The Gold Experience (Warner Bros/ NPG)
The sexy 1999-ish between-track voice tells us that the all-out funk throwdown "Now" is "great for dancing and improving self-esteem," and that other titles in this category include "Irresistible Bitch," "Housequake," and "Sexy MF." True. "But that was then, this is `Now,'" she says. Yeah, sort of. On a record deep with the tricky irony of sexual politics, the real irony worth dissecting is how Prince's trademark fat-bottom funk and sex-cum-political uplift of "Now" and the rest of The Gold Experience says more about the Prince of old than the new direction of the name-changing symbol. Clearly, Prince changed his name for reasons other than running from his past. But with a flawless flow (even with the NPQ Operator's distracting play-by-play) The Gold Experience puts on display a Prince that's equally comfortable as funkateer, balladeer, and New Jack, which, come to think of it, makes a nice case for Prince-as-everyman actually being the new direction in question. Ultimately, the best praise for The Gold Experience is the lingering hope that if Prince really is dead, whatever he is now continues to live long and prosper.
HHHH -- Andy Langer
Sacrilicious (Sub Pop)
It's hard to say whether the Supersuckers are better as musicians or cartoon characters, though it almost doesn't matter. One of the first bands to head Seattle way (from lovely Tucson, AZ) when grunge broke, the Supersuckers have always wanted to be from the South. That much is clear on Sacrilicious' two white-trash anthems "Born With a Tail" and "Doublewide." It's also clear they love to talk about Satan, the honorary fifth Supersucker, but it isn't clear why since Sacrilicious isn't particularly scary, evil, or disturbing. It's not even as bloodcurdlingly vicious as either The Smoke of Hell or La Mano Cornuda. It is, however, a lot of fun, and that's the problem. There's too many badass white-boy antics here, and not enough supercharged punk rock, which is what made them important (or at least interesting) in the first place. They need to spend less time around Willie Nelson and more time around a band that has already achieved the perfect combination of Satanism, showmanship, and substance: White Zombie.
HH 1/2 -- Chris Gray
Washing Machine (DGC)
Washing Machine has been posited as Sonic Youth's vaunted back-to-basics album, as though the band had ever gone that far right to begin with. While the album doesn't quite work on such a level, it does have a more lazy and informal sound than any of the previous major label releases. The songs here aren't as tightly wound, which leaves lots of room for Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo to do their thing. At the same time, the rhythm section plays more of a stripped-down background role in the absence of booming production. Results include lilting, euphoric numbers like "Saucer-Like" and "Unwind," which recast mid-Sixties hippy pop schlock in the SY feedback-enriched paradigm. Kim Gordon's eerie Shangri-La's redux "Little Trouble Girl" is also a highlight, as is the obligatory, never-ending closer "The Diamond Sea." Washing Machine isn't some Moses-on-the-mountain exercise like Daydream Nation or Goo, but it is anointed with warm cohesiveness and a songwriting approach that seems to be in lock-step with the band's most prolific strengths.
HHH -- Greg Beets
Junior High (MGC/Curb)
This EP works as a nice, quick introduction to the Brown mystique. "Highway Patrol" leads the charge with a swinging backbeat, succinct guit-steel solo and a perfectly baked growl of a vocal. It's everything you could ask for in two and a half minutes. Similarly, "Sugarfoot Rag" is a virtuosic, jaw-dropping, twanged-out Hendrix homage that speeds by quickly enough to avoid being trapped under its own weight. Brown's voice doesn't quite carry the ballads here, but "My Wife Thinks You're Dead" is cool, if only because you get to hear his first-thing-in-the-morning intonation of the word "dead." Junior High may very well contribute significantly to Brown's audience of country music fans long alienated by the tight-fittin' jeans set, not to mention guitar-hero aficionados in search of new icons. In the meantime, though, go see Brown live at the Continental Club and be thankful you live in Austin.
HHH -- Greg Beets
Milktrain to Paydirt (Homestead)
After three albums that are virtually indistinguishable, it's painfully apparent that this San Diego band is welded in one gear. Everything I enjoyed about them at first just doesn't taste so hot after two full regurgitations. Once again, we have a Truman's Water album chock full of tabloid takes on Sonic Youth, put down on an eight-track machine, slightly damaged by spilled bongwater. You have to wade through a lot of this, which no longer seems worth the effort once you know the outcome. And while there are a few moments of genuine mind-freeing poignancy, getting to them is like having to read a year-old copy of People while waiting to see the doctor. After being beat over the head with the same message over time, the energies that drive Truman's Water now seem foreign and distant to me, which is kind of sad.
