STEEL PULSE Ultimate Collection (Hip-O)
The greatest English reggae band softened with the years, but not like UB40—though "Back to My Roots" worries about "commercial," David Hinds has always been pretty clear about life in the righteousness business, and could still invoke full indignation on 1994's "No Justice to Peace." Skank courtesy of keybman Selwyn Brown, who has metal and mettle in his muscle and bone. "Ku Klux Klan" is recommended to Ice-T fans. Also Ramones fans. A MINUS

THE VELVET UNDERGROUND Bootleg Series: Volume 1: The Quine Tapes (Polydor)
I was cynical too, especially once I'd ascertained that the audio on these three discs was as faint as I'd feared. Played loud, though, the sound improves—not quite crisp or bright, but there. Note that this trick doesn't work with Live at Max's Kansas City and ask yourself if you wouldn't maybe like to hear the number three band of the '60s, after the Beatles and James Brown and His Famous Flames, without wearing out its tiny catalogue. No new songs, true. But over the two hours that aren't devoted to three long, distinct versions of "Sister Ray," no title is repeated, even though every one was recorded in a one-month span in San Francisco in 1969. That's pretty impressive. As is all the new guitar. A MINUS

Dud of the Month

THE LANGLEY SCHOOLS MUSIC PROJECT Innocence and Despair (Bar/None)
Hans Fenger was a gifted teacher on a mission. Cutting keepsake vinyl for his kiddie choir was a great way for him to reward past involvement while inspiring more. Irwin Chusid is a tedious ideologue with a hustle. Turning that vinyl into a collectible CD is the latest way for him to remind the converted that artistic intention is reserved for the beholder in these postmodern times—especially if the beholder has a hustle. A few of these songs were great, a few of them sucked, and every one was more innocent and/or desperate in its original version except Barry Manilow's (but not the Bay City Rollers'). A special annoyance is the reportedly tear-jerking "Desperado" by a 10-year-old who doesn't seem to have any idea what the song means, which is to her credit as a human being but not as a singer. The sole revelation is Brian Wilson, whose six songs still sound like themselves. C MINUS

Pick Hits

CORNERSHOP Handcream for a Generation (Beggars Banquet)
Like Paris-born Catalonian Manu Chao, Punjabi Londoner Tjinder Singh comes to the idea of world music naturally. Mining primitive disco the way Chao does secondhand ska, he isn’t a rhythm animal out to beat the world down so much as a laid-back guy who’ll be happy to show us the way to better times as long as he doesn’t have to work too hard, since better times mean not working too hard. There are even fewer true songs here than on the breakthrough album he dropped five years ago now, and like Manu Chao he favors the reprise. But I love his commonsense grooves—the Memphis bottom and cheesy keyb for honorary compere Otis Clay, the guitar vamp on ‘‘Lessons Learned From Rocky I to Rocky III’’ matching the B-3 on "Wogs Will Walk." Mood music, maybe. How to be conscious and happy at the same time. A

A great guitarist leading a great show band, Tounkara rolled out the horn arrangements on his Super Rail albums, which I like more now, after this simpler showcase taught me to hear his instrumental voice. His riffs have that circular Malian thrills-you-or-not thing, although the intonation is exceptionally plummy and the fingerwork always impeccable. But listen up and you’ll also hear Western-style tasty licks—saved from themselves by the circular Malian thrills-you-or-not thing. Choral singing—female, male, and both—clinches the beauty part. A MINUS

Additional Consumer News

HONORABLE MENTION: Jonathan Richman, Action Packed: The Best of Jonathan Richman (Rounder): miniaturist under the magnifying glass ("Monologue About Bermuda," "Closer," "You're Crazy for Taking the Bus"); Classic Reggae: The DeeJays (Music Club): plenty beats and version, not enough wuga wuga (Sir Lord Comic, "The Great Wuga Wuga"; Dave Barker, "I've Got to Get Away"); All Girl Summer Fun Band (K): the upper limits of cute qua cute ("Canadian Boyfriend," "Stumble Over My"); Shabba Ranks, Greatest Hits (Epic/Legacy): it's all about the beats ("Mr. Loverman," "Ting-a-Ling"); the Ethiopians, Stay Loose: The Best of the Ethiopians (Music Club): ska gets religion, circa 1970 ("Train to Glory," "Hong Kong Flu," "No Baptism"); Iggy Pop, Beat Em Up (Virgin): fine head of dudgeon for such an old guy ("It's All Shit," "V.I.P."); Lee "Scratch" Perry, Jamaican E.T. (Trojan): crazy like a glue ("10 Commandments," "Mr. Dino Koosh Rock"); the Dishes, 1-2 (No. 89): pinched punk for girls ("Girls Can Play," "Fishnet"); Linkin Park, Hybrid Theory (Warner Bros.): the men don't know what the angry boys understand ("Points of Authority," "Papercut"); Hank III, Lovesick, Broke and Driftin' (Curb): he can sing the greats and write enough to stay in the room ("Atlantic City," "Lovesick, Broke and Driftin' "); Merle Haggard, Roots Volume 1 (Anti-): who wrote his country soul was Lefty, not Hank—as if we didn't know ("Always Late [With Your Kisses]," "If You've Got the Money [I've Got the Time]"); Yellowman, Reggae Anthology: Look How Me Sexy (VP): the man who invented slackness, for better and mostly worse ("Nobody Move Nobody Get Hurt," "Zunguzung"); Hank Williams: Timeless (Lost Highway): give him more unreasonable search-and-seizures and not so damn many authorized nominations for the Grammy Hall of Fame (Keith Richards, "You Win Again"; Hank III: "I'm a Long Gone Daddy"); Garth Brooks, Scarecrow (Capitol): still hungry after all that platinum ("Big Money," "Pushing Up Daisies"); Kittie, Oracle (Artemis): when they are good they are horrid ("Run Like Hell," "What I Always Wanted"); Garbage, Beautiful Garbage (Interscope): the new Annie Lennox—bad dreams are made of this ("Silence Is Golden," "Cherry Lips [Go Baby Go]").

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