Tonic for Americans

Afropoppers, geezers, Qur'an readers, and Christians invite your participatory discretion

Pick Hits


There are many things I don't miss about the '60s, including long hair, LSD, revolutionary rhetoric, and folkies playing drums. But the affluent optimism that preceded and then secretly pervaded the decade's apocalyptic alienation is a lost treasure of a time when capitalism had so much slack in it that there was no pressing need to stop your mind from wandering. Brian Wilson grokked surfing because it embodied that optimism, and though I considered the legend of Smile hot air back then, this re-creation proves he had plenty more to make of it. The five titles played for minimalist whimsy on Smiley Smile mean even more orchestrated, and the newly released fragments are as strong as the whole songs they tie together. Smile's post-adolescent utopia isn't disfigured by Brian's thickened, soured 62-year-old voice. It's ennobled—the material limitations of its sunny artifice and pretentious tomfoolery acknowledged and joyfully engaged. This can only be tonic for Americans long since browbeaten into lowering their expectations by the rich men who are stealing their money. A PLUS

Boban I Marko
(Piranha import)

Never mind Bright Balkan Morning's Steven Feld soundscape, which overdoes ambience, or Knitting Factory's wannabe Slavic Soul Party in Makedonia, which shortchanges chops. This Serbian-Roma horn band is where I hear the Balkan-style "participatory discrepancy" Charles Keil declares unrecordable—the "relaxed dynamism," the "semiconscious or unconscious slightly out of syncness." Father-and-son flugelhorn virtuoso-and-phenom trade perky theme statements and heartbreaking solos in an ensemble that hangs loose from the slack wire between chaos and expertise. Tuneful and jaunty when it's generic, miraculous and hilarious when it hits—or just misses—its groove. A MINUS

(All Natural)

Delivering his staccato rhymes with stark, memorable beats, this Qur'an reader drops more political science per line than Steve Earle and Immortal Technique put together. I could do with less Chomsky, and trust the guy is humane enough to get over his problem with men kissing men. But this album is what my choir means by "Preach, brother, preach." Inspirational Verse: "Think about it Tony Blair and his people r rich/George Bush we all know that nigga is rich/Osama Bin Laden yeah that madman's rich." A MINUS

(World Village)

The definitive salegy singer hadn't shown his bar code over here since 1992's emphatically entitled Salegy! Now suddenly he's got two albums out, and on this newer and less Madagascar-specific one the emphasis doesn't require punctuation marks. The first three tracks work up a drive absent from Salegy! before settling into a supple complexity that isn't above putting its point across by reprising old tunes you and I don't remember. Salegy! sounded singer-with-backup. This is a band record—a rocking band record, with two guitars and guest horns and accordion-harmonium keyb and four backup females. Within Indian Ocean parameters, it's the most upful new Afropop I've heard in years. A MINUS

(Riverboat import)

"Acoustic" album by the griot and Rail Band alum, whose early-'90s Mango crossover attempt never followed up on the market-changing 1987 Afrodisco hit "Yé Ké Yé Ké." Note that in West Africa acoustic doesn't mean quiet or contemplative. It means disco isn't working anymore, and it also means neotraditionalist. Strictly speaking, horns are acoustic, but who needs 'em, and when doun doun drums don't generate the bass you need, why not cheat now and then with an "electro-acoustic"? Point is, on most of these tunes the groove is fierce and subtle, and on the others subtle is enough. Strong women add drive and state melody. Kante's kora and Adama Condé's balafon embellish in rhythm. A MINUS

Love Snuck Up

It's a tribute to their vitality as a couple that the standouts are lovestruck on a collection that combines the better half of their duet do with cameos from their solo albums: the joyous and profane "Little Darlin'," the brave and hopeful "Wallflower," the laughing title tune, and especially the intoxicated "You Make My Heart Beat Too Fast." It's a puzzlement how country convention extracts so much heartbreak from the same pair, which isn't to say that "Dirty Water" and "Out in the Rain" don't bear a credible burden of sorrow. It's a sign of how humanely they define love that they build to a miraculously averted mining disaster and a Pop Staples anthem. A MINUS

Beautifully Human
(Hidden Beach)

A smart cookie, and emotionally stable to boot (cf. Mary, Macy, etc.), a virtue you assume boring at your developmental peril. Rarely do the settings distinguish themselves, and once she tries to get her honey's attention deploying a big band when she'd have been better off with more funk lite. But a distinct voice delivering noticeable verbal content is a setting too—that's why you notice the content. Anyway, the words per se could carry "Family Reunion," not to mention "My Petition," which accuses a suitor of abrogating her civil liberties like some Bushie. Aimed at Scott's kind of guy, that smarts. A MINUS

Ultimate Aaron Tippin
(RCA Nashville/BMG Heritage)

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