HH -- Greg Beets
Fight for Your Mind (Virgin)
If Harper's ambitious debut, Welcome to the Cruel World, too often drowned its lyrical depth in faux musical simplicity, Fight for Your Mind is redemptive in how much Harper's learned about acoustic extremes, emphasizing every transition from whisper to growl and profound love to reactive anger. And although Harper's band is more than capable of groove, Harper's a subtle one-man show that puts the cocky Jeff Buckleys of the world to shame in how gracefully he conveys a range of emotion -- not just vocally and lyrically, but even in the deep resonance of his instrument of choice, the traditional Weissenborn. Politically, Harper's somewhere between Chuck D. and Maya Angelou, but musically, he's absolutely on his own. All of this makes Fight for Your Mind the best album you're least likely to hear this year.
HHHH -- Andy Langer
SOUTHERN CULTURE ON THE SKIDS
Dirt Track Date (DGC)
DASH RIP ROCK
Get You Some of Me (Sector 2)
It's tough not to mention these bands in the same breath. It's even tougher not to throw in the Beat Farmers and Cowboy Mouth as support. But once again these two purveyors of white trash tailgate rock & roll have presented records that should be added to every collection. SCOTS blast out of the gate with a Creedence-y "Voodoo Cadillac" that invokes New Orleans and Tony Joe White in one song, so cool I don't even have to explain why "Nitty Gritty" is such a badass cover or that "Soul City" could make for a video that might send SCOTS to Primus-land. Oh yeah, the other songs rock, too, with tips of the hat to Link Wray, Duane Eddy, and possibly Ray Stevens. I just wish there was more of my fave Skid, bassist and not-often-enough vocalist Mary Huff. Meanwhile, Dash Rip Rock's Get You continues Dash's assault on the deranged senses with typical rapid-fire, what-the-hellbilly-hit-me songs like "Shootin' Up Signs," "Donaldsonville," and "The Heart I Break." They seem to have hit bottom a while ago but are heading back up; their last show was a poorly attended release party where they chucked the PR part and played requests for the 50 or so die-hard Dash fans. It was a canny move for the band that plays the smartest dumb music around. (Southern Culture on the Skids play Liberty Lunch Saturday 4)
HHH 1/2 (SCOTS)
HHH (DRR) -- Margaret Moser
For about the last five years, the San Francisco Bay Area has been experiencing a rebirth of country music. Out of this scene of Nuevo Country bands has emerged such names as Tarnation, the Buckets, and the best known of the group, Dieselhed. From one such band, the Doubters, comes Richard Buckner. Buckner may be a Northern Cali boy, but man, he has a fascination with the lower tier of states, especially Texas. In fact, he traveled all the way to Lubbock to record the lion's share of this LP (the rest was done right here in Austin) with Joe Ely co-pilot Lloyd Maines. The resulting LP is, as will happen in Lubbock, dusty and world-weary, imparting a lot of wisdom to those of us who may be stuck in life's ruts and unable to get that needed perspective. The most appealing part of this LP is Buckner's voice; it's a good, even mixture of songwriting stalwarts like David Wilcox, Don McLean, and Butch Hancock. Sometimes it even sounds like James Taylor is singing, but only after he's walked from Marfa to Presidio in July without any water. This is a strong solo debut from a young songwriter from which the world should expect to here more and better.
HHH -- Joe Mitchell
Little Acts of Treason (Giant)
Carlene Carter is the Tom Petty of modern country -- a parallel made eerier by the presence of husband and Petty sideman Benmont Tench. You rarely think of her amongst the greats, but her work is consistently good, you never turn it off when it comes on, it has strong roots, and it deserves your respect. Her pedigree's assured too, being Nick Lowe's ex-wife as well as the fruit of the brief marriage of June Carter and Fifties country star Carl Smith (who duets with his daughter on this record's "Loose Talk"). Little Acts of Treason won't change planetary travel paths, but it's respectable, and will sound great on the radio.
HH 1/2 -- Tim Stegall
Freedom Bondage (Alternative Tentacles)
Sepultura's turning Japanese.
