Consumer Guide

African Connection

Liquid Todd
Action (Ultra)
Former college sportswriter Todd Wilkinson didn't get to host K-Rock's syndicated Saturday-night mix show by pumping exotica. The interlocking beats and catchphrases of his first mix CD aren't what any Z-100 fan would call pop, but they're cheap, effective, and party-hearty enough to insure fun-fun-fun from beginning to end, which is more than Prodigy, the Chemical Brothers, or Fratboy Slim himself has managed. Having gotten our attention with the church-bell tune of Mike & Charlie's "I Get Live," he cedes the floor to Norman Cook for five minutes and we're off to the races. The ebullience flags as ass-shaking turns endurance contest, but never settles for the functionalist minimalism this supposedly hedonistic scene runs on. Compiling such an hour from the tens of thousands of hours of techno product out there ought to be easy. I've begun dozens of CDs that prove it isn't. a minus

Taj Mahal and Toumani Diabate
Kulanjan (Hannibal)
No longer does Mahal talk a bigger African diaspora than he walks. He deserves his top billing, but every other musician on this piece of serendipity is a West African retrofitting a simple little studio in Athens GA. Like the guitar hotshot he'd have turned into Stateside, costar Diabate is a virtuoso and nothing more, and his Manding songs are mostly some kind of change. But when his kora echoes the happy-hollering "Ol' Georgie Buck" or the deep-Delta "Catfish Blues," those straightforward old blues take on a filigree Diabate's percussive confederates can go to work on. And when Mahal's piano strides beneath the balafon of a Diabate named Lasana, the rhythms canter so comically you wonder who said open sesame. a minus

Frank Sinatra
Sinatra '57— In Concert (DCC)
The big deal about the new George Jones record is supposed to be that, due to his near-death experience, he didn't get to overdub the vocals. He should have. One of the few better singers in this century was also a perfectionist cautious about preserving his live shows. Of those officially released so far, including the 1959 date with Red Norvo, this is the most impressive, its lighter and less precise attack good for a grace that's rarely so prominent in the studio work. The audio is exquisite, the repertoire is choice, the excellent Nelson Riddle arrangements are mixed way below the voice, CD technology lets you zap his monologue, and just to affirm our common humanity, he hits a clinker on "My Funny Valentine." a minus

Y2K: Beat the Clock
Starts out blatant— it don't get blatanter than "Rockafeller Skank"— and then, generously, remains that way for half its allotted 73 minutes: quality Prodigy, that Wildchild song everyone loved last summer, Crystal Method's reason for existence. Second half's less enlightened if equally obvious: "Lost in Space," "Born Slippy," Björk remix, Orb edit, spanking-new remake of Sparks' prophetically annoying and exciting title song. In short, all the big beat an adherent of the first big beat need own. a minus

Additional Consumer News

Honorable Mention:

Missy Misdemeanor Elliott,Da Real World (The Gold Mind, Inc./EastWest): no more Missy Nice Girl ("Busa Rhyme," "Smooth Chick"); Bottle Rockets, Brand New Year (Doolittle/Mercury): bitchin rock move, but any band that boasts about not using a calculator cares less about history than it believes ("Gotta Get Up," "Headed for the Ditch"); African Salsa (Stern's/ Earthworks): in Wolof, both the consonants and the clave are harsher (Pape Fall, "African Salsa"; Super Cayor de Dakar, "Xamsa Bopp"); Los Lobos, This Time (Hollywood): chewing their cud for one album too long ("Oh, Yeah," "Corazon"); Candido Fabré, Poquito a Poco (Candela): violins loud like horns ("Bailando con Otro," "La Mano en el Arazón"); Éthiopiques 1 (Buda Musique import): notes from an aborted pop scene (Mulequèn Mèllèssè, "Wètètié maré"; Sèyfu Yohannès, "Tezeta"); the Pernice Brothers, Overcome by Happiness (Sub Pop): if the Hollies had created pop so pretty and morbid it would have been genius, but these sad sacks are just doing what comes naturally ("Monkey Suit," "Chicken Wire"); Ibrahim Ferrer, Buena Vista Social Club Presents Ibrahim Ferrer (Nonesuch/World Circuit): at 72, he has the right to take it easy— and luckily, also the ability ("Marieta," "Bruta Maniguá"); Beth Orton, Central Reservation (Arista): so she wasn't techno after all— glad we got that straight ("Stolen Car," "Central Reservation [Original Version]"); Éthiopiques 4 (Buda Musique import): Booker T. and Ramsey Lewis trade concepts over a drummer who first laid eyes on a trap set last month— Ethiopian-style, mais oui (Mulatu Astatqué, "Yèkèrmo sèw," "Mètché Dershé"); Éthiopiques 2 (Buda Musique import): barest, craziest, sexiest, least melodic, least grooveful, most Arabic (Tigist Assèfa, "Toutouyé"; Malèfya Tèka, "Indè Lyèruzalèm"); Linton Kwesi Johnson, More Time (LKJ): most poetic when he's most quotidian ("If I Waz a Tap Natch Poet," "Reggae Fi Bernard"); Freedy Johnston: Blue Days Black Nights (Elektra): Sinatra he's not— maybe not Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen either ("Depending on the Night," "Changed Your Mind").

Choice Cuts: Tsèhaytu Bèraki, "Aminèy" (Ethiopiques 5, Buda Musique import); Lunachicks, "I'll Be the One" (Luxury Problem, Go-Kart); Jack Knight, "Who Do You Love" (Gypsy Blues, Universal).

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