Consumer Guide

I'm getting too tolerant in my old age. It's Turkey Shoot time,I'm in there shit-mining as usual, and can I find a meaningful ska album tohate? They all seem utilitarian enough to me. Likewise with the Spice Girls, andthe snazzy wallpaper that is drum 'n' bass. And most''alternative'' is either halfway decent or of no earthlyinterest. It's an ominous sign when bad normal pop is our major outrage.

ANOKHA: Soundz of the Asian Underground (Quango) With zip to do withbhangra, and no commitment to drum 'n' bass, here's a traveloguedesigned to remind us that tabla players (presenter Talvin Singh, for instance!)have been hand-producing something like breakbeats for years. Not exactly likebreakbeats, though. Anyway, who buys records solely for breakbeats? (Wait, Idon't want to know.) C PLUS

RICHARD BUCKNER: Devotion and Doubt (MCA) ''So afterall those months we're splitting up, and it had to happen, but I'mfeeling like shit. We pack the U-Haul, and of course everything in the kitchen ishers except these big jars of oregano and garlic powder I bought in a dollarstore to spice up my pizza. It's so late she stays over, and I watch hersleep, you know? God. But she wakes up pretty early and we kiss goodbye and shegets in the car and then what do you think happens? The U-Haul breaks free andthere's dishes all over the road. It seemed awful at the time, the mess andthe delay had me stressing, but I gotta laugh about it now. And you know thefunniest part? Without her noticing I kept some of those dishes--you'reeating your pizza off one right now. More oregano?'' Well, that's howI'd replot the best song here--in Buckner's version it's ditches allover the road, and he still thinks the whole thing was awful. And of course, hehas just the sensitive baritone to make awful seem awful romantic to sad sacksand the women who love them. B MINUS

PAULA COLE: This Fire (Imago/Warner Bros.) Before anyone knewshe'd go platinum, netcrit Glenn McDonald presciently declared Cole the newqueenpin of a female tradition he traced from Kate Bush through Peter Gabriel,Melissa Etheridge, and Sarah McLachlan. Although McDonald sanely declared thisgenre the obverse of male-identified metal, a skeptic with no tolerance forsubpeaks in either would like to note that each is beholden to''classical'' precepts of musical dexterity andgenitalia-to-the-wall expression. Where Kate Bush overwhelms petty biases asinexorably as Led Zep, Cole is just a romantic egotist who can't resistturning ordinary human problems into three-act dramas. Kate Bush fans will loveher. C PLUS

DAYS OF THE NEW (Outpost) As marketing, pure genius. Looks likealt-country, no electric guitars even, yet is actually America's answer toSilverchair. And hey, it's sincere--17-year-old heartland frontman TravisMeeks really is depressed, really has immersed in Soundgarden, really does thinkit's deep to hook your single to the all-purpose trope''abuse.'' This is why grown-ups need Hanson. It's also whythey need Radish. C

BRIAN ENO: The Drop (Thirsty Ear) Ever the bullshitter, the St.Petersburg (Russia) muso cites as influences Me'Shell NdegeOcello, Fela, andthe Mahavishnu Orchestra, and as an admirer of all three I only wish I could hearthe way musos hear. To me it sounds like he got stuck between Music for Airportsand Wrong Way Up and spun his hard drive for 74 minutes. He hears melodies whosevagueness he extols, I hear vaguenesses whose attenuation I rue. He hears basslines, I hear tinkle. He hears ''sourness,'' I hear more tinkle.C

NAS ESCOBAR, FOXY BROWN, AZ AND NATURE: The Firm--The Album(Interscope) After honoring Bernard Herrmann with some keyb-simulated RZA, Drerecedes (none too soon) and the music spares out--Wasis Diop kora sample today,mbira tomorrow. Foxy's pussycentrism gives the finger to the funniest maleorgasm on record. And black Mafia fantasies threaten white male corporateoppression. (Just kidding.) B MINUS

JOHN FAHEY: City of Refuge (Tim/Kerr) ''My category isalternative, period,'' avers the last intelligent person to make such aclaim in this millennium. He doesn't want to be folk or New Age, and who canblame him? But if he were, some rich dunderhead might insist that he treat bluesand pop rarities to his dolorously deliberate touch, like on those old Reprisealbums Byron Coley sneers at. Instead he's encouraged to stagger toward anobscure destination mere mortals would noodle around, dumbfounding bystanderswith the scraps of sound that flake off his beard as he goes. Once in a whiletunes poke through the refuse, notably that of ''Chelsey Silver, PleaseCall Home.'' These occasion proud huzzahs from young fools who can onlyforgive themselves such emoluments after a good cleansing scourge of spare soloindirection. Their self-disgust is our loss and Fahey's ticket to wankdom.Even the meandering Cul de Sac get more out of him. C PLUS

HERITAGE (Six Degrees/Island) I don't know why DarolAnger's name was left off his pet project, but the effect is to conceptualizeit. As a result, these ''new interpretations of American rootsmusic'' seem of a piece with the rest of 1997's folk revival revival,in which the Smithsonian's Harry Smith reissue and Rounder's Alan Lomaxexhumation joined the alt-country bubble and the revitalization of Bob Dylan in asingle antifuturist countercurrent. But just as there's Americana and thenAmericana, there's futurism and then futurism--why do you think they call itNew Age? And this, by Jiminy, is New Age Americana: fiddler Anger is a WindhamHill stalwart long active on the folk-jazz cusp, which has been the worst of bothworlds since Marin County learned to swing. Guest vocalist Jane Siberry opens'er up and brings 'er home, and in between Willie Nelson and Mary-ChapinCarpenter, who outdid themselves on Dylan's Jimmie Rodgers tribute, sink intothe intelligent sentimentality that is the bane of each. Ditto for long-windedvirtuosos David Lindley, David Grisman, and John Hartford, all of whom can besharp when somebody jabs them a little. The smug soundtrack to a PBS specialabout tribulation and survival on the lost frontier. C MINUS

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