H 1/2 -- Marc Savlov
God Is God, Puke Is Puke (Alternative Tentacles)
After seeing these expatriate Japanese noisters-by-way-of-the-Upper West Side open for Foetus not so long ago, I thought I'd seen the answer to the Guitar Wolf dreams that had been plaguing my sweaty nights. I was horribly wrong, of course; the real answer was non-fiberglass sheets. Ultra Bide twist American rock conventions from Black Sabbath to Sonic Youth so severely inside-out that not only does your head hurt, but your R&R sensibilities feel outraged. If Randy Rhodes had lived, he'd probably be in this band (or at least power-stapled to the kick drum). Lyrics that only make sense if you're tripping, music that only makes sense if you're alive.
HH 1/2 -- Marc Savlov
Any band worth its strings swipes stuff. And con artists typically only singe the feelings of those fans who huddle closest to the original flame. Menswear's flim-flammery is not their greatest sin, though. Menswear's transgression against God, country, and the Queen, is their mediocrity, even though they have dropped enough hooks throughout Nuisance to make it tolerable in places. They have not, however, earned the bragging rights that the other members of the latest Britpop wave fire off with such style. These pretty Menswear lads do seem to get the joke that pop stardom is the ultimate gas. Musically, they just don't tell it very well.
HH -- Mindy LaBernz
Powerful Pain Relief (Zoo)
Whoever came up with the moniker "lounge music" ought to be real proud of themselves -- calling it a guilty pleasure is putting it mildly. Proper appreciation of lounge music requires placing the tongue so far in cheek it's impossible to ask questions. It's just as well, because the only questions that come up are inevitably "People listen to this stuff?" They're no Naughty Ones, but Love Jones aren't a Days Inn house band, either, though they probably could be. Fans of pink elephants, shag carpeting, and swizzle sticks will sway their velvet-clad booties quite righteously to Powerful Pain Relief; everyone else will miss the point entirely. Note: being shitfaced doesn't hurt.
HHH (For those about to Lounge)
H 1/2 (Everyone else) -- Chris Gray
RED RED MEAT
Bunny Gets Paid (Sub Pop)
Normally, a blues band on Sub Pop would seem about as appropriate as an Aggie at UT, a Shriner in Watts, or an Irishman in the Coronation Parade. Red Red Meat, however, have just the right amount of quirks and attitude to pull it off and justify their room at the House That Kurt Built. It doesn't hurt that their acoustic mopery and bargain-basement production values dovetail quite nicely with labelmate Lou Barlow's Folk Implosion shenanigans, or that they owe at least as much to Joy Division as they do to Highway 61 Revisited. Apart from "Chain Chain Chain," which has a discernible backbeat, most of the material on Bunny Gets Paid is heavy on fuzzy, meandering guitar strums and mood-enhancing synthesizer flourishes. It's actually quite pleasant to listen to, if you can stay awake.
HHH -- Chris Gray
A Cab Driver's Blues (Hannibal/Rykodisc)
If anybody's gotta right to sing the blues, it's gotta be a cab driver from New Orleans. Mem Shannon may work as a hack, but as a bluesman he's quite talented. He certainly knows his material as well as he must know the Crescent City streets, singing about his roots ("Play the Guitar Son"), his job ("Taxicab Driver"), his woman's talk-show addiction ("My Baby's Been Watching TV"), or his insomnia ("Me and My Bed") with sincerity and wry, world-weary humor. His band backs him solidly with chunky, funky slices of New Orleans soul blues, but the real show-stealers on this record are the conversations Shannon has with his fares --recorded in his cab, a "1976 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Custom 4-door sedan." If you had to listen to these people all day, you'd sing the blues, too.
HHH 1/2 -- Chris Gray
JOE LOUIS WALKER
Blues of the Month Club (Verve)
Let's talk Walkers for a second. When I was but a wee lad, I never could keep 'em straight: Junior, T-Bone, Joe Louis, Jimmie, Nancy... Man, there were a lot. These days, everyone except Joe Louis is dead or their career is, so that helps. JLW is alive and well, thank you very much, as a Bay Area "bluesician" with a wicked technique like the Kings (Jeez, the Kings ... Don't get me started) and a sweet voice reminiscent of the Right Rev. Al Green -- quite a potent combination. Blues of the Month Club is split right down the middle between blues proper and proper soul. Pickin' a Strat, squeezin' a slide, or steppin' aside (for some heavy horn charts courtesy of the Memphis Horns), this album is, to quote another Walker who's still more famous than Joe Louis, "Dyn-O-Mite!"
