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Grading from A-F

Reshaping and remixing of styles for the rock vets after canning Sammy Hagar. Replacement Gary Cherone (Extreme) proves a capable if whiny replacement. The songwriting in the new Van Halen is easily light years ahead of the Sammy "Poundcake" era, but much of the energy and attitude is gone. Notable tracks include the tender, Genesis-esque "Once," the experimental "From Afar" and the political (?) "Ballot or the Bullet." B

Alice In Chains guitarist/songwriter's first solo effort is plain and simple the best rock album so far in 1998. Cantrell manages a fine balance between gritty rockers ("Dickeye") and introspective finery ("Settling Down"). While at times the album sounds expectedly like Alice In Chains, Cantrell shines when he switches gears, showing a penchant for melodic hooks and vibrant imagery. A

With the rest of Stone Temple Pilots busy with their disappointing side project Talk Show, frontman and songwriter Weiland put together his own showcase. The result is a 12 track ride through experimental ideas and electronic themes more closely related to the "industrial" music movement front by Nine Inch Nails than STP. Weiland's talent for writing catchy choruses and hummable melodies does shine through the clouds on some of the tracks ("About Nothing"). B-

--Kevin Ridolfi


"Last Stop" copyright ©1998 Colden Grey, Ltd.


Before These Crowded Streets
12 Tracks | Running time: 70:20.

Rating: A-

KEVIN RIDOLFI | The most amazing thing about the Dave Matthews Band -- if such a collection of seemingly ordinary Joes can be termed amazing -- has been their ability to transcend the pop corollary of underplaying and reining in track length. Once again, on their third studio release "Before These Crowded Streets," the boys from Virginia stretch the boundaries of pop while still capturing pop radio air time.

If anything, their unique blend of pop and 70's jam happy indulgence has attained an even greater union than on past albums. Originally thrust onto the pop stage in 1995 after great lyrical light successes as "Satellite" and "What Would You Say," the band has endured unfair and ridiculous comparisons to the Grateful Dead and Phish; and thrived as leaders in the 6:00 song revolution. This eclectic group of musicians are heavyweights and they can flat out play -- although Matthews does quite often falter in the lyric writing department with immature musings in hits like "Crash into Me."

The constant behind the Earth, Wind and Fire pop/jazz melodies is the mind-boggling crack rhythm section of Carter Beauford (drums) and Stefan Lessard (bass). Beaford utilizes his jazz upbringing in classy yet challenging patterns, conjuring up a stick holding octopus. Evidence of his percussion gymnastics can be found through "Before These Crowded Streets," particularly on "Rapunzel," a clinic in the tight rhythm section dynamic. Lessard also earned his wings in jazz settings and his rolling bass adds much of the distinction to the Matthews Band sound.

As a unit, Beauford and Lessard bring experience and unity to the band's swirling, long-winded sound. Credit Matthews for finding the pieces necessary to mesh his visions with a saxophone and violin. Pop music revolves around beat and the songs in this collection all swing with energy and forcefulness -- impressive considering the lack of traditional rock instrumentation.

"Last Stop," a biting social commentary with a mid-eastern feel, stands out as a testament to the band's melodic togetherness. From start to finish the track is well constructive with each instrument complimenting the next. Bella Fleck and Alanis Morrissette lend their talents to this song as well. Only Matthews would so boldly toss off such a track as pop music. "Last Stop" summarizes everything that makes up the band: virtuoso playing, melodic experimentation, danceable rhythms and vaguely interesting vocals.

Up until now, there seemed to be a slight segregation of pop from instrumental freedom within Matthews' albums. They had the songs to present to a radio audience -- "Say Goodbye," "Satellite" -- and songs for self-indulgence. Now, no song sways too far in either direction, they have found their sound. That isn't to say that five minute jams appear in every song because they never did. And this is precisely how the Dave Matthews Band differs from so-called jam bands. With Matthews there is an appearance of improvisation but the songs are carefully crafted and scripted to feel that way. These guys wouldn't stand for the possibility of error which can contaminate an extended jam -- the very reason the Grateful Dead sounded better on stage to a stoned contingent than they did in the studio.

Leroi Moore (sax) and Boyd Tinsley (violin), often hidden in the shadow of the popular and slightly mysterious Matthews, bring their talents to the forefront with inspired solos and complimenting melodic themes. "Stay (Wasting Time)" proves that the shadows are disappearing and that the band is becoming what it has already called itself: the Dave Matthews Band.

Sure "Before These Crowded Streets" can be called candy-coated and worse by critics, basically since the Dave Matthews Band remains label-proof and that drives critics and promoters crazy. But the fact remains that the quintet produces quality, melody-strong music that feels good. That should be definition enough.


KEVIN RIDOLFI of Pawtucket, RI, is the creator and editor of Renaissance Online Magazine. He can be reached at

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