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You don't need to know Big Fish Ensemble's background to enjoy these savory tunes, but it adds fun to many of the group's lyrical references. In "Amy No" there's a line about "From the New Jersey Turnpike to the north Georgia woods." The band's Paul Schwartz left Binghamton, New York, to attend law school in Athens, Georgia, a route that eventually led to the formation of BFE. Cool, huh?

And the fact that the band was issued a ticket by an Illinois state trooper while on tour goes a little way in explaining the inspiration behind "Bad Driver," a theme song for DUIs everywhere. "The wrong way on the interstate is a hard thing to explain," the tune notes. And while the death or survival of the drunk driver isn't dealt with beyond mention of "a headlight kiss," the last line blends irony and pathos that helps you make the call: "When you make just one mistake no one likes you anymore."

We've liked Big Fish since their first album, Field Trip, and their Monkees cover on Here No Evil. Maybe that's because they haven't made one mistake yet.

PJ Harvey
Rid of Me
(Island)
By Michael Roberts

Producer Steve Albini, who made headlines by claiming that Geffen Records had rejected tracks he'd recorded with Nirvana because they were too assaultive, obviously didn't get the radio-friendly lecture from Island. Rid of Me, the latest from critics' darling Polly Jean Harvey, is so bruising that it makes Dry, Harvey's rather nasty predecessor, seem like Whipped Cream (and Other Delights) by comparison. On the title track, for instance, Harvey quietly croons psycho lyrics (such as "I'll tie your legs/Keep you against my chest/You're not rid of me") against a hushed musical backdrop that is shattered after two minutes by a punk attack loud enough to have your neighbors reaching for earplugs.

Later there's "Man-Size Sextet," in which Harvey's violin and cello reach new levels of atonality, an extraordinarily eccentric cover of "Highway 61 Revisited," and glorious racket pouring out of every groove. There's no denying that this disc is self-congratulatory, and at times the pretense can get more than a bit thick. But Rid of Me is also beautifully, potently uncompromising. Thanks, Steve.

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