Record Reviews


BIKINI KILL

Reject All American (Kill Rock Stars)

Last year, BK singer Kathleen Hanna took a swing at Courtney Love on the Seattle stop of Lollapalooza, and Reject All American strikes quite a blow of its own -- straight to the heart of Hole's overblown celluloid angst. Bikini Kill is every bit as garagey as Hole was on their debut Pretty on the Inside, but they're not nearly so melodramatic. These girls (and guy) just wanna have fun. Bikini Kill starts at the Stooges, hangs a left at Lush (whose Lovelife is a top contender for Sleeper of the Year, by the way), and comes out of the chute like the Go-Gos with Sonics' jerseys, cowlicks, and unshaven pits. And really, even if Hole's version of "Gold Dust Woman" is perfectly lovely, couldn't we all use a "Vacation" from Ms. Love-Cobain's relentless, shameless overexposure?
3 stars -- Christopher Gray


ME'SHELL NDEGEOCELLO

Peace Beyond Passion (Maverick)

A lot of people are going to judge Peace Beyond Passion by its song titles, primarily the all-too-misleading trio of "Deuteronomy: Niggerman," "Leviticus: Faggot," and "God Shiva." And those that do may miss the first post-New Jack Swing R&B record of any importance; a sophisticated concept album/morality play on religion, race, and gender. Yet Peace Beyond Passion is actually best judged by its cover, Bill Wither's "Who Is He, and What Is He to You?" It's at once Ndegeocello's blueprint and musical epiphany, with a gorgeously narrow groove, oblique rant, and slinky double entendre -- all wound just a millimeter tighter than her own wonderfully aggressive stabs at similarly apocalyptic insights.
4 stars -- Andy Langer


CHARLIE HUNTER QUARTET

Ready...Set...Shango! (Blue Note)

It's not every jazz artist who packs the house with 20-year-olds, tours with Lollapalooza, fronts two bands both on major labels, and sets out to invent a mythical dance craze, but Charlie Hunter is definitely not every jazz artist. Despite his background with Michael Franti's Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, Hunter eschews acid jazz (he jokingly refers to his quartet as "antacid jazz"), but is just as adamant in his distaste for jazz purists (an early tune sported the title "Dance of the Jazz Fascists"). Rock fans disenchanted with manufactured alternativism are flocking to Hunter's shows, and it's easy to see why. His tremolo leads and fluid bass lines, played simultaneously on his custom eight-string guitar, in tandem with the superb tenor work of Dave Ellis, underscore and drive Ready... Set... Shango!, producing a hip, silky, and easily digestible funk/jazz fusion that recalls the work of Larry Young, Big John Patton, and Adderley, but with a decidedly keen edge and contemporary flair. And, yeah, with a little imagination, you can dance to it.
31/2 stars -- Jeff McCord


RICHARD THOMPSON

You? Me? Us? (Capitol)

You? Me? Us? is really two albums, but not because it's a double CD. Each disc sounds drastically different from the other. One, dubbed "voltage enhanced" has the underheralded guitar savant backed by a band of session hot shots (Jim Keltner, Mitchell Froom). The other, the "nude" disc, is mostly Thompson and his acoustic guitar with a bit of bass and cello added here and there for texture. Despite the contrast in sound, however, both discs are remarkably unremarkable. Maybe it's because the lyrical content is so homogeneous. Thompson must still be bitter over the break-up with ex-partner Linda because for 80 minutes, love and relationships are nothing but confusion and deceit (or kahnfyushun and daseet). Or maybe the problem is that for any given song, Thompson generally nails either the vocals or the music, but rarely both. For proof listen to each version of "Razor Dance," the only song to appear in both formats. The electric has Thompson's voice prevail over a flat offering from the hired hands. For the acoustic version, Thompson reworks a nice intricate guitar part, but he forgets to emote. Maybe if you could graft one disc onto the other ?
2 stars -- Michael Bertin


LYLE LOVETT

The Road to Ensenada (MCA)

If there's anything I fear for an artist, it's their well-deserved happiness. Sometimes it's falling in love, and sometimes, like now, it's getting over the love. What's the symptom? Settling into a style. Once you wake up in the morning and the flow is good, you can't risk losing it so you end up wearing the same shirt for days thinking it's gotta be luck. After a while, you settle in, just smile and say, I am content. And it's not that I don't want peace and happiness for all good men, but remember what happened to David Bryne when he fell in love and got all smiley? Little Creatures, that's what. Do you want the same fate for Lyle? I don't, because Lyle always makes me cry. As does this album. It's beautiful. Still, what's bothering me here is that Lovett's fallen into a comfort level that tells him it's okay to not write new songs, but rather pull older ones from his vast repertoire -- "Don't Touch My Hat," and "That's Right (You're Not From Texas)" -- which is what he did on his last album, I Love Everybody. Like that one, The Road to Ensenada doesn't take any risks. What I always loved about Lovett is that I hardly knew what would become of him. Now that I know, the destination seems well-deserved, but forgive me if I can't wish you Godspeed.
3 stars -- Louisa C. Brinsmade


KATY MOFFATT

Midnight Radio (Watermelon)

