By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
The high Honorable Mention ratio means what you'd figure I've been having a hell of a time finding new records to love, even a little. Especially records that sneak around and kiss me on the back of the neck, which is always the most fun. You're cute too, Mandy.
MANDY BARNETT: I've Got a Right To Cry (Sire) The main thing her critics'-choice debut proved was that when you put a good young singer up against a bunch of Kostas songs, the Kostas songs win. Not that this 23-year-old Patsy Cline fan is any less produced or conceptualized here more so, actually. But the conceptualization is so audacious, and so perfectly suited to her timbre and swing, that it's more fun than what it rips off, by which I mean countrypolitan. The strings, the prefab licks, the rinky-dink beats, the hooks with exclamation points on them, the background singers going woo-oo-oo and whoa-oh everything the late Owen Bradley did for and to country music is here, with Owen himself overseeing four tracks and his brother-partner Harold following his notes on the rest. Yet Barnett has these wonderful pipes, and not only does she sing as if she loves the songs, she sings as if she can scarcely contain her warm fuzzy feelings for the style itself. My fave is "Trademark," originally a c&w No. 2 for the forgotten hit machine Carl Smith in 1952. But the new-growth corn tastes just as good with a coating of caramel. A Minus
KID ROCK: Devil Without a Cause (Atlantic/Lava) Wish this "illegitimate son of man" would stop pretending he's a pimp he tours so much he can't possibly provide the necessary continuity. But not since great Motörhead has there been a hard rock album with so many laugh lines: "I don't like small cars or real big women/But somehow I always find myself in 'em." Belatedly fulfilling the rap-metal promise of Licensed To Ill, he makes the competition sound clownish, limp, and corny, respectively, and the Eminem cameo is a draw Rock's flow is surer even if his sound isn't. Lickin' pussy underwater blowin' bubbles up your ass, he is, and I quote, all of that and a bag of chips. A Minus
BAABA MAAL: Live at the Royal Festival Hall (Palm Pictures) "My voice was always very loud but very thin," so this border Tukolor bulked up his God-given instrument with the same conscious discipline that enabled him to attend law school and penetrate Wolof Dakar. But as with so many ambitious young men from the provinces, there's always been an awkwardness about him, and his Chris Blackwellbacked attempts to follow Youssou N'Dour and Salif Keita into the so-called world music market have been cluttered with horns, stabs in the dark, and invited guests. The shows have varied, too, but this four-cuts-in-40-minutes EP is the heart of a good one. It's got a montuno-driven salsa. It's got reggae universalist Ernest Ranglin in Tukolor drag. And everywhere it's got tamas wrangling into the night. A Minus
MEKONS: I Have Been to Heaven and Back: Hen's Teeth and Other Fragments of Unpopular Culture Vol. 1 (Quarterstick) Once table scraps, now a damn fine buffet, ranging from superb songs done dirt by label politics to intelligent songs that never erupt to an outtake from The Mekons Story, which is kind of like saying a reject from the Bad News Bears ("Roger Troutman," not a Zapp reference, worth preserving). Tastier oddments include the ghostwritten autobiography of Sally Timms, a Rod Stewart cover, well-conceived donations to Rock for Choice, and a techno-rock football cheer. A Minus
OLD 97'S: Fight Songs (Elektra) Now alt-country only by historical association, Rhett Miller Associates deliver what the No Depression crowd always wanted: a jangle-rock album worthy of the Byrds themselves. Miller's no McGuinn. But his conversational ache sure beats McGuire, the perfect medium for unfaltering songcraft that ambles from Crazy Horse to Poco without ever turning fussy or eclectic, and in addition his guitarist likes Lynyrd Skynyrd. The whole doesn't present itself as a concept album only because losing at love is a pop metatheme. Note, however, that for both touring postalt-rockers and the postcollegians who love them, the geographical distance these lyrics can't stay away from is now a basic coordinate of romance a love-wrecker, a pain in the heart, a way out. If you wanted to get fancy about it, and I do, you could then blame this emotional trap on the same untrammeled capitalism that turns every young job seeker into a freelance contractor and every aspiring artist into a media pro. So keep up the good fight songs, Old 97's. We'll lick this social problem yet. A
SEBADOH: The Sebadoh (Sub Pop/Sire) Apropos of I don't know, and for whatever good it will do whomever, they remain, on this recorded evidence, as good a band as they ever were, and a better one than back when they were epitomizing indie's recondite reticence. Yes, Lou's songs are, on average, better than Jason's. But Jason's songs are, in general, a relief from Lou's, plus that's his Gang of Four intro not gonna hear one of those from the Folk Implosion, are you? Maybe they'll say bye-bye and go home, or maybe they'll make records like this until they have grandchildren. Nobody knows, including them. A Minus