Charles Webster Born on the 24th of July

San Francisco's Charles Webster has done outtakes under several pseudonyms and monikers but this is his first effort as Webster himself, stripped naked of the role-play musical shifts. Citing songwriters such as Marvin Gaye, Natalie Merchant and Rickie Lee Jones, Webster wanted to turn his attention to the old adage of songwriting: create a simple chord progression and build a song around it. It may not entirely be a rock'n'roll rulebook mantra but Webster chooses to identify the absence of the method in electronica, hence his attempt to marry the two genres, which are often divided by a wide gulf. This album is a largely down-tempo, low-key effort that occasionally suffers the plight of sounding so seamless that it all appears to blend into one big down-tempo sound. The collaborative appearances of such names as Sara Jay (Massive Attack), Steve Edwards (Basement Jaxx) and Kevin Brown (Beautiful South) create expectations, and on some of these tracks, the goods are delivered. The opening song, "Sweet Butterfly," is a mournful, beautiful number with melodic vocals fronting it, making it a real pop gem. The Massive Attack influence is definitely felt in "The Gift of Freedom," where languid, sad vocal drifts through, carried by the tide of a three-chord bass line that sticks in the head long after the song is through. But finally, the album fails to take hold. And what's the use of good pop songs without a hook that holds fast? (Strata)