Getting Them Straight

Country Grammar (Universal)

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Cornell Haynes's St. Louis singsong rolls over an easy mix of N.O. Bounce, Cleveland thug harmony, and L.A. tweedle-twaddle. He remains faithful to Cedric the Entertainer's congenial cellphone-jester intro as he works through some mild dope-slangin' and bitch-mackin' consumer fetishism, and despite all the expensive cars I hope he paid cash for, the jolly diffidence of his heavily accented local color makes his hedonism seem more benign and accessible than the N.O. if not ATLien variety. There's bite to the mild moralism he works through, too, especially the St. Lunatics' detailed report on cannabis addiction. "Blow 30 mill like I'm Hammer," he boasts early on, and he's such a nice guy you hope it is 30 mill—and wish with all your heart he wasn't certain to blow whatever it turns out to be instead. B PLUS

Sonic Youth
NYC Ghosts & Flowers (Interscope)

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Maybe the trauma of guitar loss jolted them past songform, or maybe they're acting out with David Geffen gone bye-bye. Either way this impressionistic poetry-with-postrock is the most avant-sounding of their DGC-etc. product, and either way its avant parts are more listenable—nay, beautiful—than anything on Washing Machine if not A Thousand Leaves. Songform guy that I am, it put me off at first. But heard refracting the dusk on the Taconic Parkway or spattering through the rain on Second Avenue, its refusal to distinguish between abrasive and tender or man-made and natural is a compelling argument for their continuing to do whatever they damn well feel like. A

Tin Hat Trio
Helium (Angel)

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Somewhere in the general vicinity of Astor Piazzolla, the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, and Cyrus Chesnutt, it's dinner music that won't make you blow chunks: accordion-piano-organ plus violin-viola plus guitar-dobro-banjo. Lite jazz that's more filling. Chamber music improvised off-the-cuff. Tango checking its knife at the door. B PLUS

Veruca Salt
Resolver (Velveteen/Beyond)

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They've never gotten respect for their girl- and sex-positive rock, and they never will. But they've never made a bad record either. With Nina Gordon off pursuing her dreams of Belinda Carlisle, the principles are down to Louise Post, who's as girl- and sex-positive as ever but more desperate about it. Whispery-vulnerable or bitchy-tuneful, she seems to be deciding that love etc. is more important than rock and roll, a truth always worth putting a hook on. A MINUS

Pick Hit

Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music, Volume Four (Revenant)


It's true. Half a century after it redefined folk music, the official rerelease can still sound like tombstone rubbings, not to mention tales from the crypt, while this previously unheard two-CD reconstruction is suitable for a PBS special or community sing: blues balancing bluegrass, gospel stylings elevating parlor sentiment, "John Henry" into "Nine Pound Hammer," Lead Belly and Robert Johnson, Joe Louis and Haile Selassie, and hovering over the whole shebang, the Great Depression. That means it's down to whether the individual performances induce the known past not merely to live again but to get up and strut around, and hot dam they do. My very favorite is the Blue Sky Boys' sugary-creepy murder ditty "By the Banks of the Ohio," a maneuver worthy of Harry Nilsson or Robbie Fulks, but I note as well many moments of momentum and interaction—most impressively on Minnie Wallace's "The Cockeyed World" only because the Memphis Jug Band we figured and Jesse James the songster rolls Casey Jones the engineer down the fast track to hell all by his solo self—with no parallel in the earlier recordings. Those who regard self-consciousness as a curse will mourn past glories. Those who consider it quintessentially human will take this present as it comes. A

Dud Of The Month

Dave Alvin
Public Domain (HighTone)

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If Harry Smith is what some people love about folk music, this is what other people hate about it, summed up by a title that claims humility as it sneaks presumption in the stage door—a title worthy of a brilliant record and dishonored by this dull one. Alvin can be a deft lyricist in the colloquial-songpoet mode, pinning the kind of homely literary detail the folk regularly established or bypassed with commonplaces, absurdities, generalizations, and luck. But it took him years to learn to sing his own stuff, and interpreting the canon he's worse than hopeless. It's not that these songs are all obvious or overdone—this nonfolkie had never heard a few of them. It's that they're so soft they squish even when Alvin tries to rev one past you, which usually he doesn't. C PLUS

Additional Consumer News

B.B. King, Live in Tokyo (MCA): cut 1971—fresher than London, not quite as ripe as Cook County Jail ("Japanese Boogie," "Niji Baby"); DJ Quik, Balance and Options (Arista): G-funk, hold the G—i.e., "Things I used to do/I don't do no more" ("Do Whutcha Want," "Pitch In Ona Party"); B.B. King & Eric Clapton, Riding With the King (Reprise): tireless teacher spurs genius student ("Riding With the King," "Hold On I'm Coming"); XTC, Wasp Star (Apple Venus Volume 2) (TVT): up to their old craft ("Standing In for Joe," "Stupidly Happy"); Guy Davis, Butt Naked Free (Red House): "Ain't no bluesman, I'm the bluesman's son/But I'll sing this song until my daddy comes" ("Ain't No Bluesman," "Let Me Stay Awhile"); Ani DiFranco, Swing Set (Righteous Babe): two well-armed To the Teeth remixes, two (out of three) well-designed covers ("Hurricane," "Do Re Mi"); Confrontation Camp, Objects in the Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear (Artemis/Sheridan Square): Detroit brings the noise, Chuck D– and John Sinclair-style ("U R Us," "Brake the Law"); Taj Mahal & the Phantom Blues Band Live, Shoutin' in Key (Hannibal): love so much music and there's always more songs waiting ("Honky Tonk," "Ain't That a Lot of Love"); Brougham, Le Cock Sportif (Warner Bros.): LFO jizzes Bizkit, Beck goes pop ("Don't Speak English," "Bong Hits"); Lee Ann Womack, I Hope You Dance (MCA): Way more soulful than, you know, Trisha Yearwood ("Stronger Than I Am," "Why They Call It Falling"); Kelly Price, Mirror, Mirror (Def Soul): halfway to what every diva has to learn—pipes are not enough ("At Least [The Little Things]," "Married Man"); Algia Mae Hinton, Honey Babe (MusicMasters/Sire): a great-grandmother's blues, uncannily John Hurt in the picking and domesticity ("Snap Your Fingers," "Whatcha Gonna Do When Your Good Girl Turns You Down?"); Cypress Hill, Skull & Bones (Columbia): just how did it happen, do you think, that the inventors of rap-rock got lost in the shuffle? ("[Rock] Superstar," "We Live This S***"); Van Morrison, Lonnie Donegan, Chris Barber, The Skiffle Sessions (Pointblank): trad like it useta be ("Lost John," "Don't You Rock Me Daddio"); Taj Mahal, Best of the Private Years (Private Music): the best was discovering the black music the '60s folkie missed ("Mockingbird," "Ooh Poo Pah Doo"); Kid Rock, The History of Rock (Atlantic): hip-hop as Afro-America's latest gift to hard-rock assholes who can't sing ("Dark & Gray," "American Bad Ass"); David Johansen and the Harry Smiths (Chesky): Busta Roots ("Delia," "Richland Woman").

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