Sometimes Lyrics Suffice

Folkies Multiply in a Time When So Many Are Singer-Songwriters and So Few Admit It

The competing Gospel According to Earthworks is softer and slicker, with six pieces by two well-groomed Joseph Dumako groups who get the two they deserve on a 22-track mosaic replete with weird mbube, rough jive, one-shots the annotator can barely account for, and joyful affirmations of a belief system that's done black South Africans almost as much good as the union movement and considerably more bad. Praise God you can't understand the words. A MINUS


JAMES BLOOD ULMER
No Escape From the Blues
Hyena

Vernon Reid's first bid to turn Ulmer into the ranking 21st-century bluesman mined Memphis and claimed classics. Phase two knows New York and articulates arcana. Whether it's Reid's banjo cakewalking away with the obscure "Goin' to New York" or the tap solo and Olu Dara cameo that break up the famed "Bright Lights, Big City," production and selection strive to outdo each other, and not just on Jimmy Reed songs. Also, Ulmer takes some hellacious solos. That's how he got here. A MINUS


LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III
So Damn Happy
Sanctuary

His 1993 Career Moves did the live folkie best-of as right as it's ever been done. A decade on he's more half-assed—men's-lib lite from History, redundant third "Westchester County," nothing off 2001's Last Man on Earth because his label changed (again). But with a couple of exceptions the songs were strong to start and improve in context, and there are five (out of 17) new ones—every one a winner, three played for laughs if you count "Something for Nothing," which is about file-sharing. Know what? The old fart's against it, although he's too sarcastic to come out and say so straight. Know what else? He may convince you. This is a man who's been making mincemeat out of hippie muscleheads since Timothy Leary was a visionary. B PLUS

Dud of the Month

MY MORNING JACKET
It Still Moves
ATO

It's touching to watch the latest indie-rock generation flail around in search of a form, spouting sincerely all the while. But it's also depressing. Like the emo guys, Louisville's Neil-ish Jim James has the advantage of normal feelings and ambition—he's not content to remain subcultural. He claims his Dave Matthews-sponsored major- label debut was his chance to make a true band record, and I guess his boys are trickier than Crazy Horse, just not in any way you haven't heard before. Then there's his filtered drawl, his straitened tune sense, his lyrics you feel cheated straining for, his 12 songs in 72 minutes. For what? For the horrible Memphis Horns coda of "Easy Morning Rebel," plodding on funklessly for two minutes after the vocal has gone the way of all reverb? C


Additional Consumer News

Honorable Mention

NEIL YOUNG & CRAZY HORSE
Greendale
(Reprise)

His politics have never been clearer, but they have been terser ("Leave the Driving," "Devil's Sidewalk").


RODNEY CROWELL
Fate's Right Hand
(DMX/Epic)

Commercial instincts undimmed, he does Americana AC confessionally, thinking hard all the while ("Earthbound," "Preachin' to the Choir").


YERBA BUENA
President Alien
(Razor & Tie)

The whole Nuyolatino empanada ("Guajira," "Tu Casa, Mi Casa").


SHESUS
Loves You . . . Loves You Not
(Narnack)

Femmenoizetoonfrom Ohio—less surprising than prime Breeders, every bit as catchy ("Holidazed," "B-Side Radio").


THE BANGLES
Doll Revolution
(Koch)

Their name was always the cheapest thing about them, and finally they write the respectable songs to prove it ("Single by Choice," "Song for a Good Son").


HOOSIER HOTSHOTS
The Definitive Hoosier Hotshots Collection
(Collectors' Choice)

Runs on half a dozen Columbia/Legacy classics, way long on covers, instrumentals, and wife jokes ("She Was a Washout in the Blackout," "Them Hill-Billies Is Sweet Williams Now").


BAD BOYS II
(Bad Boy)

Bodyguards or producers, Sean Combs hires the best (P. Diddy, Lenny Kravitz, Pharrell Williams, Loon, "Show Me Your Soul"; Jay-Z, "La-La-La").


HAMELL ON TRIAL
Tough Love
(Righteous Babe)

Say this for near-death experiences—they tune up the sensitivities ("Don't Kill," "Downs").


RALPH CARNEY
This Is! Ralph Carney
(Black Beauty)

A Buckeye Hornman—not quite as funny as a Hoosier Hotshot, but sweeter ("Turkey Neck," "Jug Gland Music").


JEFFREY LEWIS
It's the Ones Who've Cracked That the Light Shines Through
(Rough Trade)

Doubles as a cartoonist, where it's harder to cram so many words in ("Don't Let the Record Company Take You Out to Lunch," "You Don't Have to Be a Scientist to Do Experiments on Your Own Heart").


MARSHALL CRENSHAW
What's in the Bag?
(Razor & Tie)

Worked-over meditations on the persistence of romance ("Will We Ever?," "Where Homes Used to Be").


THE NEPTUNES PRESENT. . . CLONES
(Star Trak)

It takes more than groovemastery to make a hodgepodge flow (Dirt McGirt, "Pop Sh*t"; Kelis, "Popular Thug").


LED ZEPPELIN
How the West Was Won (Atlantic)

Solid live versions, curious guitar extravaganza, dire drum solo, ace covers ("Bring It On Home," "Whole Lotta Love").


GRANDADDY
Sumday (V2)

Here's the clue you're not facin', the robot is Jason ("The Group Who Couldn't Say," "Stray Dog and the Chocolate Shake").


RAINER MARIA
Long Knives Drawn
(Polyvinyl)

She learns to sing love-songs-with-backup and indie boys think she's regressed (even though she's still pretentious!) ("Ears Ring," "The Awful Truth of Loving").

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