Campbell: Tuned In: 'American Idol:Season 9,' Georg Levin, Balkan Beat Box

Photo with no caption

‘American Idol’ collection reveals mostly also-rans

“AMERICAN IDOL: SEASON 9,” various acts (RCA)

Those who think this season of “American Idol” has been a bust aren’t given much argument to the contrary from “American Idol: Season 9.”

The collection features solo songs by each of the final 10, who will all be going on tour together this summer. The release allows them to stamp their style on some of the more familiar hits in the pop/rock catalogue, studio-recorded versions of songs they sang live on the show.

The compilation is slick, if overdone with strings and backing vocals. It’s also unavoidably random and cheesy, like “American Idol” itself.

Lee DeWyze does his part on opening cut “Treat Her Like a Lady,” a rocking cover of the Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose hit that DeWyze makes his own with his confident, textured vocals.

It all goes thud with the subsequent track, however, as Andrew Garcia fails to make an impression with a superfluous cover of Chris Brown’s “Forever.” Although former Knoxvillian Didi Benami stands out with her distinctive quavering intonations on the Rolling Stones’ “Play With Fire,” and Katie Stevens hefts some soul into the Beatles’ “Let It Be” before getting beaten up by the arrangement, the others all struggle.

Siobhan Magnus sounds tortured by desperation on the Stones’ “Paint It Black,” Aaron Kelly is painfully overwhelmed on Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing,” Tim Urban’s casual reggae tilt on the Stones’ “Under My Thumb” quickly wears thin, Mike Lynche is earnest and dull on India.Arie’s “Ready for Love,” and Casey James sounds like an anonymous bar performer covering John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy.”

Even Crystal Bowersox, allegedly one of the legit contenders, only delivers a perfunctory rendition of Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee.”

To be fair, it’s hard to measure up to originals. But if you want to be considered an “idol,” you can’t expect slack when you sound like karaoke.

Rating (five possible): 2-1/2

Photo with no caption

Georg Levin’s ‘Change’ isn’t a revolution

“EVERYTHING MUST CHANGE,” Georg Levin (BBE)

On some level, Georg Levin’s “Everything Must Change” is like Dr. Frankenstein deciding to become a general practitioner. The Berlin-based producer has cultivated a name for himself in the German house music scene, and “Everything Must Change” sounds like an aptly titled backlash against electronica’s synthetic overproduction.

However, the quasi-organic “Everything Must Change” isn’t a novelty: Levin has had this soul singer/songwriter persona going all along in a parallel performing universe. His new release betrays him as a child of the ‘80s: It has transparent roots in the funk- and jazz-infused pop of that decade, a little bit Prince and a little bit Jeffrey Osborne.

Too little, unfortunately. Because while “Everything Must Change” has a crisp, unobjectionable flow, it also has the distinct air of 1980s adult contemporary — trending toward formulaic and vanilla.

Yet even if Levin’s soul doesn’t run deep, it seems genuine enough to sell the warmly persuasive closer, “Late Discovery,” and the swank air of “Falling Masonry” as he sings, “I want to fall in love again.” He also pulls some nifty songwriter/producer tricks — be it the layered vocals he employs on the late-disco title track or his line, “She said she’s got a vision/Well, I heard people with visions need help” on “You’re the One.” And although this is largely a DIY project as Levin wrote, produced and performed most of the material, he wisely enlisted Clara Hill for guest vocals on “The Better Life” and “The Scent of Hay.”

Nevertheless, “Everything Must Change” often comes up short of riveting entertainment. The rhythms are too polite, the melodies too safe and the impact too soft.

Levin’s mellow vibe might be easy listening, but it’s likewise easy forgetting.

Rating: 3

Photo with no caption

Balkan Beat Box reels in its sound

“BLUE EYED BLACK BOY,” Balkan Beat Box (Nat Geo Music)

The novelty is gone and the shtick has been discarded as the Balkan Beat Box moves into a new phase with “Blue Eyed Black Boy,” a stylistic tug-of-war between two basic music forms.

Founded by New York-based Israelis Ori Kaplan and Tamir Muskat, the Balkan Beat Box once seemed impossibly diverse. Its 2005 self-titled release was kitchen-sink music at its most eclectic — gypsy punk, electronic-dance, exotic world music, klezmer ...

Now? Not so much.

On “Blue Eyed Black Boy” the band repeatedly ambles through the Jamaican dub/dancehall/reggae realm alternating with flights through horn-fueled festive fury. And the act’s narrowed focus isn’t necessarily an improvement.

To their credit, the instrumental jags on the release are infectiously manic, with turbo beats mobilizing the off-kilter, brassy notes of “Marcha De la Vida,” fluttering rhythm driving the surreal electro/Old World hybrid “Kabulectro” and evocative solo swap-outs of the instruments spicing up the effervescent “Smatron.” Even if these cuts are ultimately a bit undercooked, their in-the-moment exuberance is contagious.

Then there’s that low-key side of “Blue Eyed Black Boy” — the Caribbean-by-way-of-Mediterranean string of tracks. “Move It’s” reverberating bass and message that, “We wanna bust your radio,” punctuated by chants of “move it,” make a scintillating introduction to the vibe. But the wobbly reggae grind grows old, as do the stale, rhetorical platitudes like, “What makes one man better than another man?” (on the title track) and, “Why you wanna hold a gun and have control on everyone?” (on “Look Them Act”).

The split-personality evolution of Balkan Beat Box isn’t half bad, but the other half is debatable.

Rating: 3

Get Copyright Permissions © 2010, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
Want to use this article? Click here for options!

© 2010 Knoxville.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Comments » 0

Be the first to post a comment!

Want to participate in the conversation? Become a subscriber today. Subscribers can read and comment on any story, anytime. Non-subscribers will only be able to view comments on select stories.

Already activated? Login