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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: Five For Fighting, Stone Sour and more

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Sunday, July 30, 2006

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Five For Fighting “Two Lights” Aware/Columbia ***: Since its mainstream debut six years ago, Five For Fighting has labored under something of an identity conflict — is it a band or merely the creative domain of singersongwriter John Ondrasik? And while 2004’s “The Battle for Everything” made a case for the former, “Two Lights” is unquestionably an Ondrasik enterprise, co-produced by the artist and longtime bassist Curt Schneider Stellar and featuring 10 songs Shining whose focus is most So-so certainly on Sputters Ondrasik’s songcraft and a loose but discernible thread of family existing in the troubled contemporary world. Why this works is that Ondrasik is one of pop’s young master craftsmen, absorbing the best of his infl uences (Elton John, Billy Joel, the Beatles) and incorporating them into the particular worldview of a born-and-bred Californian. The same keening touch he displayed on hits such as “Superman (It’s Not Easy)” and “100 Years” surfaces again here on tracks such as “I Just Love You,” “Road to Heaven” and the title track, a string-laden piece that delves into the ambivalent emotional landscape of a father’s view of his son’s military service. “The Riddle” is a more epic construction that ebbs and flows beneath Ondrasik’s falsetto, while “Johnny America” and “Freedom Never Cries” offer cultural commentary that’s neither cloying patriotism nor gratuitous dissent. Ondrasik successfully rocks it up a bit, too; “ ’65 Mustang” pays tribute to a car his father handed down to him, while “California Justice” and “Policeman’s Xmas Party,” both inspired by a violent incident at Ondrasik’s home while his family was on vacation, incorporate Latin flavors. If what used to be called “soft rock” has lost its place in the current music landscape, “Two Lights” show that, when done right, there’s still some life in that particular sub-genre.


Stone Sour “Come What(ever) May” Roadrunner ***: Four years ago, Slipknot frontman Corey Taylor and Jim Root surprised fans by taking off their masks and unveiling Stone Sour, a surprisingly accessible and direct rock group — one that actually predates their more famous band. The debut earned a gold and Grammy nominations, and Stone Sour’s sophomore effort tilts in an even more mainstream direction, still bringing the metal (“30/30 — 150,” “Made of Scars,” the title track) but trying on some different guises with the acoustic “Through Glass,” the psychedelic “Sillyworld” and the piano-dominated album closer “Zzyzk Rd.” “I will not be afraid!” Taylor declares on “Hell & Consequences,” and neither should you.

New and noteworthy

Body Count, “Murder 4 Hire”

(New Media Studio) — Rapper Ice-T takes a break from TV’s “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” to mix it up again with his metal band.

DMX, “Year of the Dog Again”

(Sony) — The rapper’s first album in three years comes in conjunction with his latest incarceration — for gangsta traffi c offenses.

The Finals, “Plan Your Getaway”

(Immortal) — The New Jersey rock quintet makes its full-length debut after an EP and plenty of road work.

Nina Gordon, “Bleeding Heart Graffi ti” (Warner Bros.) — The onetime half of Veruca Salt kicks it a little harder on her long-in-the-making follow-up to her 2000 solo debut.

Hot Club of Detroit, “Hot Club of Detroit” (Mack Avenue) — No Motown or garage rock here, just authentic, Django Reinhardt-style gypsy jazz from this Motor City troupe of jazzbeauxs.

Kill Hannah, “Until There’s Nothing Left of Us” (Atlantic) — The hard-touring Chicago modern rockers finally found time to make album No. 3.

John McLaughlin, “Industrial Zen” (Verve) — The former Mahavishnu Orchestra leader continues his re-embrace of electric jazz fusion.

Monty Are I, “Wall of People”

(Transmission) — The Rhode Island rockers, previously known as just Monty, delivers a debut made with Panic! At the Disco producer Matt Squire.

Olabelle, “Riverside Battle Songs”

(Verve Forecast) — Another Americana travelogue by the New York acoustic quintet.

Renee Olstead, “Skylark” (Reprise) — The second major-label album from the teen entertainment prodigy.

Pink Spiders, “Teenage Graffi ti”

(Geffen) — The major-label debut from the Nashville rock trio that’s not afraid to wear pink — with plenty of macho black alongside, of course.

Powerman 5000, “Destroy What You Enjoy” (DRT) — The industrial rockers’ latest outing is its first with its latest guitar tandem.

The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, “Don’t You Fake It” (Virgin) — Debut album from the Florida Warped Tour denizens.

Soundtrack, “Miami Vice: The Motion Picture” (Atlantic) — A remake of “In the Air Tonight” by Nonpoint joins tracks by India.Arie, Moby, Patti LaBelle and others.

Towers of London, “Blood Sweat and Towers” (TVT) — The long-awaited debut from the British band whose singles have been stirring up a buzz in its homeland.

Vaux, “Beyond Virtue, Beyond Vice” (Outlook Music) — The heavy rocking Denver sextet spent two years extricating themselves from a major label while waiting to release this.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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