Morcheeba has always resisted the trip-hop label applied to it ever since the British trio was the buzz band of 1996. But the microchip hip-hop sounds of programmer Paul Godfrey's loops and samples have always been integral to the band's sound, and Ross Godfrey's quirky guitar and keyboard figures and Skye Edwards's untethered, ethereal soprano have always given those grooves trippy embellishments. These same elements can be discerned on the trio's fourth album, "Charango," which boasts more lean beats, more exotic borrowings, two guest rappers (Slick Rick and the Outsidaz' Pace Won) and two songs featuring Nashville alt-country figure Kurt Wagner.
But Morcheeba separates itself from the trip-hop pack with its skillful use of pop melody and moody harmonies. "Sao Paulo," the tale of a romantic vacation gone terribly wrong, uses ersatz Brazilian motifs and a catchy, chant-along chorus to frame a melancholy melody sung quite beguilingly by Edwards. More romantic frustration finds a tuneful echo in the hypnotic "Get Along." Morcheeba never quite matches the indelible hooks of such heroes as Al Green and Neil Young, however, and their lyrics are often underwhelming. That latter problem is addressed when Lambchop's Wagner writes lyrics for two songs, including "Undress Me Now," an irresistible seduction number.
Rosey's "Dirty Child" also offers trip-hop redeemed by a pop sensibility. Rosey (nee Nancy Joy Kaye) has a nasal, half-strangled voice that reminds one of Macy Gray and Rickie Lee Jones; and her debut disc was produced by Gray collaborator Darryl Swann. Rosey's generic lyrics about relationships that are "Desperate" or "Cozy" can't compare to those of Gray or Jones, but the newcomer has created some fresh, compelling beats and some seductive chorus melodies. "Love" is the best-known track, thanks to its place on the "Bridget Jones's Diary" soundtrack, but a fistful of other cuts boast the same appeal. And Rosey delivers them all in a soprano that's as hard to get used to as it is hard to ignore.
-- Geoffrey Himes
Appearing Tuesday at the 9:30 club. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Morcheeba, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8105; for a Sound Bite from Rosey, press 8106. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)