SARAH DOUGHER Day One (K) In this day of music television-fabricated acoustic chick ingenues, Sarah Dougher is an anachronism. Her solo debut resounds with thoughtful

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Sarah Dougher, Innerzone Orchestra, Vermont, Tower of Power

SARAH DOUGHER Day One (K) In this day of music television-fabricated acoustic chick ingenues, Sarah Dougher is an anachronism. Her solo debut resounds with thoughtful songwriting and literate lyrics that recall Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, and Suzanne Vega. Dougher is a busy musician, contributing her funky farfisa organ and vox to the indie-pop trio the Crabs and assuming the campy alter ego of Dusty in the sassy Cadallaca. On Day One, Dougher displays her musical diversity, accompanying herself on guitar and piano while flexing her rich alto, often in lovely harmony with herself. Many of the songs deal with addictions of various sorts, such as drugs and alcohol ("Day One" and "Drunk #1"), pornography ("Secret Porno Collector"), material possessions ("Moving"), and love ("Hold the Bar")—all forms of consuming desire that ultimately end in alienation and desperation. Another theme is travel—endless spans of time that allow for contemplation and reflection. A wafting accordion adds to the whimsical nature of "40 Hours," about a countdown during a road trip on the way to visit a new lover. "Art Lover" takes a turn toward exotica with a jazzy guitar riff from guest Jon Reuter (of the Prima Donnas) and a loungey, laid-back bossa nova beat from Janet Weiss (of Sleater-Kinney and Quasi). Dougher's only miscue comes with her cover of the Eagles' "Take It to the Limit." She gives it a heartfelt acoustic interpretation but it's a song better left to karaoke bars and telephone hold music.—Barbara Arnett

INNERZONE ORCHESTRA Programmed (Planet E/Astralwerks) Music evolutionists have long prophesied that a natural union of jazz and modern electronics is just around the corner. So how come we're still waiting? For every great crossover bit like Reprazent's "Brown Paper Bag" or infusion of bebop linguistics into laptop music like Mu-Ziq's Lunatic Harness, scores of DJs and Pro-Tools operators invoke Miles' Get Up with It in vain and for little gain. But never fear, because Detroit techno deity Carl Craig has taken it upon himself to further this cause for the greater glory of jazzbo-centric electronicats the world over. The best parts of Programmed, the debut full-length of Craig's Innerzone Orchestra, stand as excellent examples to anyone who'd want to attempt this sort of musical union. Collaborating with an all-star team culled from a diaspora of musical universes—Richie "Plastikman" Hawtin, pianist Craig Taborn, Sun Ra percussionist Francisco Mora, and others—Craig crafts a unifying aesthetic before he marries the forms. Tracks like "Manufacture Memories" and "Timing" are built on beds of freaky digitalia before the live instrumentation—Mora's drums in the former, Taborn's electric keys in the latter—kicks in, driving them to dance floor ecstasy. And "Galaxy" distills the best parts of the lite-funk jazz of the mid-'70s as Craig plays King Tubby at the mixing board, making for sensational Club Ibiza-style, wobbly-kneed disco. Programmed invokes a modern music construction, while still cognizant of improvised blue notes. Hopefully, others will follow its lead.—Peter Orlov

VERMONT Living Together (Kindercore) Though this effort is the spawn of two Promise Ring members (singer Davey Von Bohlen and drummer Dan Didier), it's hardly a disc that reeks of Jade Tree perfume. The steady, soft tones on Living Together are on the "leem" (light emo) side of things: think Pedro the Lion, Low, or Jeremy Enigk's solo material. This is the music you play when you're drinking wine at the kitchen table, fumbling through this month's overdue bills. Some people call it background music, but Vermont is too deliberate for that. These are compositions, not soundscapes. Moodiness and concern color every track, from the hearty instrumental closing down of "These Dudes, They Got a Band" to the shiny carnival rhythms on "Tiny White Crosses." It's an album that allows its listeners the freedom to be a clich頨depressed, pensive) or an entrepreneur (too calm to fail). Either way, autumn ballads like "Broadway Joe" and "Indiana Jones" have a rare flexibility to them. There are no loud-soft/loud-soft formulas, no crashing emo crescendos. Yet after one 39-minute rotation of Living Together, it's obvious Vermont has as much passion as an entire roomful of kids trying to learn Jawbreaker songs.—Kristy Ojala

Tower of Power, Soul Vaccination: Tower of Power Live (550 Music/Sony) The problem with a lot of the '70s revival shit is that it sounds so phony and self-aware. But no one's going to accuse Tower of Power of being an arch retro act. They've got no corn appeal. They couldn't be less hip. They're nothing but a pure, unchanged distillation of funk at its mixed-race, '70s best, and I do believe they sound better than ever. With syncopated grooves heisted from James Brown, power ballads of the Sam & Dave variety, and an old-school soul vocalist, Brent Carter, belting out terrible "get down" lyrics, Tower of Power makes a religion of the super-tight horns-and-rhythm sound. And after all these years of metronomic, machine-driven R&B, tightness really feels like salvation, at least for the length of this CD. It's not just the rhythmic complexity of the horns playing off one another, but the amazing dynamic control, where the bari sax can start a mumble of a phrase that's topped off by a screech of the lead trumpet within the space of half a bar. All the hits are here, including a compact cut of "Down to the Nightclub" and a yearning version of "Willin' to Learn." T of P remains pristinely untouched by hip-hop; everything's still straight staccato grooves and bright major chords. It's an exuberant naﶥt鬠and one that's especially refreshing today.—Mark D. Fefer

 
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