KNOXVILLE — "Static Bliss," Jag Star (www.jagstar.com)
Jag Star lead singer-songwriter Sarah Lewis sounds as if she's perpetually 22 and bursting with energy and idealism. It doesn't matter if a song is about a heartbreak or disappointment, it still sounds like Lewis is just one good vent away from "everything is OK." Maybe that's why the group's music has found its way on to so many MTV soundtracks: Lewis' songs can be used as a sort of every-girl greeting-card for characters who may not be nearly so good at expressing themselves as Sarah is. That could seem like a negative if Lewis and Jag Star weren't so good at what they do.
There's nothing raw and gritty here. Jag Star's new CD, "Static Bliss," shimmers with the best radio-pop sheen. But, while there are plenty of concessions to modern electronics, the band is a step above by using real instruments instead of the standard loops and Auto-Tune. Lewis' layered vocals are sweet and crisp. Guitarist J Lewis (Sarah's husband), bassist Drew Gilch, drummer Brad Williams and producer Travis Wyrick help bring the songs alive. Despite a pretty song to the Lewis' daugther ("Sofie"), Sarah writes the sort of songs that probably speak loudest to teenage girls. However, the band's hooks and delivery are so strong that it's hard not to get caught up no matter how old you are.
Radio pop could be vastly improved by taking a few pointers from this longtime Knoxville band.
"Within," Steve Brown (www.stevebrownwithin.com)
Who knew what to expect when Knoxville drummer Steve Brown released his first album? Brown is a longtime member of the blues-based Hector Qirko Band, the klezmer act Dor L'Dor, former member of eclectic rock acts RB and the Irregulars and the Semiconductors, as well as a number of other acts in the area. Who knew the guy was also a fine composer and bandleader?
Listening to "Within" it's hard to believe that Brown kept his original music locked up so long. Supported by some of the city's best jazz musicians, as well as some of his cohorts from the blues and klezmer bands, Brown delivers some terrific numbers. The centerpiece is the disc's 10-minute-plus title cut, a dramatic opus that opens with an ominous guitar solo from Qirko and continues with some delightfully on-the-edge interplay between saxophonists Dirk Weddington and Joe Thompson and Qirko. "Wanna Waltz" features musicians performing melodies in waltz meter while the rhythm musicians perform in 4/4. It's both pretty and slightly disorienting. "Suite Rose" augments a sweet piano tune with both classical and jazz elements, while "Threnody" sounds almost purely classical. And, the lovely album opener "Laurel" features a somewhat Latin beat underneath a happy melody and saxophones and guitar.
Brown himself underpins the disc with drum and percussion work, but this disc is solid proof Brown should step out of the background on a regular basis.
Wayne Bledsoe may be reached at 865-342-6444 or email@example.com. He is also the host of "All Over the Road" midnight Saturdays to 4 a.m. Sundays on WDVX-FM.
© 2010, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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