February 2008

Reviewed by Julian Wilson

Skip-Dawg/The Illest Emcee

Not to make light of the situation, but there was a point in his life where Skip-Dawg was, indeed, the illest emcee, having to undergo a lung operation. Such a serious life-threatening event can make you look at the world, and your place in it, with a different pair of eyes and ears. Sure enough, nearly every cut on The Illest Emcee is about a slice of human existence, whether it’s the art of making love (“Times in My Life”), violence (“Here We Go Again”), or dealing with the possibility of death itself (“Cousins Track…To Say Goodbye).” It’s all strung together with an upbeat spirit, the soul of a fighter.

However, not everything is serious. “Come Along” is a five-star party anthem, the kind of hip-hop track you blast in your car as it bounces up and down the highway. The Dawg probably needed some escapism on here, and “Come Along” provides that nicely.



Reviewed by Julian Wilson

Levi Chen/Devocean

The wordplay in the album title isn’t the only cleverness that Levi Chen is capable of. A chart staple on New Age radio programming, Chen almost doesn’t belong in the genre. While the compositions on Devocean do have the meditative, atmospheric qualities that define New Age, Chen colors beyond the boundaries, so to speak. What Devocean is actually progressive-rock masterpiece that uses New Age simply as frosting. Much of that has to do with Chen’s impeccable guitar playing which suggests an older Jimi Hendrix discovering Zen. Chen doesn’t indulge in axeman heroics; his guitars create layers of sound and imagery that will awaken all of your senses.

If all this sounds a tad intellectual, it can be appreciated for its surface beauty, too. The lovely “Memory (DNA)” has a sweeping, theatrical rush that’ll leave you breathless. “Sound and Recent Sorrow” delves into light funk with some of Chen’s most fiery guitar playing. On “Brios” and “New Edge,” Chen has taken off into another dimension, taking us on a dreamy flight of transcendent awe. Chen uses several musical genres at his disposal – New Age, progressive rock, Latin music, jazz, blues, rock – and fuses them together without a moment’s hesitation. It’s an exhilarating, spellbinding work of pure genius.