Groove Armada; Lexicon; Halfway to Gone; The Derailers

Groove Armada
Goodbye Country, Hello Nightclub
(Jive Electro)

Downbeat house music is in Groove Armada's bones. The British duo vaulted into the commercial mainstream two years ago, thanks to the success of second album Vertigo. GA quickly became one of the most popular electronic acts in the world, snaring such high-profile gigs as a remix of Madonna's "Music" and a party hosted by Elton John. So how do you top an album that got universal love? By making an album that combines many of the same ingredients as Vertigo, it seems. Goodbye Country, Hello Nightclub is a mixture of deep funk, sensual soul, and R&B drenched with strings, harmonies, and several guest vocal appearances from an eclectic list of guests (Jeru the Damaja, Nile Rodgers, folk singer Richie Havens) presented in a palatable, easy-to-swallow format. If you liked GA's earlier material, you're going to dig this release, essentially a mellower sequel to Vertigo. Opening with some so-so hip-hop-laden grooves, the album eventually settles into a more languid theme with the glimmering "Drifted" -- sounding remarkably similar to Vertigo's "Inside My Mind (Blue Skies)." Havens' rough-hewn vocal track on "Little by Little" is a bit jarring on so silky-smooth an album, but it still manages to work. Much of the material on Goodbye Country proves to be a head-nodding, spliff-friendly delight, even if many of the tracks may seem overly familiar upon initial listens. Likable and unpretentious, Groove Armada will simply lay out the funky grooves and let the listener dig in.
--Tim Pratt

It's the L!
(Spy Tech Records)

Lexicon has been doing its thing for a few years now, building up a strong reputation through high-quality singles, compilation appearances, and a nine-song EP. On this, their first full-length, Southern California brothers Nick Fury and Big Oak deliver the goods over high-octane beats provided for the most part by DJ Cheapshot (known for his work with Styles of Beyond).

The album's title track is outstanding, with punchy drums, a super-catchy guitar loop, and some crazy Al Jarreau-style shoobie-doobie-doo scat action. It serves as an introduction lyrically, with both MCs contributing lively flows about who they are and why they're dope. "Charismatic Rapper" has some "back in the day" vibe, reminiscing about classic albums and simpler times: "Back a half a decade when everyone had a fade / and I taped every video that Rap City played."

"Last Night a DJ Stole My Girl" is a comical tale -- set to some jangly guitars and sharp snares -- about the duo's hapless attempts to run game on the ladies. "Makin' Music," produced by Vin Scully, big-ups their sonic skills while lamenting empty pockets: "In my '99 Saturn / switchin' four lanes / hollerin' out the window / can I borrow some change?" Other highlights include "Years and Years," which sports a nice Gabor Szabo sample and swift rhymes from Takbir (SOB), and the previously released "Nikehead," a stirring dedication to Air Force Ones.

Packed with energetic tag-team flows, witty lyricism, and instantly likable production, It's the L!! is a fresh debut and an excellent introduction to the group. Somewhat comparable to crews like Dilated Peoples or People Under the Stairs, Lexicon serve up that good ol' boom-bap, straight-ahead hip-hop guaranteed to move the crowd.
--Brolin Winning

Halfway to Gone
High Five
(Lucky Dog)

Just like the plant that inspires it, stoner rock (aka "desert rock") comes in many varieties. It gets delivered raw (High on Fire), laced with amphetamines (Fu Manchu), loaded with 'ludes and Led Zeppelin (Nebula), smoked out of mainstream alt rock (Queens of the Stone Age), and swung through the Southern rock strip (Drunk Horse). Halfway to Gone is the Southern/Skynyrd strain of this rock/metal hybrid. Its debut album, High Five, is littered with twangy, jangly classic-rock rhythms that get crushed under so much distortion that this disc hotboxes desert rock to high heaven. Bassist Lou Gorra (formerly of Solarized) sings about getting high and taking train rides through hell. While Halfway's racing guitar solos, disemboweling basslines, and pummeling drum sets awaken Sabbath demons, the band is clever enough to know that sludgy rock is only gonna get it so far. High Five is definitely one for the close-your-eyes-and-nod-to-oblivion crowd, but it's the jangling Rolling Stones-ish intros on songs like "Being It," the acid-blues respites on tracks like "The Big W," and the odd bagpipe lead-in on "Kind Words for the Southern Gentlemen" (minus the wanker speech about keeping rock 'n' roll alive in that track) that make this New Jersey trio stand out from the usual lineup of weed-smoking, stringy-haired heschers. Without these little genre-mining forays, High Five might sink into the sluggish swamp of stoner monotony, but as it is, the disc is a groove-hearty blend of fucking heavy rock 'n' roll.
--Jennifer Maerz

The Derailers
Here Come the Derailers
(Lucky Dog)

The Derailers' fourth album, their first for Sony-backed Lucky Dog, pairs the Austin band with veteran producer Kyle Lehning (Randy Travis, Waylon Jennings) for an ever-broadening exploration of styles. Their trademark Bakersfield harmonies and electric twang still anchor several tracks, but increasingly they draw from other corners of pop, including Countrypolitan, British Invasion, and '60s surf and soul instrumentals. Their stylistic range achieves an organic blend that didn't fully gel on 1999's Full Western Dress. The instrumental "Country A Go-Go" slides effortlessly between the Buckaroos, Ventures, and MGs. Brian Hoefeldt's "I See My Baby" channels Roy Orbison through the Erie, PA pop of the Wonders, and the stellar cover of Charlie Rich's "Mohair Sam" finds a slinky groove on which they lay a soulful, rockabilly-edged vocal. Tony Villanueva adds several gems to his catalogue, fighting with ("My Angel's Gettin' Tired") and crawling into the bottle ("Bar Exam"). Songwriting veteran Jim Lauderdale chips in several fine tunes, including a mythic tale of touring Texas, "All the Rage in Paris." The band's new directions have a more subtle appeal than the Bakersfield-inspired work, but their adeptness at infusing (rather than simply aping) their influences shows off a tremendous musical depth and bodes well for the Derailers' continued growth and longevity.
--Eli Messinger


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