Race Against Time

Few songwriters bring as much journalistic precision to their writing. The tingle of faux-baroque horns cloaks "Sebastian Cabot," which details a delusional homeless guy's piss-stained life. And the melody to "The Teardrop Explodes" may evoke Julian Cope, but the lyrics seem ripped from a satirical style section as Stew croons in a Sly Stone purr, "Mr. Mellencamp find me a hip small town that's free of them serial rednecks and all, yeah/With a righteous deli, arty bookstore and Chomsky speaking down at the veterans mall, yeah." The living-color memories of a "Batman cape and the Mentors tape and the hole that's gapin' in the bank safe" that drip like rain in "Bong Song" sound like a terrific Tarantino script, while "It's Coming Out," which describes a wild night, throbs with electro-kitsch beats and delicious Bones Howe-ish vocal arrangements. Impressionist (if not Dylanesque) imagery oozes freely elsewhere. "Ivory brain symbol windowpane, cut a rug whenever you like," goes "All Time in Time," Stew's elegant lysergic homage to Thelonious Monk. But the album's narratively linear final tune, "Bermuda Love Triangle (The Waterbed)," is as O. Henry a fabricated tale as the "Naked Dutch Painter" rings autobiographical.

"Coltrane in vain hanging in the rain," sings Stew near the beginning of Welcome Black. The line alludes, I suppose, to some justified feelings of victimhood amid the pop marketplace. And he calls it like anyone with half a brain sees it. Music this smart and tart, this fussy and funny, will never hit either the segregated-as-ever black or white musical mainstreams in Stew's lifetime. Nevertheless, his increasingly sophisticated dispatches from outside the game paint the world in considerably more varied hues than we're used to. Spin him the next time you need to house the haunt. He comes in colors.

Stew does not smell like teen spirit.
photo: Jay Muhlin
Stew does not smell like teen spirit.


The Naked Dutch Painter . . . and Other Songs

The Negro Problem
Welcome Black

The Negro Problem, www.negroproblem.com;
Smile Records, 11410 Aqua Vista Street, Studio City, CA 91604, www.smilerec.com

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