The Roots, those modern saviors of Hip-Hop and Consciousness-Rap, deliver the fix their constituency has been jonesin' for the last eight years - a live album. Performing music unadorned with the complex string arrangements and computerized beat loops, the preferred vice of radio rap, The Roots lose nothing in live translation.
Drawn from four main shows at Elysee Mountmartre (Paris), The Bowery Ballroom (New York City), Palais X-tra (Zurich) and The Studio (Philadelphia); The Roots Come Alive provides 74 magical minutes of the best Hip-Hop around. Lead by Black Thought (a.k.a. Tariq Trotter), The Roots cut up and explode on classics such as "Don't See Us," "The Ultimate," and "100% Dundee." The five core Ill-adelph'ers (which means they're from Philadelphia for the uninitiated) show us the potential of urban poetry to move you, to groove you, and most importantly - to make you think.
However, the most stunning track is "You Got Me," the powerfully sensitive ballad of long-distance love originally sung by soul-queen Erykah Badu. Yet on that night in The Bowery Ballroom, as the audience begins to hear the first riffs of The Roots' biggest hit, Black Thought explains that they will not be hearing the sultry voice of Ms. Badu. "I'm gon' introduce you to the young lady from Philidelphia that actually wrote that piece." And so begins the amazingly colorful yet balanced performance of "Jilly from Philly" - the woman America now knows as soul-sista Jill Scott.
That track itself stands as a great symbol for the album as a whole - colorful, well-blended, precise and wonderfully flawed. The Roots, a five (and sometimes more) piece band, walking out on the stage with their instruments and a microphone, are a blueprint for what hip-hop music can, and should, be. The Roots Come Alive is one of those rare albums which makes the listener open his ears and his mind, and never again reach for the radio. -Eric Newman
100 Broken Windows
Scottish bands seem to offer something you can't get from other corners of the rock-n-roll map. Often guileless almost to the point of naivete, they thrust their hearts into even the littlest matter. Look at how Big Country has produced a do-or-die anthem just about every time they count off. Travis even manages to spin despair and hope within song subjects as mundane as sitting down to write a letter (and they've gone that route twice). But wouldn't it be absolutely killer if a similar singleminded dedication was combined with the DIY aesthetic of punk music? Meet Idlewild, whose second album is finally showing up in the US after one of those quirky unaccountable delays from the UK release.
Coming out with a sound that's two-guitar basic but not raw, lead singer Roddy Woomble and his mates have staked out a claim near Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson. Idlewild utilizes a signature guitar sound - full of electric points like little jabs, neither twangy nor prone to power chords - that's particularly reminiscent of Jackson's first couple of albums. But the songwriting is clearly more the work of an entire group, whether or not an individual track clicks. Although the opening "Little Discourage" grabs attention very well without straying too far from Idlewild's more formulaic exercises, it's in the odd corners like "Roseability" (which hinges on mention of Gertrude Stein, of all things) and the closing ballad "The Bronze Medal" that the group shows they could go even further. In the meantime, this is much better than average pop-punk. -T.E. Lyons
Moulin Rouge is the latest movie released by Baz Luhrman, which is somewhat similar to his other work, William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. The eccentric version of the well-known classic, starring Leo DeCaprio, whom, as always, dies at the end. Nevertheless, if you've heard the Romeo and Juliet soundtrack then you may be somewhat surprised by Moulin Rouge. They are equally unconventional but very different.
"Hey sisters, soul sisters, better get that dough sisters." Sorry, but Lady Marmalade is the only of its kind on the CD. Not to say that Christina, Lil' Kim, Mya, and Pink aren't talented ladies in their own right, but their version doesn't quite amount to the original. This soundtrack is more like Evita, only livelier and you know the words before hearing them three times. "A kiss on the hand may be quite continental, but diamonds are a girls best friend/ A kiss may be grand but it won't pay the rental." Those were lyrics from the song "Sparkling Diamonds," which is just one example of sampling familiar lyrics into unfamiliar music.
As with Evita, you are taken through the story with only your imagination or memory to envision the staging (or your memory of the movie). The music is an entourage of contemporary music, with a thoughtfully assembled group of artists, such as David Bowie, Bono, Beck, and even Fatboy Slim.
Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor perform the vocals on their tune, which are surprisingly good - and may owe a debt to the miracles of modern production (they've agreed to no live performances). -Valerie Massie