Hail Fellow Well Set

Preemptive readers of article tags know that I have a temporary gig, which limits my writing if not my listening. I'm unreasonably pleased to note that said gig lasts past Thanksgiving. What might we call an Easter Turkey Shoot? A Ham Roast? A Bunny Stomp?


AMERICAN POLKA
(Trikont import)
The first decent polka comp I've ever heard was masterminded by a record-collecting German American statistics prof who moonlights as the leader of Chicago's Polkaholics and can't resist boosting fellow hobbyists' novelties and burlesques. While these are often delicious—my personal jelly doughnut is the Happy Schnapps Combo's "You Can't Teach the Japanese to Polka"—they swamp the quaint delicacy and straightforward fun of the scant older selections, as I learned when (with much guesswork and difficulty) I programmed a chronological version from this vaguely annotated 25-track hodgepodge. Still, as someone who'd always found that polka was happy in theory and corny in practice, I'm ready for a more scholarly job—on Putumayo/Smithsonian, produced by Charles Keil, and please, not a box. B PLUS

BURNT SUGAR
That Depends on What You Know: Fubractive: Since Antiquity Suite
(Trugroid)
If electric Miles could make the double-LP his métier, why shouldn't eclectic Greg try triple-CDs? Especially since he's got the humanity and business sense to sell each disc singly. This Lester Bowie tribute is the hit because within the permissive parameters of Burnt Sugar's art-ensemble ambience it's the loudest and fastest, and because the blood never leaves its pulse. As does happen on these discs, the best theme was written elsewhere (by Monk, with Miles immortalizing). But the whole thing will fill your earhole from the moment its chant-and-percussion rises out of the ooze. MVP: pianist Vijay Iyer. A MINUS

LUNA
Close Cover Before Striking
(Jetset)
Once it seemed they'd roll out good songs in perpetuity, then that they'd struggle competently till near misses did them part. Now it's talent will out. The best of these seven songs is a Stones cover, only not by as much as you first think, and the second-best is the opener, ditto. Later a teenager hypnotizes a pancake while getting a girl to stick his hand down her did-he-say-pants. Later a guitar instrumental justifies the title "Drunken Whistler." Later there's an alibi, a song that namechecks New Haven, and a guitar instrumental that justifies the title "Neon Lights" until a lyric takes over the job. A MINUS

PUBLIC ENEMY
Revolverlution
(Koch)
Chuck D has always thought fresh beats were for pussies—keeping up with the times is a job for communications technology. So the four remixes were organized over the Internet by hardcore PE fans, who like semipop audiences everywhere accentuate what's most extreme and inaccessible about their faves, and never mind the Bomb Squad's r&b shake-and-bake on He Got Game. Fortunately, the old sound is hard in new ways, from the slow-and-snaky synth DJ Functionalist lays below "Shut Em Down" to "What Good Is a Bomb" raging against the machine. With the preacherly rotundity aged out of Chuck D's larynx and live drums just making "Put It Up" leaner, PE's music has never been so unforgiving. With a son-of-a-Bush leading us to perdition, what's to forgive? You know times are desperate when Griff starts making sense. A MINUS

RED HOT + RIOT
(MCA)
The latest AIDS-benefit disc is a Fela tribute, and also the best since the Cole Porter tribute that kicked the series off in 1990. If you figure it'll reimagine Fela as a songwriter, as I did, figure again—Cole Porter, he was a songwriter. Instead it establishes Fela's claim to funk godfatherhood more forcefully than any displaced Afrobeat ensemble. Sacrificed is Africa 70's clarity of motion. Gained are the head fakes and back-da-fuck-up that have always made funk beats harder for white people to understand than the four-fours rock and roll appropriated from John Philip Sousa and Chicago blues. Retained are Fela's horn sound, whether replicated whole by Femi's band or reconstituted by the likes of Roy Hargrove and Archie Shepp—and, most of the time, Tony Allen's deceptively light groove. You know how multi-produced hip hop albums hold together sometimes? This is even subtler. A MINUS

THE ROUGH GUIDE TO PARIS CAFÉ MUSIC
(World Music Network import)
Great food, great wine, great countryside. Beautiful paintings and fine cinema. Bohemia soi-meme. Fairly belle langue. Cool esprit. But then, over on the other side, le snobisme, as epitomized by both the academy (a French invention) and "theory" (a French brand name). As for music, not so hot. In the classical world, nobody would rank France with Germany or Italy, and though chanson's structural and procedural contributions to pop are major, it doesn't travel, in part due to its lyrical raison d'etre and in part due to whatever gives Italians the tunes and Germans the big ideas. With help from Auvergne laborers and Italian immigrants, chanson evolved into the danceable accordion-equipped style called musette, which flourished in the '20s and '30s and has been compiled on a Paris Musette series I'll dig out again as well as two Music Club discs I'll now bury. This typical Rough Guide potpourri ignores intrastylistic continuities and favors revivalists (hiding the older, simpler stuff at the end). Droll, impassioned, tuneful, gay, its limitations are French limitations—too much cocked eyebrow, not enough baby got back. But as mood music for that mystery merlot or soundtrack for a drive to Quebec City, mais oui—just the travelogue a day tripper needs. B PLUS

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