Music & Spoken Word

ALTUS
Altus
Self-produced

This obviously home made CD somehow charms beyond its actual components. For the most part, it is vocals half-sung, half-spoken over basic guitar, bass and drums, although the bass and drums are mixed so low it often sounds like just vocals and electric guitar. After the first couple of songs, it seems the format will wear out its welcome. There a sameness and a thinness challenging the ear. But Alltus mixes it up, doing quite a bit with the few tools at hand. They move from rock to rap to reggae to folk and back to (harder) rock, finding ways to effectively play each style with their limited resources. They push their format to its limits, and manage to keep things, for the most part, interesting. This is a primitive recording which manages to find some depth.

G. Murray Thomas

 

JOHN BENNETT
Rugburn
Vagabond Records

   Rugburn presents radical politics through stream-of-consciousness spoken word, over mild hip-hop beats.
John Bennett’s primary theme, expressed chillingly on the second cut, “Choosing,” is the oppression of society vs. the ability of the individual to resist it. Although much of Rugburn is bleak, Bennett is an optimist; he does believe that the individual can stand up to the oppression and maintain his or her individuality, although it does take constant effort. The pieces (“shards” as Bennett calls them) on this disc are true poetry, in that they take sharp, specific images and events, and use them to illustrate larger issues. For example, various pieces explore the death of Jim Croce, the tale of a high school stud, or a suicide attempt for the universal truths within. The musical backing, by Seed Verb and Nervous, from the rap group Log Hog, is expressive but unobtrusive, heightening the effect of Bennett’s words without ever overwhelming them. This CD does demand close listening, but it will reward that with intense insights into the human condition.

G. Murray Thomas

BIG ASS TRUCK
Who Let You In Here?
Peabody Records

   Big Ass Truck’s music is a potpourri of funk, rock, soul, and samples. They come from Memphis, and Stax artists must have been heroes, since “Who Let You In Here?” shows that they know how to groove.
A slice of heavy funk, “The Neco” revisits the “Superfly” era. A cool collage is created from loops, dialogue, and keyboards. Soundgarden and hip-hop? The fusion is clever and seamless on “Fading Fast Fad”. With a hook that James Brown would love, “Portuguese Man O’War” is a prime example of Big Ass’s funk-metal schizophrenia.
Big Ass Truck’s genre confusion is our gain.

Bill Lopez

BLUE DOGS
Letter from Round O
Black River Records

   Letters From Round O starts out sounding like pretty generic alt-country, that borderland of country styles played with rock’n’roll spirit. Fun, but nothing special. However, as the CD progresses, Blue Dogs push themselves, both in their songwriting and their playing. By cut 5, “What I Want”, they’re getting Little Feat style dirty funky, and then they’re exploring power ballads (“Rainbows Over My Blues”) and Delta blues (“Pay the Man”), and finding new excitement in each. The musical highlight is “Skyline Dream”, a gently rocking piece with swelling emotional music.However, it is one of those tunes where the music implies an import not carried by the lyrics. Which may be the essence of Letters from Round O. This is good time music, played with a tightness and energy, but nothing much is really being said.

G. Murray Thomas

BUSH
The Science of Things
Trauma Records

   Critics hate Bush and fans love them. Who are record exec’s going to listen to, a bunch of bitter rocker wanna-be’s or fans willing to buy 15 million albums? Sure Bush is derivative, so were the Beatles in the beginning. Not as hardcore or Seattle-esque as Sixteen Stone or as pop as Razorblade Suitcase this album is more melodic and refined. With The Science of Things, Bush seems poised to jump on a personal style. Rossdale’s voice is still sexy and raspy, but his lyrics are coming closer to his native English without losing any of the desperation and passion. And Pulsford’s bold, heavy guitar sounds still drive the listener through the bleak landscape of Rossdaleland with the skill of an Indy driver. For hardcore fans of the band unwilling to let the group grow as musicians, this album may be a little bit of a disappointment. However, for those fans that are in love with the band as a living entity, this could be the start of a beautiful relationship.

