All the Fame of Lofty Deeds
Purportedly a concept album in which Mr. Deeds goes to Nashville because he's outgrown his band, and life will never be the same because fame can do that (also death). Actually a bunch of songs in which Mr. Langford goes to Chicago because he can't stand Margaret Thatcher, and life will never be the same because George W. Bush can do that (also Satan). The "hard road that always brings you back" has brought him back to where he once escaped, so now he's considering Switzerland, yodel-ay-ee-oooo. True love aside, how the hell did he wind up in America? "The country is young . . . not too good on the sharing," so let the zombies tear it apart. Only he loves its music, which sustains him even in the absence of one of the ad hoc bands he'll never outgrowthe arrangements, early Cash with extras, are as committed as the singing we've learned to assume. The glory of America at war with its shame, and don't bet it'll hold up its head forever. A
THE ROUGH GUIDE TO THE MUSIC OF ETHIOPIA
Finally, after umpteen volumes of Buda Musique completism, a peaky, fluent introduction to one of the European diaspora's stranger and more consistent national musics. Sonically, horns dominate. After World War II, instructors from Austria, Armenia, and other non-Abyssinian places imposed themselves along with the sway of victorious swing on military brass bands that never abandoned their indigenous scales. These bands only went pop decades later, and on Buda, a sameness besets them. Here, in contrast, solid vocalists show off their best tunes, and incongruences like the émigré with King Curtis's taste for major keys merely shift the mood. Smack in the middle and right in a row, an old master of an ancient lyre that sounds like a bass zither, a future émigrée backed by quasi-classical piano, and an instrumental with string section disrupt the vocals-with-horns norm, never alarmingly. Then the norm bounces back refreshed. From beginning to end, what a sound. A MINUS
Coup de Grâce
A hip-hop band, only not funky like Stetsasonic and the Roots. Or then again, a rap-rock band, only not heavy like Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park. White, I assumeI'm positive about the rapper, who I met before he became an alienated teenager, and Jewish names predominate among his bandmates. The DFA production is enhancement onlythe music is Automato's. Less accomplished and sensational than the Rapture's, it's a lot trippier when it comes together and also when it threatens to jump the tracks, both of which happen plenty. Usually the chapstick-packing rapper figures out what to do with it, too. "All I ever wanted was truth, peace, harmony, and anti-gravitational boots," he confides, only then: "Truth is a bitch when you're living in sin." So be glad he got the boots. A MINUS
THE MAGNETIC FIELDS
The concept is, not only do all these deadpan titles start with an i, they're performed (in alphabetical order!) by the deadpan I in question. When the songs are not just clever but livelymost spectacularly on the unrelenting "I Thought You Were My Boyfriend"Stephin Merritt's demo-ready monotone could pass for a singing voice. When they're notoften not lively, and once or twice, heaven forfend, not cleverhe sounds as if he's waiting to be swept off his feet by Sophie Von Otter. At which point we who were rooting for more "I Thought You Were My Boyfriend" sneak out the back door. B PLUS
THE ROUGH GUIDE TO THE MUSIC OF KENYA
World Music Network import
Kenya isn't just diverse tribally, the way all African nations are diverse. Among the larger ones, only Nigeria sustains such a pronounced Christian-Islamic split, with the Muslims holding sway over pan-African Swahili and the arriviste Christians aligning with the animists their grandparents once were and also with Congolese rumba speculators come east to rake in the shillings. Traversing generational boundaries as well, this is a travelogue. But Kenya is a populous place with a prosperous history whose music has made few international inroads, and compiler-annotator Doug Paterson has ears. So here's chiming benga never heard stateside, traditional Swahili taarab and upstart Swahili rumba, distinctly Muslim hooks, rappers worthy of the name, andbest of all, reallythree modern female voices on the first six tracks. The country's a mess; Daniel arap Moi saw to that. But its spirit would appear to be strong. A MINUS
Peanuts & Corn
From secret hip-hop hot spot Winnipeg, just what the genre needsan angry Caucasian with space and germ issues and rotting teeth he can't afford to fix. Plus, for that urban touch, a producer from Vancouver. By adding elegance and eloquence to Pipi's congested utterances and anti-American analysischeck the basslines, which are sometimes organlike, once I think bowed, and always mixed to accentuate melodyMcEnroe makes the rapper seem fully socialized. No hip-hop lyric this year will get more done than "5:20 AM," which is when Pipi wakes up for his job in the nursing home. A MINUS
