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by Carey Murphy and Ted S. McGregor Jr. & r & Black Rebel Motorcycle Club Howl ** & r & Attempting an Americana shift, BRMC channels Jim Croce, Hank, Woody, Uncle Tupelo and even Radiohead (?!). Yet Howl manages to possess little of their force because channeling, unfortunately, is posturing. It's surface without depth. There's no way to reconcile Robert Levon Been's lyrical positions here: He's "put the harm inside himself" ("The Line"), tags himself "a complicated situation" ("Complicated Situation"), but then bemoans the inevitable consequence of his solipsistic self-pity: "I don't want to be sad" ("Howl"). But of course he does -- that's the whole act. And it's the chief complaint. BRMC raids the musical and lyrical topography of country and folk, but it doesn't make me believe I'm hearing it.

This remarkably accessible work could have been much more so. The acoustic guitars and harmonicas work wonders to refresh the reputation of a band tarnished by its sophomore album. Somehow, pretension replaced artistry with questionable results. Stripped down? Pure? Yes, when the music speaks for itself. But check the & uuml;ber-dark seriousness of the liner notes. Misunderstood musicians? Whatever. But I'll keep listening. -- Carey Murphy

Eric Clapton Back Home *** & r & This might be the cleanest-sounding record you'll hear (it's produced in "Advanced Resolution Stereo"), but there's just not enough of what you've come to expect from Eric Clapton. Perhaps it's because he wrote most of these songs. Clapton is one of the best to ever pick up a six-string, but he's never been much of a songwriter. Not surprisingly, the best tracks on Back Home are by Stevie Wonder ("I'm Going Left"), George Harrison ("Love Comes to Everyone") and even Vince Gill ("One Day").

Clapton's life has gone from wild to dangerously wild to bucolic, with a wife and kids (as he sings about on "Back Home"). That's great for him, but it might not be for his music -- clearly, he does not have the blues. "Revolution" tries to be a call to action, but its lazy reggae backbeat gives it about as much urgency as a FEMA official after a hurricane. Back Home gets you some new Clapton guitar licks (and four guitar picks with the DualDisc version), but nothing to add to the classic Clapton repertoire. -- Ted S. McGregor Jr.
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