Katy Moffatt's attitude comes from on high. Very high. Her vocal texture and cadence resonates with an uncanny quality suggestive of ethereal origins and yearnings to return. It's unwavering and pure. There's never the slightest hint of bitterness nor irony no matter how provocative the subject, be it the plight of California migrant workers or the tax travails of a certain Biblically mythologized couple. Yet it's this sweet and light voice that makes this album so dark. It's very neutrality allows the subject to be its own judge and jury, lending it plenty of rope to hang itself. It's not unlike a cinema verite camera in its kinder moments and an indifferent god when less charitable. Moffatt does show hints of emotion on the blues rave "Sojourner Truth" (possibly the most deliciously reserved blues ditty ever), drops of vengeful sneering on "If You Can't Stand the Heat," and if she's not laughing under her breath on the female revenge tale "Never Be Alone Again," she's drier than Tucson. But these strayings are slight at best. Like the best folk artists and story tellers, Moffat knows the best way to tell the tale is to let it tell itself.
3 1/2 stars -- Joe Mitchell


THE COX FAMILY

Just When We're Thinking It's Over (Asylum)

The Cox Family needs to tread carefully. They're walking along the precipice that separates the cliffs of quality music from the chasm of Nashville garbage, and on their major label debut, they slip a couple of times, only to catch themselves by the fingertips. Most of the time they play to their strengths, the solid bluegrass and country that made them a favorite of Alison Krauss (their producer here), featuring the very pretty vocals (and almost as pretty mandolin) of Suzanne, and covering the likes of Del McCoury and Hank Williams or reprising Sidney's "Cry Baby Cry" from their first album. But then the hideous Nash-pop garbage of "You've Got Me to Hold On to Baby" comes crashing in like an uninvited guest (and about that Larry Gatlin cover... look, no one should ever cover Larry Gatlin), and sounds like they're just fishing for a Top-40 country hit. Stick to the old-time stuff, folks -- even a few bad songs are enough to cast a pall over an entire album. Traditional music is the Cox Family's forte, and like they say, if it ain't broke...
2 1/2 stars -- Lee Nichols


PATTI SMITH

Gone Again (Arista)

I never knew quite how to take Patti Smith. She was at once intimidating and contrived, the tragic muse of punk, menacing with words that were as capable of drawing blood as inspiring frenzy. Patti Smith, critic. Patti Smith, poet. Patti Smith, punk queen. Patti Smith, High Priestess of Hip. Angry but not malicious, she chanted "Rock & Roll Nigger" and rendered the forbidden word into nothingness while spinning diamond webs of gossamer compositions like "Because the Night" and "Frederick." When she retired from the musical spotlight to marry Fred Smith and raise kids, she came off a weenie, opting for barefoot and pregnant and leaving a generation of empowered young punkette poetesses with Lydia Lunch and Exene Cervenka. Now it's 1996, and Patti Smith's here again with Gone Again, an exquisite creation befitting her talent, tenacity, and tragedy. Gone Again is stark, like "Southern Cross" (which unites Smith with Horses producer John Cale), unyielding, like "Summer Cannibals" but it's also tender, as on the "Farewell Reel" (dedicated to her late husband), the lyrical "Wing," and her elegiac ode to Kurt Cobain, "About a Boy." Go ahead, wade into the water. When you come out, put this album on.
4 stars -- Margaret Moser


IMPERIAL TEEN

Seasick (London)

Let's dispense with the titillating factoids right up front: Imperial Teen contains members of Sister Double Happiness and Faith No More while the album sports about a kajillion "in" references to The Truth about Kurt Cobain's homoerotic nature because Roddy Bottum was his pal. Got it? Now, forget it. In spite of the band's pedigree and alt-teen-market-readiness, the Imp Teens reign supreme on an elemental level. They're big ol' silly, sentimental punk-rock nerds.Seasick launches with their theme song, "Imperial Teen," a Doug Yule-era VU-ey number -- sweet and poppy with creepy angel harmonies and those sterling rhythm guitar runs (thank Redd Kross' Steve McDonald for the crystalline production), which lope lazily around post-pubescent sneers like, "So you're the new messiah/I think you should retire" and "If I only had another hand/I'd cut it off and start a band." The second number, "Water Boy" also sounds fishily velvet, but in a "Sister Ray" fashion as filtered through, say, Black Flag and Blondie. What's remarkable, though, is Imperial Teen's ability to tackle life's unspeakable demons with a confidence that borders on giddy. While Seasick plays like the perfect rock opera for any of us who have lost loved ones to stupid shit like suicide, heroin, self-loathing, or whatever, it maintains a contagious and stubborn, yet ultimately hopeful buoyancy, just like the cute picture of Flipper on the cover.
4 stars -- Kate X Messer


SOUL COUGHING

Irresistible Bliss (Slash/Warner Bros.)

If you're hoping the music will explain the band's name, good luck. A definition from leader M. Doughty won't help either: "Soul Coughing is sort of this V.U. meter, with Heartbreak on the left, and Nonsense on the right. The needle twitches from one side to the other, usually." The closest he comes to coughing up some heartbroken soul is on "Sleepless," wherein he repeats, "I got the will to drive myself sleepless," over a driving hip-hop beat. Doughty's nonsensical, more compelling whimsical soul just oozes out thanks to his quartet of funky white boys. Of course, the more you listen to the lyrics, the more you'll be tempted to try to analyze again, because Doughty's mind is fascinating. (While he's focusing on intellectual wordplay, his keyboardist, Mark DeGliantoni, seems to be on a mission to teach jazz appreciation to alternative youth.) But then he sticks in a song about mathematics ("4 out of 5") where the numbers don't add up, yet you're grooving exponentially with each repetition of his weird equation. It's then you realize that with this band, you gotta take the music for what it is: funk for fun.
4 stars -- Melissa Rawlins

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