By Steven Almond

Various Artists
Margaritaville Cafe New Orleans A Late Night Gumbo

While listening to the new John Prine album, a friend of mine remarked, "God, it sounds like Jimmy Buffett." She didn't mean it as a compliment. Although the Key West troubadour is one of the best storytellers to ever craft a ballad, and perhaps the greatest chronicler in song of the feel of Florida (remember "Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season"?), Buffett's accompanying music can be, to put it kindly, somewhat bland. That said, Late Night Gumbo, a compilation of New Orleans R&B and zydeco artists who record for Buffett's Margaritaville label, is more interesting than just about anything the singer-songwriter has recorded in years.

The ingredient chiefly lacking from Buffett's own music -- intriguing rhythms -- is in generous supply here. From the second-line strut of the Rebirth Brass Band -- a pumping tuba riff lays down the bottom while handclaps and martial drum rolls provide the marching orders -- to the rub-board-fueled, bordello-piano party tunes of Rockin' Dopsie, Jr., polyrhythms abound.

There's some fine singing, too, courtesy of Waylon Thibodeaux ("I'm Going Down to Bourbon Street" has the makings of a Crescent City classic) and Rockin' Dopsie, whose accordion-driven R&B is reminiscent of Buckwheat Zydeco. A band called the Bluerunners clocks in with the jumping zydeco workouts "Stringbean" and "Canecutter," while the Iguanas brand of Louisiana R&B seems somewhat tame, though not entirely joyless ("Eatin' With Fingers" is a perfect kids song, as well as a nod to long-time Buffett harmonica player and album co-producer Fingers Taylor). Ditto the song serving as a showcase for harmonica man Jumpin' Johnny Sansone.

And, yes, Parrotheads, J.B. makes his presence felt with two contributions: a hurts-by-comparison-to-the-original version of Huey "Piano" Smith's "Sea Cruise" that'll make you nostalgic for Frankie Ford's hit record, and a great cover of Leadbelly's "Goodnight, Irene." Now, if only Buffett can transfer some of this funk to his own releases....

By Bob Weinberg

nine inch nails
Further Down the Spiral

Would that Trent Reznor actually were contributing to the "coarsening of the culture" (as propounded by anti-Time-Warner forces) as creatively and with as much sense of fun as did Iggy "Death Trip" Pop and the Ramones (remember that buzzing chainsaw on their first album?) in their heydays. As it is, about all this hour-plus of Downward Spiral remixes has going for it is our boy Trent's generosity in pricing the disc as an EP. Hired guns such as Rick Rubin, Jim Thirlwell, and Aphex Twin fail to break Reznor's predictable patterns: These are the same rattling drum machines, distortion treatments, loud-soft dynamic shifts, and tortured-artist-effect lyrics of a man whose idea of a really heavy cover song is Adam Ant's "Physical." And at no extra charge, there's a "quiet" version of Reznor's Peter Gabriel homage, "Hurt" (don't miss the rotting animal video). All of it so much colder than the megadramas of, say, Ministry. Reznor probably would approve of my saying his music has no soul, or at least no center. But this ain't rock and roll, and it ain't no genocide. It's just a big blank.

By Rickey Wright

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