Spin Control


July 16, 2006



Golden Smog, "Another Fine Day" (Lost Highway) **1/2

The first release from this alt-country supergroup was a novelty back in 1992, but it was a revealing one, with moonlighting members of the Jayhawks, Wilco and Soul Asylum paying tribute to their music heroes while getting drunk and having some laughs. By the second and third albums, it was harder to forgive the sloppiness and blatant derivation. Recorded in Spain by core members Gary Louris, Dan Murphy, Marc Perlman and Kraig Johnson, "Another Fine Day" breaks no new ground, but it is a tighter, more spirited and better-crafted effort than "Down by the Old Mainstream" (1996) or "Weird Tales" (1998) -- probably because these fellas' primary bands have more or less dropped off the radar, so there's no need for them to hold out on the best material.

You'll note that the credits above don't include Chicagoan Jeff Tweedy, whose band Wilco is still very much at the top of its game; he makes a few stray appearances, co-writing "Listen Joe" with Louris, and coming in to make some unspecified contributions at the tail end of the recording. He isn't really missed, and about half of this disc -- including the jangly opener "You Make It Easy," the psychedelic "Beautiful Mind" and "Cure for This," which features gorgeous vocals from Muni Loco, the wife of Spanish producer Paco Loco -- easily stand as the best music the group has given us.


India.Arie, "Testimony: Vol. 1, Life & Relationship" (Motown) *1/2

You can't fault India.Arie for a lack of earnestness; there's hardly a verse on the acoustic soul singer's third album, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard albums chart last week, where she isn't baring her soul about the road to recovery after the end of a passionate romance. Unfortunately, she doesn't have much to say about the human condition beyond the sort of "improve yourself, save the world" pop-psych platitudes so regularly dispensed by Oprah and other denizens of daytime television.

"There's hope / It doesn't cost a thing to smile / You don't have to pay to laugh / You better thank God for that," Arie croons midway through the disc in the typically lulling "There's Hope." So it goes in tune after tune, including the unremarkable cover of Don Henley's "Heart of the Matter," with Arie admitting that, yes, the unnamed cad broke my heart, but Christ forgives, and so can I. Noble sentiments, perhaps, but they just don't feel real, and you wish that she'd flash just a little bit of anger and slap the bum upside the head.

Despite the plethora of guests, including Keb' Mo', Bonnie Raitt, Bela Fleck's Victor Wooten and country pickers Rascal Flatts, the piano and acoustic-guitar-dominated sounds are nearly as superficial, bland and generic as the self-help advice. Arie's octave-spanning, smooth and often very sultry voice remains a distinctive and appealing instrument. If only she'd put it to better use.