No, she hasn't regained her sense of humor, but aren't you fast losing yours? "I'm no Sufi but I'll give it a whirl" makes light enough of the mystic path her political obsessions follow. And if sometimes her hymns vague out like "Trespasses" or over-generalize like "Jubilee," the boho reminisce of "In My Blakean Year" represents where she's coming from, the sweet solemnity of "Gandhi" and "Peaceable Kingdom" sings the sacred, and the amateur-Arabist rant-and-release of "Radio Baghdad" speaks poetry to power. It won't prevail. But it's a comfort. B PLUS
HOUND DOG TAYLOR
Release the Hound
Live and redundantsix of 15 titles also on best-of, almost all on the three studio albums. But none on his 1976 live set. And who do you prefer when it comes to redundantthe laid-off prole who gets the job done night in and night out or the college-educated goon who pronounces him excessed? Taylor had less class than a metal-shop teacher in a finishing school, and he always believed that making music was the same thing as having fun. Few artists in any genre, most certainly including the dogged bar blues he inspired, have generated such effortless enthusiasm or made ruder noises with an amplifier. His studio legacy is pretty rough. But live he was even rougher, and with him that means better more often than not. A MINUS
WHEN THE SUN GOES DOWN: POOR MAN'S HEAVEN
As music, the sixth volume in this all-over-the-place RCA series is even more all over the place. But by segregating the showbiz folk up ahead of the folk musicians, it suggests that citified pop dreamers were even angrier about the Great Depression than the rural immiserated. Jug-blowing Mississippi Sarah moaning "this depression has got me," the Cedar Creek Sheik denied credit in his Afro-Swedish accent, and Blind Alfred Reed entering heaven with "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?" are all hard hit. But they aren't as bitter as Bob Miller, whose 7,000 published songs included "The Rich Man and the Poor Man" ("Oh the rich man gets acquitted while the poor man gets the rope") and "It Must Be Swell" (death, he means). Between categories is the jazzified title tune by country pro Carson Robinson, which craves not just relief but revenge. Not that I myself would want some number cruncher serving me breakfast. But with a little training maybe he or she could do my filing. A MINUS
Dud of the Month
So Much for the City
If an Americana disaffected suburban boy from the professional class, saywere to concoct this sentimental cutesification of surf and country-rock, drawl and harmony and whisper and mewl, it would be even harder to forgive. Americans have an obligation to comprehend their own culture. But there's something in Conor Deasy's timbre that renders his Dublin version even more saccharine in its artifice. The cure for what ails him? I dunno. A quick chop to the Adam's apple? C
Additional Consumer News
Considering . . .
The kind of young band that's doubly convincing on tunes it can't quite handle ("Open," "Don't Like the Way")
BOOKER T. & THE MG'S
Never Before Available Covers of 25 of Your Favorite '60s Hits! ("Harlem Shuffle," "Downtown")
Van Lear Rose
Are we allowed to wonder whether she's spunky enough for a Nashville legend with a new lease on life? ("Red Shoes," "Story of My Life")
MISSION OF BURMA
On Off On
Easy for abstractionists to pick up where they left off, hard for them to represent ("Nicotine Bomb," "Fake Blood")
"History will show our progress is slow," so they make sure their music isn't ("A Stare Like Yours," "Remember Today").
From Chicano r&b to Chicano bricolage and most of the way back, with famous friends pointing the way ("Kitate," "Hurry Tomorrow")
THE ROUGH GUIDE TO THE MUSIC OF THE INDIAN OCEAN
(World Music Network import)
Tourist attractions of half a dozen competing island paradises (Seychelles String Band, "Polka"; Kaya, "Sensé")
Rock N Roll
Sound effects, emotional affects, he's got 'em all ("Note to Self: Don't Die," "This Is It").
The Pretty Toney Album
Don't worry, Ghostno matter how much you cry we'll never call you "faggot" ("Be This Way," "Save Me Dear").
Why hip-hop heads worship Premier ("In This Life . . . ," "Who Got Gunz")
LAS RUBIAS DEL NORTE
Before you say rumba wasn't meant to be this civilized, study danzón ("Perfidia," "Ambrosa Guajiro").
EYEDEA & ABILITIES
Especially abilities ("One Twenty," "Kept")
"Get Down With It," "Rocking Chair"
Get Down With It: The Okeh Sessions
"Do U Like It?"
Love Is Hell Pt. 1
Love Is Hell Pt. 2
THE SLEEPY JACKSON
Silence Is Easy
Logic Will Break Your Heart
It's All Around You
WOMEN OF AFRICA
(Putumayo World Music)
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