With the exception of "My Band," Eminem's presence on the album isn't commanding; it's more behind-the-scenes. The members of D12 credit Eminem's ability to mine and push for emotional, lyrical depth as what helped them grow as artists. Did that translate to solid music? Frequently. The slow ballad "Good Die Young" goes beyond hardcore rap's sex-and-violence theme and acknowledges the complexity of street violence with an "it-is-what-it-is" attitude that still begs a cease-fire. "How Come" is a dark glimpse into how jealousy can wreck friendships. These songs embark on new ground for D12, but they don't match Eminem's solo work, nor do the other members of D12 match Eminem's skills. They're solid, but they're journeymen, and listeners to D12 World may find themselves waiting for Eminem's contributions for the proceedings to catch fire. -- Reuben Brody
The Stanley Brothers
An Evening Long Ago: Live 1956
In the liner notes for An Evening Long Ago, engineer/producer Larry Ehrlich describes how on a spring evening in 1956, "after a long day of radio shows, barn dances, hog auctions and the like," he invited the Stanley Brothers and their band back to a studio, set up one microphone, and asked them to play some of their personal favorites. The result is an intimate disc that captures one of the most raw and powerful acts in old-time mountain music.
At the time, the Stanley Brothers were a hit with country music fans. Their close harmony singing captured listeners and has become one of the signature sounds of old-time music to this day. For anyone who is a recent convert to this music, this disc is required listening.
Much of the material is mountain music at its most austere. "The Story of the Lawson Family" is an original number about a man who killed his wife and family and then himself in a nearby town when the brothers were growing up. Also included are instrumentals that showcase Ralph's banjo style, a mix of Scruggs-style picking and old-time frailing, as well as the humor and lightheartedness that the brothers brought to their music and performances.
The Stanley Brothers performed until Carter Stanley's death in 1966, though Ralph carries on with Clinch Mountain Boys. Almost 40 years later, he is bluegrass music's elder statesman, one of the few living links between the future of the music and its beginnings. In fact, every time Ralph sings, you can hear many evenings long ago in his high, lonesome voice. -- Jeff Burke
Rap-rock has had its ups and downs. Unfortunately, most rap-rockers rehashed grunge with cheesy poseur lyrics spat on top. But ignore that for a second, close your eyes, take a journey back to 1996 and find Beck's Odelay. That album was a mish-mash of genres, yet songs like "Where It's At" and "High Five" gave light to plenty of unexplored rock-influenced hip-hop territory. The songs worked, and Bumblebeez 81's do, too. Beez front man Chris Colonna raps in a lazy drawl similar to Beck's, and surely Mellow Gold inspired the folkier moments on The Printz. But the Beez's sloppy punk-hop aesthetic has more focus than Beck's genre-bending ever did.
This album succeeds where other rap-rockers fail by paying more attention to the hip-hop elements than the rock. Instead of rap's over-live music, the Beez's songs are patchworks of samples, looped guitar lines, sound bytes and rock drumbeats thrown together with seemingly reckless abandon. The intro track starts with a standard choir sample, a la Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise" and so many others, but the Beez follow it with a fuzzed-out, looped punk bass line. The next track is a twangy folk loop featuring Chris's sister, Vila Colonna. The punk and folk sound collages continue, but the album grows progressively hip-hop as it goes on. Indeed, some of the best moments come with Vila's pure hip-hop: Dizzee Rascal meets Miss Pussycat raps. This album is experimental and catchy, and if it's the future of rap-rock, I'm there with bells on. -- Rob Bryant