HHH 1/2 -- Chris Gray
Hold It Down (EastWest)
Swinging shifty lyrical antics, Das EFX returns with its third album in four years. This time around, Dray and Scoob have adapted their vocal gimmicks to the jazz-induced production of 1995, and are aided with tracks by Easy Mo Bee, Premeire, Showbiz, Klark Kent, Pete Rock, and DJ Scratch. Technically, the rhyming mixes well with the syncopated beats, but seldom do Dray and Scoob get as deep as the sentiments of the tracks. It seems that their concentration on timing and delivery has pushed the inclusion of insightful perspective to the rear. Their abstract styling gets a little tired after awhile with a reliance on snappy punchlines and the use of "iggedy." A few songs stand out as gems, all things considered, including "Microphone Master" and "Ready to Rock Rough Rhymes" featuring Solid Scheme. Guest appearances by KRS-One on "Represent the Real" and PMD on "Bad News" lend variety to lift the album above mediocrity, but overall Hold It Down is pretty faceless.
HH -- Rashied Gabriel
Tone Dialing (Harmolodics/Verve)
Fort Worth native and senior citizen Ornette Coleman returns with a fresh demonstration of his system of harmolodics. In constant development since the late Fifties, harmolodics represents the collapse of harmony, melody, and time into a subatomic soup of sound. Coleman's utopian arrangements set each instrument free to interact with true expression. Similar to Dixieland but further advanced in the direction of democracy, no single element of the music dominates a composition. The title track winds through episodes of universal travel with a diverse environment of influence including African, South American, and blues based traditions. "Guadalupe" is a thick groove with each player constantly at work expanding the parameters of unity. "Badal" is an African orgy of discovery as a textured rhythm pattern guides the journey. "Search for Life" is an abrupt hip-hop dissertation and "La Capalla" conjures the image of a Texas bluesman in Brazil. Tone Dialing tests so many flavors of musical spice that it's likely to burn the tastebuds of the closed minded. But for those who appreciate the stinging beauty of Coleman's experiments, the album will be a conceptual challenge and an enjoyable endeavor.
HHHH -- Rashied Gabriel
Jesus Wept (Gee Street)
If you're a depressed seventh grader listening to a Walkman during a youth group retreat, then Jesus Wept is for you. Without question these fools are Prince wannabes. Boo hoo this, boo hoo that. They should really be whining because their music is booty.
(no stars) -- Rashied Gabriel
No Joke (London)
It's a telling sign that two of the best songs on No Joke, "Cobbler" and "Inflatable," were written by Cris Kirkwood. After all, it's older brother Curt who is the puppet master behind the band and the author of the other 11 songs on the Tempe trio's ninth album. Sure, Curt offers up a few tasty peyote buttons in "Ammonia," and "Chemical Garden," but the majority of his songs come off like a lethal dose of lithium -- deadly wooden -- much like his emotionless monotone. Seldom does his voice crack to reveal its vulnerable heart, as on "Taste of the Sun." Producer Paul Leary, meanwhile, has once again expertly separated the electric from acoustic, and the fat timber metal riffs from the rats-maze snaky leads that slither in the background (John Hagan's cello on "Head" makes the song), creating a neat, clean background on which Kirkwood could have easily painted one of his masterpieces. But, alas, the master brought only dull browns to the canvas, and the result is a lesser work meant for the basement and not the gallery. For some that will be enough, for those Too High To Die, it is not.
HH -- Raoul Hernandez
This album reminds me of the True Believers` long-buried second album: It's all guitars, firing over a platoon of songs that march ever forward, never stopping -- which, in turn, reminds me of the cover to Ted Nugent's Weekend Warriors, where his guitar fires off double-barreled blasts of wanton riffs. Jennings Crawford's deep-throated whine reminds me of Gary Moore and the Smithereens' Pat DiNizio, while all the feedback and reverb remind me of Hüsker Dü and Sugar. The sheer energy that John Croslin has harnassed here reminds me that live in the studio is the way most truly great records are recorded. "Don't Bring Me Down" and "The Break in the Chain" remind me of the Seventies. "Ex Girlfriend Record Review" reminds me never to assign a Wannabes record review to a you-know-who. Most of all, however, Popsucker reminds me of what a great band Austin's Wannabes really are, and that the arc of a career can only be seen at the end. From my vantage point, this sucker is at the apex of that arc.
HHHH -- Raoul Hernandez