Class of ’33

Scoff if you must, but there it is—the two most exciting records I've heard in the past couple months are both by guys who were born in 1933, neither of whom is conceding anything to mortality quite yet.

Renegade Heaven (Cantaloupe)
Although only percussionist Steven Schick admits to actually banging on anything, I swear the making of the first two of these five compositions, especially Arnold Dreyblatt's galvanically funky "Escalator," is the live drumming, programmed drumming, and/or divine clatter. After that as so often with rock-allied downtowners who decline repetition, it's down to texture, only these textures have content. Not only can one live with 16 tonally unstable minutes of a Glenn Branca who has cast off his delusions of grandeur, but Phil Kline's "Exquisite Corpses" risks both program music, which he acknowledges, and melody, which he doesn't. Could this be "post-rock"? Or is it just post-conservatory? A MINUS

Although the notes downplay the music's Southernness and never mention the audience's mean age, it's as impressive that five selections postdate 1989 as it is telling that eight predate 1980. Slowly but surely, soul is dying. But all the proof you need that it ain't dead yet is 16 great tracks by stalwarts who, beyond Bobby Bland and one or two others, only loyalists will remember. Proof of their collective maturity is that almost every song concerns married love, and not the newlywed kind—by now, soul focuses far more obsessively on cheating than country. Another self-sufficient world that only a CD can unlock, complete with more grit than a laundromat slop sink and more sex than you got last week. A MINUS

CITY HIGH (Booga Basement/Interscope)
I like the way this Fugees-configured r&b defines its concept and cohort. Not every high schooler who dresses gangsta just needs respect and motivation, but enough of them do to make a nice little audience base. The vocals are smooth, the hooks suave, and with age-appropriate overlays of sentimentality and distortion—degree-bound female imprisoned for succumbing to underage Adonis, FBI forcing another to betray her G for her baby boy—this gives those well-meaning kids a voice. If you believe the hit "What Would You Do?" has too much Ricki Lake in it, as it does, try "Sista" or "Cats and Dogs," which have just enough. A MINUS

No Knowledge of Music Required (Shimmy Disc)
There's not for everyone, and then there's this—Gary Lucas spelling Peter Stampfel on what started out a children's album and ended up half a children's album. Stampfel is a great singer only when both voice and heart are completely in it, and here sometimes he conveys more life than inspiration, maybe because even "bad" voices age. But Lucas's quick-pick guitar and groaned originals—however they began, "Crawlspace" and "Sandman" are children's songs now—tip the balance toward give-it-a-chance-willya. Includes a reeling "Ring of Fire" ("such a dirty song," murmurs Lucas, taken with the "went down down down"), a postcanonical "Rollin' Sea" ("A wonderful place to hunt the snark/Or listen to the dogfish bark"), and three works of kidlike genius: the eight-year-old targeted "Zoe's Song," the elaborately disgusting "Rotten Family," and "Captain Kidd," begun with Michael Hurley in 1963 about one Chris Lindsey, future Deacon of the Admiralty of the Fellowship of the Sea. B PLUS

Missing You . . . Mi Yeewnii (Palm Pictures)
"Recorded after dark in the village of Nbunk, Senegal" with "guidance" from old postpunk hand John Leckie, this isn't as ecstatic as 1984's folkloric Djam Leelii or 1999's jamming Live at the Royal Festival Hall. But like both it avoids the intelligent compromises with which Maal has attracted some non-African listeners and disoriented others, and the concept works. Ambient sounds, traditional tunes, modern rhythms, choruses of women, working bandmates, and old colleagues all sound rooted to a place.The fairest recording ever of all the music this thwarted visionary has in him. Ecstasy can wait. A MINUS

VIRUNGA Ujumbe (Stern's/Earthworks)
Cover claims to the contrary, not "fiery stuff"—not by the hyped-up standards of the soukous this eternal exile has now outlasted. That's why it's special, and that's why it's good. Everywhere he's gone, from Matadi to Kinshasa to Kampala to Nairobi to Paris to his safe Maryland home, Mapangala has brought along a tenor as sweet as a licked frenum and a tune sense that knows what it wants—no wonder he found the sway of Swahili swing so amenable. Here he gathers about him a different set of Afro-Parisian hotshots than on his last visit, except for, no stupe he, the two standouts: guitarist Caien Madoka and trap drummer Komba Bellow Mafwalo. "It is bad to criticize people behind their back, especially when they have tried to help you," one trot reads, but who cares? The music carries any message of tolerance you care to verbalize. A MINUS

(World Music Network import)
Proceed to "Para Bailar Par Son," by Cañambú, previously unknown to me. Bask in or recoil from the intense nasality of Arístides Ruiz Boza, sole survivor of the five brothers who founded the group in 1940, while tracing younger accompanists' clave-linked tres, bamboo bongo, and inauthentic bass. Ruiz Boza's high pitch is indigenous to his tiny hometown, but it typifies a penchant for idiosyncrasy as crucial to this collection's success as the store of tunes and rhythms on display. Bask in Cañambú and you won't even mind the horn sections of Los Van Van, ¡Cubanismo!, and the Afro-Cuban All Stars. Recoil and stick with Buena Vista—or R.E.M. A MINUS

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