CD Reviews

RON SEXSMITH

Cobblestone Runway

(Nettwerk)

Another strong set from the Canadian songman.

Blessed with a fluttering, yet full, tenor, Ron Sexsmith could sing the Starbucks quarterly report and mist your eyes. Thankfully, on his sixth album, he puts his voice to better use, singing of unconditional love, redemption, shaken faith, and related matters of the heart, all framed in production that's slightly less organic than past efforts. The occasional electronic buzz suits Sexsmith fine, particularly on "Dragonfly on Bay Street," an autobiographical slice of soft-rocking roller-disco driven by four-on-the-floor bass and a hustle- (as in, "Do the . . .") worthy drum loop. But quiet time—when the casual strum of an acoustic guitar, a rolling piano melody, and a closely miked vocal performance send shivers—has always been Sexsmith's best time. Sweeter than honey opener "Former Glory" sets an always-darkest-before-the-dawn tone that gets revisited several times, showing Sexsmith's reserved tongue in matters of busted romances. He sings like he knows a thing or three about fractured hearts, but he's concerned with the mending rather than the blame. The hymnlike "God Loves Everyone" (written in response to the murder of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard) works as both classic spiritual and social commentary. Only a songwriter with Sexsmith's steady lyrical hand could summon these dualities in such an impossibly sad song and make it work. PATRICK BERKERY

Ron Sexsmith plays the Crocodile Cafe at 9 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 24, with Alex Lloyd and Nicolai Dunger. $10.

THE DONNAS

Spend the Night

(Atlantic)

The Donnas turn 22 and perfect their glam-metal vision.

Though they were raised in affluent Palo Alto, the Donnas were not cut out to be preps and soon found their way to the wrong side of the tracks, where they indulged in glue huffing, cheeba smoking, and head banging. For some kids, this lifestyle might lead straight to a career at Fatburger, but for the Donnas, it meant getting their parents to buy them some instruments and hammering away at them until the neighbors complained. Now, after nine years as a band, these women know how to snarl and solo like real rock stars. They've always been enamored of glam metal, but on their first major-label record, Spend the Night, they manage to sound more like M�y Cre than M�y Cre has in a decade. Donna R. has metamorphosed her guitar into a cranked-up, flying-V, fretboard-tapping, whammy-bar-whammying, butt-kickin' rock 'n' roll beast. And then there's Donna A., who can pull off a credible take on Vince Neil's sneer, while Donna C. shows her fondness for Tommy Lee's signature cowbell clank. Rather than "Girls, Girls, Girls," almost every song on Spend the Night is about boys, from "All Messed Up on You," where the Donnas are bonkers for some fella, to "It's on the Rocks," where a jerk boyfriend is shown the door. In the future, the Donnas will hopefully write songs about other topics, but for now, these hanging-your-head-out-the-car-window-and-screaming-type party anthems are silly, naughty fun. ADAM BREGMAN

The Donnas play Graceland at 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26, with Campfire Girls and Your Enemies Friends. $12 adv.

RHETT MILLER

The Instigator

(Elektra)

Old 97's frontman's solo debut proves he hasn't gone too far to care.

Here's a refreshing twist on heart-on-sleeve tunesmithery: An album that celebrates love and all its charming little details—courtship, commitment, cold feet, intimacy, distance, and longing—and doesn't asphyxiate on sentimentality. The Instigator is Old 97's singer-guitarist-wiseacre Rhett Miller pouring his heart out with Texas-sized honesty, not a bit of irony, and several literary references tossed in for good measure, over a dozen absolutely stellar compositions that range from perfect pop charmers like "Hover" to cowpunk-gone-L.A. (which the recently married Dallas native now calls home) rave-ups like "The El." What makes this superior to most love-song cycles is that Miller and producer Jon Brion (who thankfully doesn't over Brion-ize the proceedings with his usual chamber pop filigree) don't just go for the heart. On feisty stuff such as opener "Our Love" and "Four-Eyed Girl," they go for the right foot, as in the one that powers your car's accelerator. Best of that bunch is "This Is What I Do," wherein our narrator attempts to make things right with past loves he's ousted by explaining he could always "hide it in the attic, bury it in static (or) only put it out in Japan."Good thing he was just paying them lip service. PATRICK BERKERY

Rhett Miller plays the Northgate Theatre at 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 28, with Dashboard Confessional, Hot Rod Circuit, and Piebald. $18/$16 adv.

AMON TOBIN

Out From Out Where

(Ninja Tune)

Brazilian jazz-noir DJ treads an even darker path.

The Darth Maul of jazzed-out, orchestral drum 'n' bass returns with the truly deep-space Out From Out Where, and the Force is still with him. Much of the thoughtful prettiness and gentle bossa influence of the native Brazilian's homeland—so dominant on 1998's masterful Permutation—has gone AWOL, leaving only the frenetically dark and dirty end-game beats he began leaning toward more heavily on 2000's bone-deep Supermodified. Out's menacing mood seems tailor-made to soundtrack Fritz Lang's Metropolis, if only it had come along in time; beneath the space-odyssey stylings throbs the factory heart of an Industrial Age monolith. "Searchers," the album's fourth track, does traipse vintage Tobin territory, infused as it is with an exotic, vaguely Middle Eastern beauty, but he swiftly returns to the deep end, turning the seemingly sweet "Rosies" into a sinister channeling of a breakbeat-mad Trent Reznor. His near-abandonment of more traditional melodic jazz elements doesn't make Tobin's work on this round any less brilliant, just less accessible. But when a man this talented chooses to submerge himself in the depths, it's hard not to take a big breath and follow. LEAH GREENBLATT

Amon Tobin plays I-Spy at 9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 25, with Prefuse 73, Bonobo, and DJ P-Love. $15.

 
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