by Alan Sculley

Everyone's favorite madman, Ozzy Osbourne, is well aware that six years is a hell of long time to go between studio albums. But listening to him describe his outlook on recording these days, fans should be happy that his latest album of new material, Down To Earth (released last fall), arrived as soon as it did -- or at all, for that matter. As Osbourne tells it, his previous trip to the studio (to record 1995's Ozzmosis) was almost enough to drive him away from the studio for good.

"I had such a bad time on Ozzmosis," the self-described prince of darkness admits. "I didn't enjoy it at all. And I got to the point where I thought to myself, 'You know what, f-- this. If it means that I'm going to go crazy making a record, so be it. I'm done.' "

Osbourne has never been shy voicing his feelings about working with Ozzmosis producer Michael Beinhorn.

"He made me earn my f--ing money," Osbourne says of Beinhorn, noting that despite the experience, he counts the producer as a friend. "He's a grueling worker. He'll drive you crazy. I told Sharon [Osbourne's wife, who personally manages every aspect of his career], I don't understand. If this guy's so shit hot, how come every time anybody does an album with him, they never want to do it again? She told me that it's just the way he works and that he talks to you in ways you don't want to be spoken to. I had to forget my ego if I was going to work with him. He didn't give a f-- who I was."

For Down To Earth, Osbourne found a far more compatible producer in Tim Palmer.

"Tim Palmer is like an amateur guitar player," Osbourne says. "Amateur guitar players sometimes come up with really interesting stuff because they don't technically know what they're doing. He came up with some great riffs. We had a wonderful time making the album."

Of course just about anything Osbourne puts his name on these days is guaranteed to generate buzz -- and big sales. As the unlikely star of his own phenomenally successful reality TV series, Ozzy's entertainment value stock has never been higher. Arguably the most talked-about television show of 2002, MTV's The Osbournes, featuring the 53-year-old rocker, wife Sharon and two of their three children, Jack (16) and Kelly (17), became infamous for capturing the first family of metal at home, in play, in fights -- in short, slogging through their own unique, slightly twisted profanity-laced everyday lives. (Fans are anticipating the start of season two, which will feature Sharon's ongoing battle with cancer as an integral part of the storyline.) Then, of course, there's this summer's Ozzfest tour (showcasing among many others, Osbourne, Rob Zombie, System of a Down and Drowning Pool), considered the biggest metal roadshow of the year.

But to die-hard fans, this is all just window dressing compared to the persistent news that a reunited Black Sabbath (with Osbourne back on vocals) is gearing up for a new studio album and possibly a tour.

Osbourne -- who left the group on bitter terms in 1978 and didn't formally reunite with his former bandmates until the 1997 Ozzfest -- sounds guarded about his future with Black Sabbath.

He confirms that the foursome (with guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward) spent time in the studio last year. But, he says, the magic just wasn't there.

"It was very scratchy. We just messed around for a few weeks. But the truth of the matter, in my opinion, is I'd forgotten how to work with them. Black Sabbath never wrote songs, but musical passages, and I would just put vocal lines to them. That seemed to work. But I think 20 years on, we were trying hard to be Black Sabbath again, whereas before, we were just four guys called Black Sabbath playing music, if that makes any sense.

"There might be another go at it," he adds. "But at the same time, we all agreed we would not put an album out if it was not up to the stuff we were doing when we left off. I mean, what's the f--ing point?"

Pieces of Jewel

How does one go about defining Jewel, her music and her place in the popular music pantheon of currently successful singer/songwriter/performers? As a neo-folkie with a clear, expressive voice, a social conscience and a willingness to express those views in song? Or as a glossy and neatly packaged pop diva whose message, no matter how sincere, gets ignored or lost in the sparkle of industry-manufactured superstardom?

Even Jewel (who performs a solo acoustic show at the Opera House next Thursday night) might have trouble with that one. I was hoping to spring that very question on her this week within the context of an interview. But alas, the short phone conversation I was hotly persuing with the artist for this preview story never materialized, leaving me to speculate and otherwise contemplate in this vacuum the obvious and more obscure charms of one of contemporary music's most popular (and baffling) female stars.

Few performers at Jewel's level of success have had such an uneasy relationship with fame as this Homer, Alaska native. Jewel Kilcher began her musical career in 1980 at the age of six, performing next to her singer/songwriter parents in neighboring Eskimo villages and at Alaskan tourist attractions. After her parents divorced, she continued for the next seven years to tour with her father. Jewel went on to attend Michigan's Interlochen Fine Arts Academy, and, upon graduation, moved to San Diego to be with her mother.

Following a series of disappointing day jobs, she decided to concentrate on her dream of a music career full time, living in her van to save money. She was discovered performing in a local coffeehouse and signed to Atlantic in 1995. Her first album, Pieces of You was a slow mover at first, but eventually caught fire on the tremendous success of singles "Who Will Save Your Soul," "You Were Meant for Me" and "Foolish Games."

But amid the expanding supernova of her own success, Jewel the grounded singer/songwriter began to get lost in the glare as she listened perhaps more to her managers, producers and the media than to her own instincts. In comparison to the fresh and naive Pieces of You, her follow up, 1998's Spirit, came across as sanctimonious, leaden with grandiose sentiments in an apparent attempt to make a "serious" album.

The touring cycle for Spirit left Jewel, in her own words, "a worn-out little chick singer." After two years away from what she refers to as "the machine" of recording industry demands and "the gilded cage" of pop success, the performer re-emerged in 2001 with the new all-original collection, This Way. Her latest effort is a return to the fragile, raw and immediate feel of her debut coupled with newfound songwriting maturity. On it, she puts a contemporary spin on pop, folk, blues, country and rock 'n' roll textures, but manages to pull it off without sounding contrived or forced. Love it or hate it, This Way is the sound of Jewel being true to herself, comfortable in her own skin and playing the industry game from her own rulebook.

The question then becomes, is that game worth playing? I guess that'll be the one I'll try to ask her next time.

-- Mike Corrigan

We Have a Winner

Well, it's all over but the shouting. And the rocking. The Inlander and Rock 94.5 are proud to announce that the official winner of the Musicfest NW Battle of the Bands competition is none other than local rock band, Fly Real.

In case you missed the boat, here's what went down: The Inlander, Rock 94.5 along with our pals at Willamette Week in Portland recently teamed up to send one Spokane-area band to Musicfest NW, Portland's big summer music festival/conference/industry tradeshow this Sept. 12-14. A handful of local bands were selected to perform in sort of an "on air" Battle of the Bands during the week of Aug. 5-9 on Rock 94.5's Local 945 program. People listened and then voted for their favorite using a ballot found in this paper.

Yes, the people have spoken -- and they dig Fly Real's edgy, melodic sound. The band (guitarist Morgan Bishop, bassist Jason Agular, drummer Bobby Hattenburg and singer San/W) will now have a chance to strut their stuff and test out their licks on an audience at the Roseland Grill in downtown Portland during the festival (we don't know exactly when just yet).

They'll also get to attend to the industry trade show, mingle with some of the movers in the biz and be provided with comfy (I assume) accommodations for the duration of their stay.

Congratulations, Fly Real. And to all of the bands that participated and to all of the fans that took the time to listen and vote -- thanks!

-- Mike Corrigan

Christmas Tree Elegance Holiday Luncheons @ Historic Davenport Hotel

Tue., Dec. 6, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and Wed., Dec. 7, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
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