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John HiattJohn Hiatt, The Tiki Bar Is Open (Vanguard 2001) - John Hiatt, a veteran with a career extending back 25 years, returns with the energetic The Tiki Bar Is Open. The new album is plugged-in Hiatt, with plenty of electric guitars, wailing harmonicas, and found sounds.

Hiatt (who started recording in 1974) falls in a class with Bruce Cockburn and Richard Thompson, with a country bent and sometimes intimate sound. His songs have proven successful for other artists, including Don Henley, Jewel, Willie Nelson, and Kelly Willis. In addition, Eric Clapton and B.B. King scored a big hit last year with their cover of "Ridin' With The King."

John HiattYet Hiatt's best work has always come when he rocks out, and The Tiki Bar Is Open hits on all points. The new album was recorded in Nashville at Woodland Studio, and features Hiatt on keyboards, mandolin, and electric, acoustic, and twelve-string guitars, Kenneth Blevins on drums, Dave Ranson on bass, Sonny Landreth on guitar and backing vocals, and producer Jay Joyce on guitar, keyboards, and loops. Also appearing is session hand Julie Miller, who provides backing vocals on two songs.

John HiattThe Tiki Bar Is Open finds Hiatt reunited with the band that made the acclaimed, Slow Turning. Says Hiatt, "We toured for about a year, and we made Slow Turning together. Then we kind of drifted apart for no particular reason . . . It took us about eleven years to get back together, mainly just to have some fun and play some shows. Then we wound up making this record."

While Hiatt has a rustic side, the new album shows him at full creative strength. The concluding "Farther Stars" finds him experimenting in the studio on an eight-minute, Froom & Blake-inspired opus, while the opening, "Everybody Went Low," is a full-tilt rocker. And Hiatt's more countrified sound is reflected on the ballad, "Come Back to You," as well as the steel guitar and dobro sound that marks "Rock of Your Love."

John HiattHiatt's fans are heaping praise on the new album, calling it his best effort in years. Hiatt packs a one-two punch in the middle of the album, with the ballad, "I'll Never Get Over You," leading into the comfortable-as-an-old-shoe jam of "The Tiki Bar Is Open."

Explains Hiatt, "When I was a kid, when you uttered the words 'Daytona Beach,' it was all about the hot-rod culture, the beach, the tiki vibe . . . There's a kind of Americana there that hasn't been homogenized all to hell."

John Hiatt and B.B. KingContinues Hiatt, "So I was coming back to my hotel on the beach one night, after a race. I just drove by one of those hundreds of mom-and-pop motels, and there was this pitiful little one with a sign that said, 'Tiki Bar Is Open.' And I thought, 'Well, thank God!' I don't drink, but I'm sure that is a sign for many sore eyes. And for me, the Tiki Bar being open means that Daytona Beach is still there."

John HiattHiatt also shares a musical kinship with the band, which comes through on the organic feel of the album. While The Tiki Bar Is Open has studio polish, the band retains a rough edge, also reflected in Hiatt's sandpapery voice.

Hiatt continues to wrestle with his old demons, most of which are under control. Says Hiatt, "I thought about my own past, which was rife with drugs and whacked-out sexual escapades, it all brought that back to me, right there in Amsterdam . . . We're all pretty nasty pieces of work, but we're all capable of being redeemed."

Hiatt followers will be amply rewarded by The Tiki Bar Is Open.

ModjoModjo, Modjo (MCA Records 2001) - Modjo is a French dance combo with a big hit single in "Lady (Hear Me Tonight)." The first French band ever to go Number One on the UK charts, Modjo has plenty of beats and grooves to go around.

Modjo consists of 25-year-old Romain Tranchart and 23-year-old Yann Dextagnol. The pair while studying in Paris at the American School of Modern Music. Their friendship springs from their diverse musical backgrounds and from the fact that both had moved around a lot when they were children. Romain's father was a diplomat, and his travels took the family to such locations as Mexico, Algeria, and Brazil.

ModjoRecalls Romain, "Brazil was my favorite. I liked the lazy side of people. I like the fact that they're economically and socially in deep shit but they're still dancing in the streets, making music and having fun."

The duo also have a connection to the French combo of Daft Punk, as Romain originally cut sides with Paul DeHomem Christo, younger brother to Guy-Manuel from Daft Punk. Yet that pair broke apart, because both wanted to handle samples.

Enter Yann, who had never seen a sampler before. The pair got together, mixing Romain's beats and grooves with Yann's mini-symphonies and closely-felt lyrics. Says Romain, "This time there was no tension, because Yann was interested in computing."

ModjoThe hit single, "Lady," works off a Chic loop and has sold more than 1.5 million copies on the Continent. The Chic song is "Soup for One." Explains Dextagnol, "We didn't expect anything with 'Lady.' But when we finished it, we realized it had commercial potential."

You'll hear traces of Freddie Mercury's vocal stylings on "Peace of Mind" and a steady astral trance on "Acknowledgment." The album also concludes with an acoustic version of "Lady."

Don't be fooled by the pastoral cover. Modjo has plenty of British dance beats to go around.

Sister CarolSister Carol, Live - Direct Hit! (Catapult Records 2001) - Get ready for the positive Rastafarian sound of Sister Carol. Originally from Kingston, Jamaica, and a resident of New York City for nearly 30 years, Sister Carol is rooted in the classic Reggae style.

A mother of four with a teaching degree in education from City College of New York, Sister Carol (Lane) isn't into slummin' and slammin'.

Sister CarolSays the veteran singer, "Reggae artists with positive consciousness have been around for a long time, singing their hearts out for years and talking up a storm, and nobody bigged them up, nobody wants to promote them. Even with the so-called change in the music, was not enough to make it effective, as compared to when they were promoting Reggae with guns-and-girls lyrics in the 80's."

Sister Carol's recording career stretches back more than 20 years, and has eschewed a flashier lifestyle and sexual aggressiveness. Sister Carol has remained dedicated to the Twelve Tribes community and the Rasta ethic, with a focus on writing and rhyming.

Sister CarolIn addition to her vocal skills, Sister Carol has appeared in two films directed by Jonathan Demme, including a role as the cool hairdresser who gives Michele Pfeiffer a job in Married To The Mob.

Sister Carol (sometimes referred to as the "Black Cinderella" or "Mother Culture") is backed by a first-rate band known as the I-Life Players, with Noell Alphonso on drums, Val Douglas on bass, Junior Jazz on guitars, Horace James on keyboards, and Anicia Banks on backing vocals. The I-Life Players are a top-drawer group, with swinging horns and steady beats throughout.

From tracks like "Promises" to "Call Mi Sister Carol" to "Natty Live Up," Sister Carol and the I-Life Players show that they are masters of old-school Reggae. Also listen for "70 Sup'm Pieces of Bob," a collage of 70 Bob Marley songs.

Sister CarolLive -- Direct Hit! was recorded on the road in such unlikely environs as North Carolina. Says Sister Carol, "Although only a four-week tour, everyone involved came together to form a band that made it feel much larger in a family-oriented way.

"We are sincerely thankful to the Most High Jah Rastafaria, the musicians, the backing vocals, management, the engineer, the bus driver, and our production assistant for making it all possible . . . Blessed love always, Sister Carol."

Enjoy the positive vibration of Direct Hit!

- Randy Krbechek © 2002

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