Eating Again

Up against the fussy vocals and structures of 1993's excellent second-phase best-of The A List, the muscular mud of what amounts to a third-phase best-of—they were going to release six consecutive EPs until this album occurred to them—is a deliberate regression. The model isn't Pink Flag, it's Roxy London WC2. Melodically, "In the Art of Stopping" is a relative of "Mr. Suit"; sonically, it's a relative of Slaughter and the Dogs. In short, they "rock." Finally. A MINUS

Fever to Tell
With help from that bad corporate money, they get a striking sound out of the no-bass thing. It's both big and punk, never a natural combo, and up against the Kills it's killer—Nick Zinner commands more than any man's allotted portion of dangerous riffs. But to care about this band you have to find Karen O's fuck-me persona provocative if not seductive, and since I've never been one for the sex-is-combat thing, I find it silly or obnoxious depending on who's taking it seriously. Duly noted: two human-scale songs toward the end. B PLUS


God Bless Jug and Sonny
The tenor battle in which two saxmen blow each other's brains out is a format often cited and seldom documented, and as someone who's sought examples for years, I feel lucky I threw on this live CD—released 2000, recorded 1973. Zoot Sims and Lockjaw Davis's roughly similar The Tenor Giants Featuring Oscar Peterson is hobbled by jazz decorum and a stiffer rhythm section; the justly legendary 1950 meeting of these two Billy Eckstine grads, "Blues Up and Down," is constipated by comparison. The Baltimore crowd brings out the brawler in both Albert's boy Gene, with his woogie-steeped r&b tendencies, and the famously facile Stitt, known for his eagerness to replicate Bird solos and cut crap in the studio for cash on the barrelhead. The combat is friendly and uncerebral—Stitt pushes Ammons's big gruff Hawkins chops toward modernism as Ammons drives Stitt to a raucous showboat bebop that keeps on churning as tracks approach the quarter-hour mark. Cedar Walton, Sam Jones, and the incomparable Billy Higgins are so fluid you hardly mind when the leaders sit out for a Walton feature, and the 2002 sequel is almost as good even though two Etta Jones vocals intrude. Called Left Bank Encores, it was cut the very same night. Must have been some show. A MINUS


Til the Wheels Fall Off
(Signature Sounds)
Much as I love her songs, with this her best batch since her first, I love her singing them more. The way she starts the album by calmly drawling "I'm tired of bein' tired of bein'/Why am I always disagreein' " over murmured accordion and tick-tock percussion is so sturdy and so musical that it still catches me short. Outspokenly ordinary, she's hard on her man, hard on herself, hard on her life, which like most American lives is fairly hard. Although her romantic ups and downs aren't the disaster she believes sometimes, she really would like to know if she's "ever gonna have sex again." Answer—definitely. She's attractive if by some juvenile standards mature, and she feels the love in her and the lust in her at the same time, which always helps. If only the millions of women in her situation had the time and funds to test-drive alt-country CDs, she'd be as famous as Lucinda. A MINUS

Dud of the Month

(Kill Rock Stars)
A fat sexy lesbian teenager whose entire trio escaped Arkansas for Olympia? A big voice with its emotions out front? What's not to love? Nothing, declare gossipmongers bowled over by their strenuous gigs. To which well-wishers must inquire, Er, how about music? Beth Ditto gives no indication she could sing the tunes that aren't here. Brace Howdeshall applies punk chops to a soul concept. Kathy Mendonca doesn't know what an offbeat is. And face it, folks—when it comes to putting good old rock 'n' roll on record, a bass player really helps. C PLUS

Additional Consumer News

HONORABLE MENTION: Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Pig Lib (Matador): should have figured he'd turn fussbudget on us eventually ("1% of One," "Vanessa From Queens"); Local H, The No Fun EP (Thick): something to be pissed about ("President Forever," "Birth, School, Work, Death"); Good Charlotte, The Young and the Hopeless (Epic): honest pop band presents its songs punk, and that makes some people so mad ("The Story of My Old Man," "Riot Girl"); the White Stripes, Elephant (V2): saying not enough with less ("I Want to Be the Boy Who Warms Your Mother's Heart," "The Hardest Button to Button"); Rosanne Cash, Rules of Travel (Capitol): glad she took Manhattan, wish her songwriting had stood in Nashville ("September When It Comes," "I'll Change for You"); Liars, They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top (Mute): not a bad trick—tension-and-release that never lets go ("Grown Men Don't Fall in the River, Just Like That," "The Garden Was Crowded and Outside"); Madonna, American Life (Maverick/Warner Bros.): learning and adjusting like always, and no, stupid, not hypocritically—although maybe inattentively ("Mother and Father," "Nothing Fails"); Terri Clark, Pain to Kill (Mercury): like most women, the woman in her has plenty of what the title says ("You Can't Help the One You Love," "Better Than You," "I Just Wanna Be Mad"); Elastica, The Radio One Sessions (Koch/Strange Fruit): nine previously obscure songs bait slack one-take best-of ("Spastica," "Four Wheels"); Daughter, Skin (Aum Fidelity): punk, rap, dub—from an avant-jazz perspective, it's all one music ("Misbehaving," "Hands in the Pants"); Dixie Chicks, Home (Open Wide/Monument/Columbia): deeper proof than they intended of the deep meaning of neobluegrass—you can't go home again ("Travelin' Soldier," "White Trash Wedding"); Buzzcocks (Merge): callow punk alienation as reliable folk wisdom ("Friends," "Lester Sands"); Shania Twain, Up! (Mercury): I'll take the "green" mixes, and fuck you for asking ("I'm Gonna Getcha Good!," "Ka-Ching!").

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