Consumer Guide

JOHN LENNON Wonsaponatime (Capitol) As someone who scoffs at the outtake collections of known improvisers, I doubt I'll be delving into the box too often, although the live stuff is worth hearing. But not only does this one-disc distillation deliver borderline obsessives from financial anxiety, it proves Lennon the great singer he's rarely remembered as. Whether the alternate rearrangements are drastic (Cheap Trick on "I'm Losing You," strings on "Grow Old With Me") or subtle (pianoless "God," single-tracked "Oh My Love"), every song is renewed by a vocal commitment that shades the canonical take, usually toward sweetness or rage. There's new material, too: blues cover, Platters cover, pledge of love, and the priceless Dylan answer song "Serve Yourself." Lennon wasn't above dabbling in religion. But he never got so down he mistook God for more than a concept by which he measured his pain. A MINUS

YOUSSOU N'DOUR Best of 80's (Celluloid import) Not a reissue, or anyway not an '80s reissue, this comprises 1995's Senegal-only Dikkaat and 1997's Senegal-only St. Louis, which in turn comprise a dozen songs supposedly composed (and recorded?) in the '80s, although none of my sources has unearthed them all. I own two: the strictly indigenous title song of Etoile de Dakar's Thiapotholy, and a David Sancious stinker buried at the tail end of The Lion. The former reemerges cleaner, faster, and more professional, none of which are necessarily positives; I'll take the rock sonics of renegade guitarist Badou N'Diaye over Jimmy Mbaye's lithe new jack lines. But the latter is improved so much it's almost unrecognizable, rougher and shapelier simultaneously. Everywhere guitars, horns, and tama drums interact with sharper punch and tighter pizzazz than in his wild dance music or his crossover set pieces. And sometimes—I'd single out "Xarit," "Diambar," and the unabashedly beautiful "Njaajaan Njaay"—the songwriting transfigures the playing. A MINUS

NEW RADICALS Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too (MCA) Poised on the brink of something—smash or near miss, pop triumph or pop despair—Gregg Alexander comes across so brash, so skillful, so not-as-smart-as-he-thinks it's downright touching. As the tunes wind down in that CD way, even the lesser ones grow lovable in all their plethora of words and paucity of meaning, evoking the pathos of the fame game for anyone with a sense of biz mechanics. A realer phony than Billy Corgan by several miles. A MINUS

Pick Hit: Lobi Traore
Pick Hit: Lobi Traore

THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS Severe Tire Damage (Restless) Billed as greatest hits but actually just live, and not especially well-chosen, I say—where's "We're the Replacements"? "How Can I Sing Like a Girl?"? Plus there are new songs their wee fan base presumably can't live without. What I wouldn't have figured is that these bait cuts, "Doctor Worm" ("I'm not a real doctor but I am a real worm") and "They Got Lost" (trying to find a radio station so low-watt it fades out no matter which way they turn), are my favorite things on a record that includes "XTC Vs. Adam Ant" and "Meet James Ensor." I suggest a new stanza: "Meet They Might Be Giants/Pomo's cultish songmen/Set on random, skim our book/Watch out for falling hooks." B PLUS

LOBI TRAORÉ: Segou (Cobalt import) Like cameo sideman Ali Farka Touré, Traoré is a Malian John Lee Hooker fan. Only he's faster and tighter. And he works with three drummers all the time. And none of his second guitarists is Ry Cooder. And although I don't find them in the credits, I hear birds in the back ground. Supposedly he's a link to blues. Me, I hear Wassoulou circle games—a link to rondelets, lariats, cat's cradles. A MINUS

DUD OF THE MONTH

EELS Electro-Shock Blues (DreamWorks) Mark Everett is a talented 31-year-old who bravely determined to deal with the dying he's seen in song. But that didn't mean he had to make a concept album. Beyond art-rock fashion, which has rendered the static song cycle stupid fresh again, the strategy suits a detachment he'd be drawn to in any era, a detachment there's nothing winning about—which also goes for the concept it hides behind, baggage doubly distracting for consumers without a press kit. I count three excellent songs—a plighted troth, a teen memory, and an unexpected flight in which Everett invites one of his deceased back for a last look. I sincerely hope they're all covered by singers who can show them the love they deserve. B


Additional Consumer News

HONORABLE MENTION:

Jean-Paul Bourelly, Tribute to Jimi (Koch): splitting the difference between jazz-rock and rock-jazz ("Electric Ladyland," "Who Knows/ Talkin' Bout My Baby"); Digital Underground, Who Got the Gravy? (Jake): imparts new flavor, if not flava, to the word "lubricious" ("Who Got the Gravy?" "Wind Me Up," "The Odd Couple"); Buddy Guy, Heavy Love (Silvertone): past 60 and feeling it, he's relaxing more and feeling that too ("Midnight Train," "Did Somebody Make a Fool Out of You"); Gomez, Bring It On (Hut/Virgin): really the roots-rock—they mean it, man ("Whipping Piccadilly," "Love Is Better Than a Warm Trombone"); M.O.T., 19.99 (Sire/Warner Bros.): Borscht Belt hip hop from Ice Berg and Dr. Dreidle, who sold their Chevy to the Levys but the Levys can't drive ("Town Car," "Double Dutch Lunch"); Amadou et Mariam, Se Te Djon Ye (Sonodisc import): "blind couple of Mali"—reassuring melodies, two voices, one acoustic guitar ("Se Te Djon Ye," "Kelen la Seben"); the Derek Trucks Band, Out of the Madness (House of Blues): kid can play—also think ("Preachin' Blues," "Young Funk"); Sedhiou Band, Africa Kambeng (Africassette): rolling Mandinka beats from agricultural and above all non-Wolof Senegal ("Nyancho," "Dimbaayaa"); R. Kelly, R. (Jive): megaskills for megasale ("Half on a Baby," "Did You Ever Think"); Dixie Chicks, Wide Open Spaces (Monument): blonds have more brains (than they get credit for) ("Wide Open Spaces," "Give It Up [Or Let Me Go]"); Monster Magnet, Powertrip (A&M): more jokes about dominance and Mr. D. ("See You in Hell," "Bummer"); The Secret Museum of Mankind: East Africa (Yazoo): half- Kenyan, spanning a mere 24 years up to 1948, these old 78s could almost be said to hold together (Frank and His Sisters, "Mwanangu Lala"; Francis Baloye & Shangaan Band, "Kumbe Siyengetile"; Zoutpansberg Brothers, "Hosi Yehina Masia"); Lee Ann Womack, Some Things I Know (Decca): reclaiming female feistiness, which is as close as Nashville gets to feminism ("I'll Think of a Reason Later," "The Man Who Made My Mama Cry"); No Easy Walk to Freedom (Music Club): South African roots-pop K-Tel style (Sister Phumi, "Ithemba"; Sipho Mabuse, "Jive Soweto").

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