Consumer Guide

Three genuine debut albums make the cut--and that's not counting solo spinoff Killah Priest, or Dock Boggs. Like Boggs when he hit the studio, Mary Lou Lord, Chris Knight, and Smash Mouth are all around 30. They've had time to figure out what they want to do in there. And dissimilar though they are, all convey compassion. Unlike Dock Boggs.

THE APPLES IN STEREO: Tone Soul Evolution (Sire) Robert Schneider's second pass at homemade Beatles conquers his embarrassment over how much he adores this stuff. Stripped of sonic camouflage, the songs are consistently pretty, fanciful, and slight, as clear as existential questions can be. Half a dozen ways he wonders whether he can lose himself forever in this music--and by so doing, find himself. You don't have to believe in harmony to grant him the right to try. A MINUS

DOCK BOGGS: Country Blues (Revenant) As careful perusal of Greil Marcus's liner essay reveals, Boggs's legend is based on just eight traditional songs. He cut them in New York in 1927, and there's no better demonstration of how good they are than the four he laid down in Chicago in 1929. In New York he's so full of beans he can scarcely contain himself. If on the one hand he's truly enacting these dark-to-grisly tales, on the other hand they can't touch him; it's Waiting for Godot, in which the intrinsic excitement of creation subsumes all incidental pessimism, plus "I Want To Hold Your Hand," in which one's imminent conquest of the world infuses the humblest ditty with an exhilaration that carries all before it. Where Marcus hears an acceptance of death, I hear intimations of immortality--bitter laughter and defiant cunning, sap rising and blood flowing, meanness and exuberance and sarcasm and deviltry, a refusal to succumb to consequences. Two years later, on leave from the mining town he now senses he'll never escape, Boggs is the image of fatalistic impassivity, as dull as the lyrics he's been handed by the wannabe label owner who underwrote his trip to the city. Soon he would give in to his wife and stop playing for 30 years. A MINUS

ANI DiFRANCO: Little Plastic Castles (Righteous Babe) Here's hoping she gets used to fame, a theme the coolest new-famous are now canny enough to sidestep or caricature. But DiFranco doesn't have much use for ordinary standards of cool, which is one reason she retains such a lock on her corner of fame, and for the nonce, she can do no wrong. Always underlying the bull-session eloquence of her words, which constitutes a hook no matter the message, is the supple, seductive, self-amused musicality that puts all her recent records across. A typical touch here is her choice of world-jazz-ambient trumpeter Jon Hassell to decorate the 14-minute spoken-word finale "Pulse": "you crawled into my bed/like some sort of giant insect/and I found myself spellbound/at the sight of you there/beautiful and grotesque/and all the rest of that bug stuff." "That bug stuff"--who else would dare it? A MINUS

CESARIA EVORA: Cabo Verde (Nonesuch) Having mysteriously resisted the reigning world-music diva since I encountered her in a quiet Paris club a decade ago, I found a clue in the translation of "Mar e morada de sodade": "The Sea Is the Home of Nostalgia." Usually sodade, the equivalent of "soul" for Evora's morna style, is rendered "sadness" or "longing," terms that disguise the self-pity beneath its dignity--a self-pity that's easier to take out in the open. Rather more than on her renowned U.S. debut (which I like better now that I've heard her better), that self-pity is mitigated by the somewhat swifter flow of the grooves, a speed achieved at no loss of her fundamental fluidity. And I note that the two drop-dead melodies, both taken medium-fast and one featuring an utterly easeful James Carter, counsel confidently against despair and complacency. A MINUS

FAT BEATS & BRASTRAPS: CLASSICS (Rhino) "The rules of the game are simple and plain/ Turn on the microphone and recite your name," claims the great lost Sparky-D over some break-beats and an audacious two-note Louie Shelton loop. And beyond the two stone classics, Roxanne Shante's "Have a Nice Day" and the Real Roxanne's "Bang Zoom (Let's Go-Go)," that innocence encapsulates the casual charm and enduring artistic value of this early femme rap comp. It's innocent when Shante lays out the perils of the street on the rare "Runaway," when young Latifah skanks the Meters, when LeShaun d/b/a 2 Much serves up the lovingly lubricious "Wild Thang" for the ineluctably lustful L.L. Cool J, when the great lost Ice Cream Tee disses "male chauvinists" without thinking twice. Historically and musically, the Sequence and Salt-n-Pepa are missed. But this proves what a great girls school the old school could have been. A MINUS

ORUC GUVENC AND TUMATA: Rivers of One (Interworld) Nobody believes I honestly like this Turkish med-school professor cum New Age spellbinder until I actually pop in Oceans of Remembrance, in which he and his little trio chant the names of God for an hour of unassuming ecstasy. Showcasing the Sufi healing music that Guvenc rediscovered, this one's somewhat less transcendent--longer on flute with minimal vocals, although I dig how assuredly Gulten Uralli pours the water that sets the beat. It comprises three improvisations on the rast makam, a tonality said to promote "inner calmness." As someone who regularly endangers his immune system with electric music, I find this therapeutic at bedtime, and sincerely hope the follow-up moves on to the hicaz makam, which "protects and strengthens the urogenital system." A MINUS

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