Music

Consumer Guide

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Three genuine debut albums make the cut–and that’s not counting solo spinoff Killah
Priest, or Dock Boggs. Like Boggs when he hit the studio, Mary Lou Lord, Chris Knight, and
Smash Mouth are all around 30. They’ve had time to figure out what they want to do in
there. And dissimilar though they are, all convey compassion. Unlike Dock Boggs.

THE APPLES IN STEREO: Tone Soul Evolution (Sire) Robert Schneider’s
second pass at homemade Beatles conquers his embarrassment over how much he adores this
stuff. Stripped of sonic camouflage, the songs are consistently pretty, fanciful, and
slight, as clear as existential questions can be. Half a dozen ways he wonders whether he
can lose himself forever in this music–and by so doing, find himself. You don’t have to
believe in harmony to grant him the right to try. A MINUS

DOCK BOGGS: Country Blues (Revenant) As careful perusal of Greil Marcus’s
liner essay reveals, Boggs’s legend is based on just eight traditional songs. He cut them
in New York in 1927, and there’s no better demonstration of how good they are than the
four he laid down in Chicago in 1929. In New York he’s so full of beans he can scarcely
contain himself. If on the one hand he’s truly enacting these dark-to-grisly tales, on the
other hand they can’t touch him; it’s Waiting for Godot, in which the intrinsic excitement
of creation subsumes all incidental pessimism, plus “I Want To Hold Your Hand,”
in which one’s imminent conquest of the world infuses the humblest ditty with an
exhilaration that carries all before it. Where Marcus hears an acceptance of death, I hear
intimations of immortality–bitter laughter and defiant cunning, sap rising and blood
flowing, meanness and exuberance and sarcasm and deviltry, a refusal to succumb to
consequences. Two years later, on leave from the mining town he now senses he’ll never
escape, Boggs is the image of fatalistic impassivity, as dull as the lyrics he’s been
handed by the wannabe label owner who underwrote his trip to the city. Soon he would give
in to his wife and stop playing for 30 years. A MINUS

ANI DiFRANCO: Little Plastic Castles (Righteous Babe) Here’s hoping she
gets used to fame, a theme the coolest new-famous are now canny enough to sidestep or
caricature. But DiFranco doesn’t have much use for ordinary standards of cool, which is
one reason she retains such a lock on her corner of fame, and for the nonce, she can do no
wrong. Always underlying the bull-session eloquence of her words, which constitutes a hook
no matter the message, is the supple, seductive, self-amused musicality that puts all her
recent records across. A typical touch here is her choice of world-jazz-ambient trumpeter
Jon Hassell to decorate the 14-minute spoken-word finale “Pulse”: “you
crawled into my bed/like some sort of giant insect/and I found myself spellbound/at the
sight of you there/beautiful and grotesque/and all the rest of that bug stuff.”
“That bug stuff”–who else would dare it? A MINUS

CESARIA EVORA: Cabo Verde (Nonesuch) Having mysteriously resisted the
reigning world-music diva since I encountered her in a quiet Paris club a decade ago, I
found a clue in the translation of “Mar e morada de sodade”: “The Sea Is
the Home of Nostalgia.” Usually sodade, the equivalent of “soul” for
Evora’s morna style, is rendered “sadness” or “longing,” terms that
disguise the self-pity beneath its dignity–a self-pity that’s easier to take out in the
open. Rather more than on her renowned U.S. debut (which I like better now that I’ve heard
her better), that self-pity is mitigated by the somewhat swifter flow of the grooves, a
speed achieved at no loss of her fundamental fluidity. And I note that the two drop-dead
melodies, both taken medium-fast and one featuring an utterly easeful James Carter,
counsel confidently against despair and complacency. A MINUS

FAT BEATS & BRASTRAPS: CLASSICS (Rhino) “The rules of the game
are simple and plain/ Turn on the microphone and recite your name,” claims the great
lost Sparky-D over some break-beats and an audacious two-note Louie Shelton loop. And
beyond the two stone classics, Roxanne Shante’s “Have a Nice Day” and the Real
Roxanne’s “Bang Zoom (Let’s Go-Go),” that innocence encapsulates the casual
charm and enduring artistic value of this early femme rap comp. It’s innocent when Shante
lays out the perils of the street on the rare “Runaway,” when young Latifah
skanks the Meters, when LeShaun d/b/a 2 Much serves up the lovingly lubricious “Wild
Thang” for the ineluctably lustful L.L. Cool J, when the great lost Ice Cream Tee
disses “male chauvinists” without thinking twice. Historically and musically,
the Sequence and Salt-n-Pepa are missed. But this proves what a great girls school the old
school could have been. A MINUS