Carlye Archibeque

 

COCTEAU TWINS
BBC Sessions double CD
Rykodisc Records

   The ethereal and imaginative beauty of the early Cocteau Twins was such a marvel back in the early 1980’s that despite the baffling lyrical wonders of Elizabeth Frazier’s vocal inflections, they still managed to chart and chart and chart in the good ‘ol merry UK charts. What was it about the band that mezmorized the masses? Was it Ms. Frazier’s approach or was it the sonic and delicious landscapes of Robin Guthrie’s arcane and fluid guitar sounds? All the classics are here and as vivid sounding as they were back in the day: “Wax And Wane,” “Garlands,” “Feathers-Oar-Blades, ” “Dear Heart,” “Hazel,””My Hue And Cry” and much more…thirty tracks in all, people. Recorded by the BBC, some of these tracks are taken from The John Peel Show, Kid Jensen, Saturday Night Live, Mark Radcliff and Robert Elms and they don’t sound dated at all. Hopefully, this compilation will attract many more listeners to their surrealist musings. The waves of the future are all in one package.

Carlos “Cake” Nunez

ANGELA DAVIS
The Prison Industrial Complex
Alternative Tentacles Records

   Recorded in 1997 when Davis was lecturing at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, this 54 minute CD is a beautiful example of why Davis was and is feared by the political right. Her smooth, unhurried delivery coupled with an unbroken chain of logic take the idea that prisons are weapons against the poor and undesirable out of the realm of conspiracy theory and into the light of common sense. However, Davis does not just lecture about the problem, she also offers solutions. To her, activism is thinking critically about the problems in the world around you and then taking action for positive change. Lecturing to the group of students at Colorado College, she convinces them, and us, that while there is a problem, there is also a solution. Highly recommended.

Carlye Archibeque

THE FIRESIGN THEATRE
Boom Dot Bust CD
Rhino Records

   The unescapable genius and satirical world outlook of Firesign Theatre (Phil Austin, Peter Bergman, David Ossman & Phil Proctor) has been ongoing since the late 1960’s. Cut and paste bands such as Negativeland have used these boys as an influence and their past albums are sought after collector’s items. Boom Dot Bust (their second Rhino release) is a twenty-two track concept album about the rise and fall of the fictional town of Billsville (could be a take on our beloved present president prehaps?) and its inhabitants. Brilliant fake commercials (ie; “Boom Dot Bust” & “Doom Bot Dust”) are included along with quite humorous television and motion picture commentaries,musical segments and a nifty CD booklet. Laughs a-plenty, I say! It’s a take on the white-trash, racist and ignorant culture that we are all a part of. Check out their website (www.firesigntheatre.com) for more info on future releases by this innovative group.

Carlos “Cake” Nunez

 

THE FLESH EATERS ALBUM
Ashes Of Time
Rhino Records

 

   A kiss draws blood, and there’s a knife at someone’s throat. Disturbing images to be sure, but in the Flesh Eaters’ world, love and violence are never far apart. While he may have smoothed off some of the rough edges in his music, leader Chris D. hasn’t gotten soft. He has remained true to his artistic impulses. We should be glad, since Ashes Of Time is full of gritty, unadorned rock `n’ roll. Desperation drives the pounding “Double Snake Bourbon,” as love’s losers have nothing but memories and chemicals to dull the pain in their hearts.
The music is shot full of blues and Stones-y hard rock, but on songs such as the moody “Nobody Lives Forever,” and “Black-And-Blue Bird,” the feeling is closer to the roots rock of the Divine Horseman. These tracks, and the driving Mellencampesque stomp of “Mourning Becomes You,” feature sterling work from Jeff Sullivan on electric violin. Leave it to the Flesh Eaters to set a song of love, betrayal and murder to music that makes me want to get up and dance. Julie Christensen was with D. in the Horseman and she guests on six songs, along with Erika Wear and Juanita Myers, she capably compliments Chris D.’s rough, soulful baritone. Wear and Myers have returned to the band after having been in previous lineups.
The churning garage blues of “House Amid The Thickets” is full of black humor as a junkyard angel overwhelms a wanna-be Casanova: “Then she starts going back out to bars/before too long/she wrecks all her cars.” Unlike some albums that only pretend to rock, Ashes Of Time is a prime example of the real thing.

