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 Rough Guide to the Soul Brothers (World Music Network import)
Setting the restrained tensile tenor of David Masondo against the accordion-modernizing Hammond B-3 of Moses Ngwenya, the mbaqanga bestsellers put in 15 years entertaining and uplifting under the thumb of a brutal occupation. Now they've spent 10 more keeping their spirits up and their sound fresh in postapartheid's dystopia. All 25 years are spanned on this compilation. The Soul Brothers' tight, slick harmonies and long, lissome basslines have remained so consistent over that quarter century that outsiders are hard put to remember individual songs, and the one-sentence trots on their earlier Earthworks best-of suggest that the lyrics don't add much to the musical effect. Nevertheless, the intensity of craft here, as well as its determination to seize freedom-bearing American sonics for Zulu tradition, should be tonic for those who doubt they can ever be cheerful again. I mean, back when we could imagine nothing worse, we had a good phrase to describe apartheid. State terrorism, we called it, and we were right. A MINUS
Proxima Estacion: Esperanza (Virgin)
The French-raised Spaniard distilled the scattershot Europop-rock of Mano Negra into 1998's DIY, polyglot Clandestino, a word-of-mouth smash throughout Latin Europe and then Latin America. Clandestino was warm, sprightly, melancholy, palpably humane. This is all that with magic on top, reprising and varying a small store of infectious tunes into a motley suite segued and differentiated with sound effects, funny voices, surprise guest instruments, and spoken-word samples. The pulse is Marley sans Africareggae whiter than the Bellamy Brothers, ska liter than polka. The mood is festive in the urbane, liberal, and internationalist manner of Chao's new home, the pan-European haven Barcelona, a city that resisted Franco so vivaciously for so long that it assumes entertainment coexists with dread. Just in timeEuroworld! Never thought I'd hear it done right. A
Ten New Songs (Columbia)
In February, Cohen put out the presciently entitled Field Commander Cohenrecorded live in 1979, when he could still carry a tune if he brought his luggage wheels. It sounded too suave somehow, too sure of its next whiskey bar. But by August, well before history put in an emergency call for voices of doom, the sepulchral croak here seemed spot on. Breaking a nine-year silence, the first four tracks have nothing to do with history except insofar as history is in league with death. But they're as powerful as any he's writtenespecially "In My Secret Life," about hiding from your conscience in the crevices of your good intentions, and "Here It Is," about the ultimate futility of all hello goodbye.
And although he couldn't have known how close to the bone the finale would cut, try these two couplets: "For what's left of our religion/I lift my voice and pray" and "May the lights in The Land of Plenty/Shine on the truth some day." Both beat "God bless America" by a country mile. Well, don't they? A MINUS
Dud of the Month
CLASSICAL HITS (Sony Classical)
OK, so there's more Yo-Yo channeling more Bach and Wynton Marsalis doing what comes naturally and Andre Rieu feeling much love for Strauss, That Louse. But there's also three tenors and three sopranos and a refined orchestration of a Bernstein opus owned by Carol Lawrence and Bond's platinum-plated va-va-voom chamber music and pantheon poachers Horner, Zimmer, Williams, and Lloyd Webber. There is, in short, a soi-disant great tradition with its pants down, and is that a baton in its jockeys or is it just overdoing the Viagra? Not Bach's fault, or Yo-Yo Ma's. Not even capitalism's fault. But you have to ask yourself just exactly what kind of repository of All That Is Highest in Western Civilization it is that remains so susceptible to the brummagem, the bathetic, the half-assed, and the utterly full of shit. C MINUS
Additional Consumer News
HONORABLE MENTION: Shabaz (Mondo Melodia): from Pakistan, released September 11, sister and brother qawwali singers with more spirit than shame and an American collaborator helping them take their bhangra and chela technopop ("Jewleh Lal," "Laglan"); Bombay 2: Electric Vindaloo (Motel): DJs refiddle long deflowered Bollywood fare for cross-cultural fun and profit (Kid Koala & Dynamite D, "Third World Lover"; DJMedjyou, "Bionic Hahaan"); Brand New Boots and Panties: A Tribute to Ian Dury (Gold Circle): great songs, absolutely, and if Robbie Williams or Paul McCartney leads anyone to the originals, good for them (Sinéad O'Connor, "Wake Up and Make Love With Me"; Cerys Matthews from Catatonia, "If I Was With a Woman"); Radiohead, Amnesiac (Capitol): makes a lot more sense if you're already feeling down in the mouth ("Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box," "Knives Out"); Rumba-Soukous, The Heartbeat of Congo (Cassava): as hi-NRG as any Zaire-Berkeley connection will likely get ("Santa Bella," "Fire-Fire"); Gigi (Palm): looks Muslim, raised Christian, sings internationalin Amharic, with an avant-jazz accent ("Bale Washintu," "Kahn"); Ozomatli, Embrace the Chaos (Almo Sounds): these days, rap-salsa . . . gumbo, gusado, couscous, whatever, doesn't just feel like chaosit also feels like life ("Pa Lante," "1234"); Thione Seck & Raam Daan, XV Anniversary Live! (Djoniba): direct from Dakar, Islamic dynamics in the secular flesh ("Bour," "Dieylo"); The Rough Guide to Merengue and Bachata (World Music Network import): especially bachata, with its real lyrics and modest accordion (Luis Segura, "Los Celos"; Blas Duran, "Crei [Version Bachata House]"; Nelson Ruig, "El Dueño De Las Noche"); Chuck Brown, Your Game . . . Live at the 9:30 Club, Washington, D.C. (Raw Venture): Chuck Chuck just just keeps keeps on on going going going going ("Wind Me Up Chuck/Hoochie Coochie Man," "No Diggity"); Laurie Anderson, Life on a String (Nonesuch): in Juilliard-style postmodern artsong, "can't sing" is perhaps an advantage ("Slip Away," "The Island Where I Come From"); Mofungo, Unreleased (www.lostnow.com/ mofungo): (free) download-only of great lost (good mislaid?) 1992 album by Loisaida's longest-running indie band ("In Imitation of Willie," "Tobacco Road"); Sum 41, All Killer No Filler (Island): teenpunk alienation at its most normal, with Satan impinging from the wings ("Heart Attack," "Motivation").