ORUC GUVENC AND TUMATA: Rivers of One (Interworld) Nobody believes I
honestly like this Turkish med-school professor cum New Age spellbinder until I actually
pop in Oceans of Remembrance, in which he and his little trio chant the names of God for
an hour of unassuming ecstasy. Showcasing the Sufi healing music that Guvenc rediscovered,
this one’s somewhat less transcendent–longer on flute with minimal vocals, although I dig
how assuredly Gulten Uralli pours the water that sets the beat. It comprises three
improvisations on the rast makam, a tonality said to promote “inner calmness.”
As someone who regularly endangers his immune system with electric music, I find this
therapeutic at bedtime, and sincerely hope the follow-up moves on to the hicaz makam,
which “protects and strengthens the urogenital system.” A MINUS

KILLAH PRIEST: Heavy Mental (Geffen) Shaolin mystagogy meets millenarian
panic in music for the end time. And though the album may be paranoid, that doesn’t mean
nobody’s out to get it–just like any other product of the projects. “Science
projects,” Priest calls them, amid biblical citations, images of crucifixion, 2001
fantasies, warp-speed verbal drive-bys, and this Inspirational Verse: “I roam the
earth’s surface/Snatching purses/Allergic/To Catholic churches/What’s the
purpose?/Religious worship/Is worthless.” Preach, killah. A MINUS

CHRIS KNIGHT (Decca) This being Nashville, of course they claim his secret is
reality, but I say it’s literature. He’s a writer pure and simple, schooled in the
economical everyday; if he’d grown up in California instead of Kentucky, he’d have tried
his hand at sitcoms. I love the way he finds a pungent trope and tops it–drives his truck
to Timbuktu and then lies down on a bed of nails. The music is spare enough to signify
reality, and big enough to heighten it. A MINUS

MARY LOU LORD: Got No Shadow (Work) Only indie perverts would
hyperventilate over Lord’s breathy voice, which needs every booster jet mind can devise or
money can buy. And only indie perverts would object to her long-aborning major-label
debut, where she gets the help she needs. The production is Amy Rigby–style
neotraditionalism, with Roger McGuinn rippling under one flowing surge just to mark the
concept, and, overcoming her fondness for Nick Saloman (Bevis Frond, don’t you know
anything?), she makes the most of covers from Elizabeth Cotten to Freedy Johnston. Equally
impressive, every once in a while she finds the gumption to eke out a song so winsomely
conceived and solidly constructed it belongs in the canon she adores. Sometimes Saloman
even helps–the cowritten lead track is a hummer worthy of Stuart Musgrove (Belle and
Sebastian, don’t you know anything at all?). A MINUS

PRIMAL SCREAM: Vanishing Point (Reprise) As someone who saw the title
film stoned in 1971, and loved it, I agree that this is one of the few putatively
psychedelic albums ever to evoke the distractible ecstasy of actual psychedelic
experience, flitting from detail to fascinating, ultimately meaningless detail. Crucially,
the moods and referents that flash past are anchored by tunes and sounds so simple a
zonked zombie can relate to them. But as someone not altogether dismissive of the
cofeature, Panic in Needle Park (Charles Theater on Avenue B, you could look it up), I
must also note that, pace the highly apposite Stones rip that takes the trip back to
earth, “medication” has never killed a hole that didn’t come back gaping the
next morning–a corny truth that renders this an achievement best admired from a sane
distance. B PLUS

BONNIE RAITT: Fundamental (Capitol) I’d rest easier claiming this album
sounds like middle-aged sex–creaky, caring, not shy about adjusting its groove–if it
weren’t for the other thing it sounds like, which is the debut album she cut with a bunch
of folkie eccentrics when she was 21. So just say it sounds like Bonnie Raitt, old before
her time as always. Songwise it’s a little less consistent than Luck of the Draw, but now
that miracle worker Don Was has withdrawn I can’t believe how relieved I am he’s gone.
Finally there’s some mess to go with her slide–Tchad Blake’s kind of mess, in which junk
is recycled into decor and everybody leaves coffee cups on the speaker cases. Some of them
come from Starbucks. Some are straight out the vending machine. Some are Fiestaware
originals. A MINUS

SMASH MOUTH: Fush Yu Mang (Interscope) By calculation or osmosis, this
unrad agglomeration of semiprofessional entertainers puts bells on the humorous humanism
of ska twice removed. As you’d figure, the key is songs, most of them by late-arriving
guitarist Greg Camp, whose hardcore links are even more theoretical than his bandmates’.
His fondly ignorant take on the hippie moment could be Bertrand Russell by pop standards,
and having survived one little sure shot that wasn’t (a War cover, how progressive),
Interscope is finally getting behind the album-opening “Flo.” I couldn’t swear
radio is ready for a cheerful ditty begging the title lesbian to take the singer’s
girlfriend back. But the world is. A MINUS


