When Morcheeba released its debut, Who Can You Trust? (China/Sire), in 1996, many critics immediately wrote off the British trio as another pale imitation of Portishead. The relationship between Skye Edwards's honeyed vocals and Paul Godfrey's swirling hip-hop beats and samples did bear comparison to the groundbreaking work of Beth Gibbons and Geoff Barrow, and though nobody in the band likes it, Morcheeba admits that the "trip-hop" designation helped cinch a record deal and world tour. But one of the defining characteristics of Who Can You Trust? was that Paul's brother Ross, a musical genius of sorts, actually played the wide variety of instruments Paul sampled--an MO Barrow reportedly struggled with on the most recent Portishead album. (Hey, now who's derivative?) Morcheeba's new Big Calm finds the group moving away from the pack again, with a bounce in its step that the relatively bleak new Portishead sorely lacks. It opens with "The Sea," a sensuous mix of violin and wahwah guitar; an even more seductive sitar shows up unexpectedly on the chorus of the next tune, "Shoulder Holster." The remaining ten tracks are an intoxicating mix of reggae, scratching (by Beck's pal DJ Swamp), garage funk, folk, and raga. Ross's flute, lap-steel guitar, and fiddle at different times evoke Ry Cooder, Ravi Shankar, Bread, and the theme from Starsky and Hutch. Are they deep? Perhaps. Do they belong on VH-1? Definitely. And I mean that in the best way possible. Friday, 11:30 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark; 773-549-0203. CARA JEPSEN
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Deverill Weekes.