By Gili Malinsky
By Bob Ruggiero
By Hilary Hughes
By Peter Gerstenzang
By David R. Adler
By Devon Maloney
By Brian McManus
By Jessica Hopper
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
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
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-assedmen'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 onesevery 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
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 ambitionhe'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
NEIL YOUNG & CRAZY HORSE
His politics have never been clearer, but they have been terser ("Leave the Driving," "Devil's Sidewalk").
Fate's Right Hand
Commercial instincts undimmed, he does Americana AC confessionally, thinking hard all the while ("Earthbound," "Preachin' to the Choir").
(Razor & Tie)
The whole Nuyolatino empanada ("Guajira," "Tu Casa, Mi Casa").
Loves You . . . Loves You Not
Femmenoizetoonfrom Ohioless surprising than prime Breeders, every bit as catchy ("Holidazed," "B-Side Radio").
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").
The Definitive Hoosier Hotshots Collection
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
HAMELL ON TRIAL
Say this for near-death experiencesthey tune up the sensitivities ("Don't Kill," "Downs").
This Is! Ralph Carney
A Buckeye Hornmannot quite as funny as a Hoosier Hotshot, but sweeter ("Turkey Neck," "Jug Gland Music").
It's the Ones Who've Cracked That the Light Shines Through
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").
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
It takes more than groovemastery to make a hodgepodge flow (Dirt McGirt, "Pop Sh*t"; Kelis, "Popular Thug").
How the West Was Won(Atlantic)
Solid live versions, curious guitar extravaganza, dire drum solo, ace covers ("Bring It On Home," "Whole Lotta Love").
Here's the clue you're not facin', the robot is Jason ("The Group Who Couldn't Say," "Stray Dog and the Chocolate Shake").
Long Knives Drawn
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").