Dud of the Month

ERIC CLAPTON: Pilgrim (Reprise) Actually, Lord, there’s been a
misunderstanding. Remember when we said it was OK for You to sing? What we meant
was…well, first we just wanted You to get rid of Jack Bruce. Then it was more like,
Don’t be shy, Sonny Boy Williamson didn’t have that much range either. But never, never,
never did we say, You have the right if George Benson does. Or, You could be the next Phil
Collins. Or, Guitars are for sound effects anyway. Really, God. That wasn’t the idea at
all. C PLUS


Additional Consumer News

HONORABLE MENTION:

B.B. King, Deuces Wild (MCA): best cameos of an albumful:
Tracy Chapman, Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton (“The Thrill Is Gone,” “Paying the
Cost To Be the Boss,” “Rock Me Baby”); Loudon Wainwright III,
Little Ship (Charisma Records America, Inc.): jape, jape against the dying of the
light (“Four Mirrors,” “So Damn Happy”); George Clinton &
the P-Funk All Stars
, Live and Kickin’ (Intersound): more funky than
fresh, their best live one withal (“Flashlight,” “Cosmic Slop”); Chumbawamba,
Tubthumper (Republic/Universal): tub as platform, tub as cornucopia, tub as slop
bucket (“Tubthumping,” “Amnesia”); Fat Beats &
Brastraps: New MCs
(Rhino): “Unknown MCs” may be the truth, but
that don’t make it justice (Nonchalant, “5 O’Clock”; Sha-Key,
“Soulsville”); Rakim, The 18th Letter: The Book of Life
(Universal): the canon has a clarity the comeback can’t match (“When I’m
Flowin’,” “It’s Been a Long Time”); Bascom Lamar Lunsford,
Ballads, Banjo Tunes, and Sacred Songs of Western North Carolina
(Smithsonian/Folkways): as imperious as Odetta, and he’s got a right (“On a Bright
and Summer’s Morning,” “Old Mountain Dew”); DJ Shadow, Preemptive
Strike
(Mo Wax/FFRR): his best here was better the first time (“In/Flux,”
“Organ Donor [Extended Overhaul]”); Madonna, Ray of Light
(Maverick/Warner Bros.): pretty sensual for pop enlightenment, thank God
(“Skin,” “Candy Perfume Girl”); Cappadonna, The
Pillage
(Razor Sharp/Epic Street): “Wu-Tang Productions Presents”
(“Milk the Cow,” “Run”); Robbie Fulks, South
Mouth
(Bloodshot): in the great tradition of Dwight “Little Man Whose Name Is
Saul” Yoakam (and Steve “Jap Guitar” Earle), he vows to deliver Nashville
from the dread “faggot in a hat” (“Dirty-Mouthed Flo,” “Fuck This
Town”); Fat Beats & Brastraps: Battle Rhymes & Posse Cuts
(Rhino): bitch-bitch-bitch and brother-brother-brother (Shante, “Big Mama”;
Roxanne Shante vs. Sparky Dee, “Round 1 [Uncensored]”); All Saints
(London): self-created prefab (“Trapped,” “If You Want To Party”); Ramblin’
Jack Elliott
, Friends of Mine (HighTone): hootenannies, they useta call
’em (“Walls of Red Wing,” “Me and Billy the Kid”).

CHOICE CUTS:

Dorsey Dixon, “Babies in the Mill,” “I Saw the
Wood,” “Weave Room Blues” (Babies in the Mill, HMG); Blur,
“Song 2” (Blur, Virgin); James Taylor, “Line ‘Em
Up,” “Walking My Baby Back Home” (Hourglass, Columbia); Boyz
II Men
, “The Girl in the Life Magazine” (Evolution, Motown).

Duds:

Susanna Baca (Luaka Bop/Warner Bros.); Solomon Burke,
The Definition of Soul (Pointblank); Dance Hall Crashers, Honey
I’m Homely
(MCA); the Mavericks, Trampoline (MCA
Nashville); Rammstein, Sehnsucht (Slash); LeAnn Rimes,
You Light Up My Life (Curb).

Addresses:

Bloodshot, 912 West Addison Street, Chicago IL 60613; HighTone,
220 4th Street #101, Oakland CA 94607; Intersound, Box 1724, Roswell GA
30077; Interworld, RD3 Box 395A, Brattleboro VT 05301; Revenant,
PO Box 198732, Nashville TN 37219-8732; Righteous Babe, Box 95, Ellicott
Station, Buffalo NY 14205; Smithsonian/Folkways, 955 L’Enfant Plaza SW,
Suite 2600, Washington DC 20560.

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