Bill Lopez

GAP BAND
The Best of the Gap Band
20th Century Masters the Millenium Collection
Mercury Records

   I am such a sucker for greatest hits compilations. Doubtless, I am their target market, a member of the older music-buying public, trying to snarf up as many of my pop music memories as possible and realizing to my horror that these memories now span four decades. I have a sizeable memory for pop hits, enough that I can recall (and wish to own) all the secondary and minor hits that a two or three-hit band might have scattered over five or six albums that I have no interest in purchasing separately. How to grab all that gusto without blowing a fortune on the overpriced CD medium? The greatest hits compilation takes up an embarrassing proportion of my music collection. It’s hard to imagine that groups like The Gap Band and Parliament were branded too raunchy for a lot of Top 40 stations, but that was indeed the case–even at the height of the Sexual Revolution and even in a major urban market like L.A. Thanks to Disco Saturday night on KBIG, I’ve become reacquainted with the music I heard at school dances and–rarely–on my piece-of-shit AM radio that came with me to college. Twenty years after the fact, I’ve developed a keen affection for the true, gritty funk I missed when Parliament, Kool and the Gang, Rick James, and the Brothers Gap kept dance music raw and real.
Native Oklahomans, the three Wilson Brothers (Ronnie, Charlie, Robert), were protegés of landsman Leon Russell (“Lady Blue,” anyone? “Tightwire”?) and Willie Nelson (that would explain their cherry red satin cowboy duds on the CD insert). The Wilsons pared down from a mid-’70s ensemble of 14 to an exclusively fraternal trio to become The Gap Band. With the steady production saavy of Lonnie Simmons, they staked out their own distinctive dance floor territory–urban cowboy funk. On THE BEST OF THE GAP BAND, their eclectic tracks encompass everything from the zesty chart licks of Earth Wind and Fire on “I Don’t Believe You Wanna Get Up And Dance (Ooops!)” to ZZ Top-style axe-work on “Party Train” to the Parliament/Ohio Players-infused nastiness on “Humpin'” to the Raydio-smooth “Yearning For Your Love.” The selections range from 1979 to 1983 and represent a respectable sampling of the many different directions in which dance music was being pulled before Euro- and world-flavored ’80s dance singles kicked into high gear. The big hits–“Party Train,” “Burn Rubber (Why You Wanna Hurt Me),” and the infectious “You Dropped A Bomb On Me”–hold up effortlessly. It’s still bold, energetic, aggressively masculine music that deserves better artwork on the CD proper than GAP BAND printed on a generic, opaque semi-circle that looks like someone burned the CDs in his garage. All in all, a must for disco, funk, dance, and soul lovers alike, not to mention those who had an FM-deprived late adolescence.

Amélie Frank

THE JESUS LIZARD
Bang CD
Touch & Go Records

   The Jesus Lizard was one of indie rockdom’s most amazing spectacles. The spit and sweat shine of David Yow, Duane Denison, David Sims and Mac McNeilly were the geniuses behind this band from Chicago, Illinois. David Yow’s almost undecipherable lyrics and distorted vocals in addition to the blockbuster slam/bam of Duane Denison’s axework and David Sims plodding and danceable bass poodlings pitched out just perfectly in a Zeppelin-ized way with Mac McNeilly’s powerhard drumming (later to be replaced by James Kimball [ex-Laughing Hyenas, Mule] and Brendan Murphy). Their almost ten year evolution is spotlighted on this fantastic twenty cut compilation of singles, b-sides, outtakes, demos and live cuts. Cuts include “Chrome” (two song medley of Chrome covers), the Dicks’ cover of “Wheelchair Epidemic,” “Gladiator,” “Mouth Breather,” “Fly On The Wall” and “Anna” (which features Santiago Durango (ex-Big Black) on vocals. An excellent way to start the year 2000 out with and a good way to get the blood flowing. Beautiful beyond understanding!

Carlos “Cake” Nunez

MUDHONEY
March To Fuzz double CD
Sub Pop Records

 

   What can one say of the band that started a revolution in the late 1980’s? Yes, Mudhoney were equal parts punk/garage/hard rock and were the masters of the re-revolution of the seven-inch single back in 1988 with the release of the immortal “Touch Me I’m Sick” which spanned dozens of bands. Mark Arm (guitar, vocals), Steve Turner (guitar), Matt Lukin (bass) and Dan Peters (drums) were the first of the Sub Pop group of bands (after Soundgarden) to restart the revolution originally started by beautiful Detroit, Michigan’s MC5 back in the late 1960’s. They had the energy, vision and music to do it. On hiatus after the “retirement” of esteemed bassist Matt Lukin, the band decided to release a compilation of the best shit that they’ve done. The compilation spans 1988 to the sessions of last years’ Reprise released Tomorrow Hit Today album. Cuts include: “Touch Me I’m Sick,” “Sweet Young Thing Ain’t Sweet No More,” “You Got It,” “If I Think,” “This Gift” and tons more–fifty two blazing cuts in all! It’s a good record to kick back and breathe in the dirty air to. And maybe you should take those bongs out that you put in storage some years back! Heh!