Looking Past Differences

Don't let the young Republicans put you in jail or the restless hipsters scare you away

Pick Hits

East Nashville Skyline (Oh Boy)

At 34, Snider declares himself an "old-timer," and from the prefatory "Age Like Wine" ("too late to die young now") to the valedictory "Enjoy Yourself" (Guy Lombardo's wisest hit) proves his maturity by being funny and serious at the same time. In a decisive and let us hope permanent change, there's none of the mawkishness young fools think is deep and old fools wallow in—not even in "Play a Train Song," which appreciates corn without indulging in it. Instead a guy who spends two of these songs in jail sticks up for "tree-huggin', love-makin', pro-choicin', gay-weddin', Widespread-diggin' hippies" everywhere. Problem is, he's afraid they'll all get locked up too. Not a slacker manifesto—a slacker wake-up call. A

(World Music Network import)

By limiting itself to unwaveringly commercial Discos Fuentes product, this avoids not just folk and jazz but tropical ballads, because Discos Fuentes is old-fashioned enough to think commercial means danceable. Whether from veterans going back to the '50s or the Fania wannabes the label launched in the '70s or the revivalists of the '90s, the sinewy clave is locally inflected and the rhythms always take off. These are not famous names internationally, although Joe Arroyo and Fruko and Los Titanes may deserve to be. But everybody shares a commitment to the basics of salsa dura—and that collective thrust, not individual twists, is what keeps the pulse racing. A MINUS

To the 5 Boroughs

Don't let the hipsters scare you away. "An Open Letter to NYC" is as inarticulate as most love letters, so hackneyed Mike D could be gunning for an October engagement at Yankee Stadium. But from "We've got a president we didn't elect" to "It's time we looked past all our differences," many clichés here are worth recycling, as with the black (sounding) hype man who reinforces the one about differences with a faint but unmistakable "that's fresh fresh, for a Jewboy, Jewboy, Jewboy." As much as Jay-Z, and with more jokes, the Beasties are masters of their sound, of which this is the old-school variant. Like the Catskill shticksters they honor, they crack wise as naturally as John Hurt drawled, only with a better sense of rhythm (than the shticksters). They sound sharp-witted even when they mouth homilies. They sound like the reason uppity Queens boys used to think the 7 train was bound for Jordan. A MINUS

(Stones Throw)

No noticeable structure a dozen plays in—just a glorious phantasmagoria of flow. Give them time and Madlib's 22 bits and pieces in 46 minutes seem not just catchy but inevitable—press shuffle at your peril, although "Curls" and "Accordion" hold their own. As for Doom, well: "One scary night I saw the light/Heard a voice like Barry White/ Said, 'Sure you're right.' " To emulate neither Barry White, the voice means, nor the kind of quick thinker who normally rhymes "fine, G," "hiney," "Chinee," "shiny," and "pine tree." Instead Doom sounds slow, probably because he's stoned. He loves rhyme so much that the only universe that suits him is one where a gutter ball leads straight to a butterball—and that is a stoned universe. A MINUS

Good News for People Who Love Bad News

Weathered now, their herky-jerk stands up smartly to interjections from the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. They've outgrown Bukowski if not drifters and scored a video hit in which they back into a police car without penalty, bitch proactively here and shrug passively there, and—good for them—can't resist the old trope of sampling a baby's cry onto a song. Why am I certain one of them fathered the baby? Ah, bittersweet mystery of life. A MINUS

Street Signs

In which the agitating L.A. salsa-rap collective vanquishes the tendency of rock en español's constituent parts to stick out like tree roots or TV antennas. Arab sounds from Hassan Hakmoun to dancehall diwali articulate Hispanic music's Moorishness when we need it most, yet fit right in, and the horns on "Déjame en Paz" could be ska or some Mexican ur-polka. Everything jumps, which makes the Iberian romanticism of the closing "Cuando Canto" easier to take—though it helps that, as usual with these guys, the romanticism has a political purpose, which starts with their people and radiates outward. A MINUS

Ritmo Caliente

Like Milton Nascimento and Astor Piazzolla, Palmieri enjoys the prestige based on his pretensions as well as his talent. Check 1974's pivotal The Sun of Latin Music and notice how many bases it touches. To list the obvious, there's a full-fledged suite; pianistics that recall Monk, Tyner, even Cecil Taylor; a snatch of Abbey Road; a conga workout; a salsa tour; a simple cumbia arted up with a bass-and-piano break; and—crucially—enough cheese. Times having changed, this equally far-reaching album seems less epochal (and is definitely less cheesy). But I insist that its intrinsic musicality equals if not exceeds that of The Sun of Latin Music, and suspect that it's one of Palmieri's best. The impressionistic "Tema para Renée" is an art move; so is the graceful and audacious "Gigue (Bach Goes Bat)." But in general the old man nails the good old three-and-two through a panoply of variations. You may recall that Palmieri likes to dust off his chops with a ruminative exordium. Here it's his pride to state the beat. A MINUS

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