Eating Again

April's Bunny Stomp was purgative, but it put me off my feed. In the report below I regain my appetite by digesting many of the young rock bands who are making news if not history. Next time I'll throw on some hot sauce.

GILAD ATZMON
Exile
(Enja)
I knew they were playing Middle Eastern jazz—loved the sound of Atzmon's 'Trane-driven sax up against Kuwaiti-schooled diva and tango accordion. But it was four or five spins before I found out they were Israeli exiles whose theme is Palestine and whose strategy is to Arabize Israeli hits. Not much, but as near to resolution as any Palestinian is liable to get right now. Recorded in London. Tell Tony Blair the news. A MINUS

JOHNNY CASH
American IV: The Man Comes Around
(American)
The selection here is at once so obvious and so inappropriate it feels redemptive —as if that old softy Rick Rubin gently advised his fast-failing charge that if there was ever a song he wanted to sing he'd better not put it off till next time, 'cause there probably wasn't gonna be one. In fact this is Cash's second "Danny Boy," just his first croaky one (at the Kettle of Fish in heaven, Dave Van Ronk is mad he didn't do one first). He's recorded the evil-minded campfire chestnut "Sam Hall" before too. But Cash kills "In My Life" as hard as he kills Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails, and though upon reflection Ewan MacColl wrote "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," you'd have thought Roberta Flack defolkified it forever until Cash got his heart on it. Only the pomposities of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and "Desperado" resist his advances. And first and best comes the newly written title tune, a look at death as cold as "Under Ben Bulben." All that could top it would be American V: Send in the Clowns. A MINUS

KAITO
The Montigola EP
(Devil in the Woods)
True juvenilia—very Oh-OK even though I doubt these Brits have ever heard of Oh-OK. So nursery-rhyme tuneful! So jump-rope preverbal! Inspirational Verse: "I love it, I love it, I love it." No? How about "Ohh ohh ohh"? A MINUS

KAITO U.K.
Band Red
(SpinArt)
So I searched the review database of this gender-balanced quartet, a more orderly thing than any of their songs, and found only one Liliput citation—by Jessica Winter in this newspaper. Much commoner were references to ye olde Sonic Youth, whom they resemble somewhat less than they do the Go-Go's. Guess indie rock is wasted on the young, because Liliput is the analogy even if Nikki Colk has never heard of them either. Kaito are noisier, faster, girlier; Colk mispronounces her English not as a Marlene Marder homage but so people will think she's from Sweden. But the two share a rare, rambunctious sense that noise is fun and life is livable, a tremendous relief in a time when so many new guitar bands never hint at their reason for existing. Eventually Kaito might get full of themselves like Bis. Or they might cover "Ain't You." Not both. A MINUS

NDALA KASHEBA
Yellow Card
(Limitless Sky)
Congo-born in Tanzania, he's what guitar paradise is made of even though that heavenly collection passed him by. Definitive is the 12-string acoustic he cradles in both photos. Sustaining is gentle singer Baziano Bweti, who died in 2002 preaching AIDS education. Of good cheer are King Malou's perky alto themes on "Massamba" and the super-collectible "Kokolay." Also nice are the clicks, the claps, the coro. You believe in staying positive? East African soukous is still writing the book. A MINUS

THE NAYSAYER
Pure Beauty
(Carrot Top)
Because Anna Padgett's voice is deadpan by divine design, her brain better back her body up—like on these five quietly outrageous, wickedly funny songs. A young angel waits while her living lover dates. A young ne'er-do-well hires her liver a lawyer. A young dumpee's faucet drips and lightbulb goes out. Amputation saves a marriage. And then there's the climactic title trope: "Your dick is like a stick of pure beauty to me." She said it, I didn't. A MINUS

TODD SNIDER
Todd Snider Live: Near Truths and Hotel Rooms
(Oh Boy)
Folkies with a sense of humor are always better off cracking jokes than waxing lyrical. With Snider, though, the differential is near absolute—the one tolerable serious song among these career highlights is the 12-step memoir "Long Year." Snider's live-studio differential is steep as well—a crowd sharpens his timing and intonation. "Beer Run" was funny enough on 2002's New Connection, but both versions here, including one of those annoying bonus cuts where the artist's buddies can't stop laughing, are eternal nonsense classics. Because he's funny, he does sardonic and bittersweet right. Also because he's funny, the monologues are why you replay the record. A MINUS

LUCINDA WILLIAMS
World Without Tears
(Lost Highway)
Like Dylan before her, she discovers how hard it is to write the simple ones. She also discovers how hard it is to turn out an album every two years. So she stops at pretty good songs instead of worrying them toward great, and just in time. Concrete nouns are her passion, but here sometimes they break the mood, and when she pulls out her place-name trick she goes nowhere. To compensate, she sidles up to her beau ideal—a band record, a groove record, a riff record; something lowdown, dirty, smoky. Why not? Sue Foley has never recorded a lyric as strong as "Those Three Days" or "Sweet Side" in her life. And a strong Sue Foley album can hold up the sweet old world for a spell. A MINUS

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