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Orphaned Music Reviews #2: March

The following music reviews were originally slated for publication in the March 2007 issue of az magazine. They appear here in unrevised form:

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Among the current crop of sensitive male singer-songwriters, Ireland’s Damien Rice has made a name for himself as a coffee shop troubadour for the Starbucks generation. His second album, 9 (Heffa/Vector), expands his sound while never straying too far from the introspective folk he does best. Rice shines in emotionally raw, spare settings such as the opener “9 Crimes” — but his efforts at rocking out ring false. The resulting collection contains a few outright missteps, a handful of forgettable throwaways, and a pair of quietly powerful gems (“The Animals Were Gone”, “Coconut Skins”).

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Fantasia Barrino is blessed with a timelessly soulful voice, but can she escape the ghetto of American Idol? With the simply titled Fantasia (J/Arista), she takes a confident step forward from the cookie-cutter R&B on her 2004 debut. Lead-off single “Hood Boy” smashes through with streetwise hooks and an unexpectedly cool sample of the campy Supremes oldie “The Happening”. She also delivers on the frisky “Baby Makin’ Hips” and the inevitable Diane Warren ballad “I Feel Beautiful”. Though the other songs here don’t measure up to the highlights, it’s still an enjoyably state-of-the-art set. We’re still waiting for her to make an Aretha-style album of stripped down Soul — but in the meantime this’ll do.

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When part of the late ’90s Elephant Six collective, Athens, Georgia’s of Montreal started as straightforward ’60s revivalists with an predilection for the cute and whimsical side of indie pop. Nearly ten years on, they’ve moved their frame of reference up a decade and now sound like a lost New Wave dance-pop outfit on their latest effort, Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? (Polyvinyl). While the band may still be considered an acquired taste, they display enough nifty synth melodies and herky-jerky rhythms here to make one regret throwing out those old Flock of Seagulls albums.

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