Various Artists
Spirit of '73: Rock for Choice
(550 Music/Epic)

The concept: a grab bag of contempo women musicians turned loose on Seventies songs associated with women artists from that decade. The purpose: to raise consciousness regarding the need to protect a woman's legal right to obtain an abortion. The results: as with tribute albums, uneven. And telling. For instance, as good as Eve's Plum sounds covering Yvonne Elliman's "If I Can't Have You" (originally from Saturday Night Fever), it reminds listeners the band likely never will write anything remotely this good on their own. Ditto the relentlessly overpraised Babes in Toyland, who cheese their way agreeably through the Andrea True Connection's still-amazing disco manifesto, "More, More, More." Further, in such a setting, vocalists accustomed to shouting, shrieking, or muttering their way through their own material often find themselves in the discomfiting position of having to sing; say what you will about Stevie Nicks and Olivia Newton-John (both done a disservice here via fumbling covers, by Letters to Cleo and Pet, respectively), at least they can carry a tune.

The successes come from the more established singers: Johnette Napolitano gives a suitably darkling reading to the darkling Patti Smith's darkling "Dancing Barefoot"; Rosanne Cash brings an elegant country air to Joni Mitchell's affecting "River"; and Sarah McLachlan's interpretation of Mitchell's "Blue" sounds fine, if a tad too referential. Also includes nice takes on Sister Sledge's "We Are Family" (Ebony Vibe Everlasting) and Roberta Flack's "Feel Like Makin' Love" (Melissa Ferrick). Conversely, the hopelessly overwrought and ludicrous-sounding Sophie B. Hawkins performs accordingly on the Band's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" (by way of Joan Baez, of course). And oh, the people responsible for the allegedly amusing Seventies-related blips between cuts should be placed in stockades wearing headphones and forced to listen to an endless loop of Cheech and Chong.

By Michael Yockel

Roscoe Mitchell
Hey Donald

An intriguing mix of straight-ahead jazz and brain-bending avant-garde experimentalism, reedman Roscoe Mitchell's Hey Donald displays a fearless disregard for the marketing and programming nightmares it must surely provoke. To which we say, "Right on, brother!" The Donald of the title is the late saxophonist Donald Myrick, who, along with Mitchell and others, founded the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, the Chicago jazz movement that spawned the influential Art Ensemble of Chicago. Myrick was also an original member of Earth, Wind & Fire. Mitchell salutes his spirit with an uncompromising recording that veers from the loping swing of "Walking in the Moonlight" -- played almost, but not quite, tongue-in-cheek -- to evocative, free-form compositions such as "The Band Room."

Like a painter, Mitchell varies his palette, changing colors by changing instruments: gutty tenor and alto saxophones on one tune, shrieking soprano or sopranino saxes on another (particularly affecting on the heartrending "Song for Rwanda"). Mitchell's lyrical flute playing offers still another dimension, childlike but worldly, as on the sweet-sad-soulful "Jeremy."

A solid and sensitive quartet of jazz vets comprises Mitchell, Jodie Christian on piano, Al "Tootie" Heath on drums and percussion, and Malachi Favors on bass, who also crafts some challenging and creative duets with the leader. Hey Donald represents a mature statement from a jazz artist who doesn't care as much about category as he does about creativity. A breath of fresh air.

By Bob Weinberg

Lordz of Brooklyn
All in the Family

While many pale-faced rap crews follow paths blazed a decade ago by the Beastie Boys, Lordz of Brooklyn (LoB) seem conceived as an inner-city white-trash counterpart to the House of Pain (HoP) gang. Where HoP inserts Irish pride in slots usually reserved for Afrocentric rap, Lordz of Brooklyn seem -- at least by association -- oriented toward the Italian enclaves of their namesake New York City borough. And in the proud tradition of HoP's questionable ethnic credibility, LoB are led by two brothers named McLeer -- there doesn't seem to be a paisan in the bunch.

But hey, rap is like musical pro wrestling: The more real it claims to be, the more reason to doubt it. The Lordz grab a gimmick and milk it A no more, no less. Using the script from the film GoodFellas as source material, LoB craft an image as mom-loving, God-fearing, U.S. flag-waving, union dues-paying, blue-collar bad boys with a shared Mafia-like brotherhood code. In "American Made," the centerpiece to their debut album, All in the Family, they assert their collective identity with an effective A if thoroughly unfunky A country-rock riff and gruff raps such as "I'm a Lord to the day that I die/Real man, drives a Chevy, drinks a Bud when he's dry," and "My mother in the window hangin' clothes on the line/My father on the job he never crossed the picket line." Pool halls, card games, one-way trips to Coney Island A you get the idea.

While LoB won't win any prizes for nimble rhyme skills, they hold up at least as well as their Catholic cousins in HoP. And with musical references ranging from violin loops to the Guess Who to Schooly D to Saturday Night Fever -- all in the same song -- the performers behind the Lordz clearly are not the caricaturish Bensonhurst provincials they portray.

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