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Craft and Lies

From Senegal to Austin T-X clear evidence of cooperation between or among principals

Pick Hits

AMY RIGBY
Little Fugitive
(Signature Sounds, P.O. Box 106, Whately MA 01093)

Trying to be hardheaded, I ask myself how the soul-horned "It's Not Safe" or the wan "Always With Me" would sound on an album by someone similar I don't care for—Aimee Mann, or Gillian Welch. The answer is that a differently arranged "It's Not Safe" would be a highlight for either, and that the mournful "Always With Me" is there for mood and pace. A cover sticker quotes the claim that she's as consistent as Richard Thompson or John Prine, but Thompson hasn't been her match lyrically for decades, and Prine, bless his heart, has recorded one album of new material since 1995. It really is quite simple—no one of any gender or generation has written as many good songs in Rigby's realistic postfolk mode since she launched Diary of a Mod Housewife in 1996. She's the best, plus a fine singer in an apt doing-the-dishes mode. Not counting the heart-tugging "Dancing With Joey Ramone," my current fave is "So Now You Know," in which a beloved tells her perfect man how she was once a slut. "Year of the Binge" could be about the same woman. Who almost certainly isn't Rigby—when would she have had the time? But the mod ex-housewife knows her well. A

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BALKAN BEAT BOX
(JDub, 111 Eighth Avenue 11th Floor, NYC, 10011)

Former Gogol Bordello horn man Ori Kaplan moves in with Big Lazy's Tamir Muskat, the Israeli-born drummer who faced down Gypsy punk Eugene Hutz in J.U.F. last year. Everything else is friends and programming, with a party feel more relaxed than expected despite the fact that their CVs assuredly include weddings. The drumbeats remain edgily electronic. But the bass lines propelling the dance, and the horns and vocals flavoring it, are sweeter than in Gogol Bordello or Big Lazy—with a discernible sensuality putting flesh on the fun. Ethnically, and politically, the idea is that Morocco and Bulgaria are one place—a lie longing to become a dream. A MINUS

AMADOU & MARIAM
Dimanche à Bamako
(Nonesuch)

No Malians more eagerly downplay their nation's sun-slowed intensity than this Parisian couple, so it was a good idea to introduce them to Manu Chao, whose breakthrough concept gentled up international sounds into reggae lite with brains. Though the pair's warp and weave are softened as a result, the beat remains theirs, and though they're less brainy than Chao, there's bite in their ineluctable Malian-ness. For social content, they take on the danger truck drivers pose to giraffes, hippopotamuses, elephants, chickens, and children. A MINUS

ASYLUM STREET SPANKERS
Mercurial
(Spanks-a-Lot, P.O. Box 49799, Austin TX 78765-9799)

At their most forced when Christina Marrs plays up the sex angle—"Mojo Working," "Sugar in My Bowl"—and their most audacious when they mix genres big-time, as in the (uncredited) "interpolations" (as they say on hip-hop albums, where money might change hands) of Skynyrd's "Gimme Two Steps" into "Hick Hop" and Jim Carroll's "People Who Died" into "Tight Like That," this nouveau jug band from Austin T-X outdoes itself on three punkier covers: a letter-perfect "Dance This Mess Around" (B-52's, kidz), a modernized "TV Party" (Black Flag), and, best of all, a gun-toting "Paul Revere," complete with "Beastie Boys Boogie" coda. B PLUS

GABY LITA BEMBO AND ORCHESTRE STUKAS DE ZAì
Kita Mata ABC
(RetroAfric, P.O. Box 26072, London SW10 0YA England)

Although '80s soukous is obviously sleeker, only those who know early rumba will get how uncouth and just plain pop this unjustly unrenowned '70s act was. Full-band choruses are deployed—"You-you-you-you-you-you-you." Whistles are blown, scripted jokes exchanged. Sometimes the guitars teeter where they should ripple, sometimes they go veryfast, and I read where one showboat admired the way Jimi played with his teeth. Teens especially loved them. But a ball was had by all. A MINUS

BLACKALICIOUS
The Craft
(Anti-, c/o Epitaph, 2798 Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood CA 90026)

There's no more accomplished crew in alt-rap, and though that can make their messages seem slick sometimes, on this break with UniMoth their booming beats, lucid raps, and articulate rhymes are technically miraculous. The Lifesavas, George Clinton, and ally-for-life Lyrics Born—whose deep rapid-fire takes the quick-lipped Gift of Gab to Mount Sinai—vary the flowetry better than Floetry, and most tracks offer what we outside of hit radio call hooks. With "World of Vibrations" and "The Craft" bookending metathematically, high points include the uplifting "Supreme People," "Your Move," and "The Fall and Rise of Elliot Brown" and two songs about women. "Powers" describes a queen, "Side to Side" a skank. Musically, both gals get respect. A MINUS

BRAKES
Give Blood
(Rough Trade, Chelsea Hotel, Room 103, 222 West 23 Street, NYC, 10011)

The singer from British Sea Power joins three even lesser U.K. alt-rock notables in 16 short-and-shorter ditties about their scenester lives. Some observers classify these ditties "country-punk," while other crankily insist they're "anti-folk," proving mainly that nobody knows what to make of simple little guitar-band songs on a scene where everyone's busy refining his or her artistic vision. But if you believe as I do that the alt-rock subculture means more than almost any individual alt-rocker's vision, they're an up. Four bohemian fellas with a sense of humor who relate actively to their friends and lovers, despise Dick Cheney, and get wasted some—the last of which they'll cut down on. A MINUS

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