crap, and he pours as much into his songs as any singer songrwriter). I've always found his records to be highly enjoyable, but they have always become more impressive as you continue to listen. For the first few listens, I am sketchy. Then all of a sudden, I love them. Superwolf drew me in on the first listen.

This time he has teamed up with Matt Sweeney (Chavez for the older kids, some guest stints with GBV and Zwan) and surprisingly, Sweeney has given Oldham mthe room to run free, and more surprisingly, Oldham has actually made one of his most accessible albums yet.

In a statement rich with hypocrisy, the sounds Oldham brings to the album remind me a lot of his earlier work (I See a Darkness for sure), but the structure that Sweeney adds gives it more stability. Fans of the bands will compare the sounds to Neil Young and Jerry Garcia.

Personal fav tracks include: Lift Us Up (lap-steel guitar), Beast for Thee, and Only Someone Running. I think it is impossible to describe Oldham's sound to anyone who hasn't heard it, so trying to describe this album is tough. The gentle finger picked riffs and his crackling voice are refreshing and undeniably Oldham. He creates songs that fans of artists like Devendra and Sam Beam will fall in love with. I have only been listening to this album for a week, but it history repeats itself, this album will be looked back on as great.



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