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Tal Ross
a.k.a. detrimental vasoline -- Giant Shirley
(Coconut Grove Recording Company)

Eccentricity has its place in pop music. Come to think of it, pop music may be the only industry in which going off the deep end might be considered a viable -- if not exactly smart -- career move. Original Pink Floyd front man Syd Barrett's acid-induced journey into madness enhanced the aura of intrigue that surrounded his former band during its Seventies heyday. Brian Wilson's composing-in-the-sandbox method was a frequent source of bemused speculation within the music press throughout the 1970s, although the hoots quickly subsided once it was revealed that the genius behind the Beach Boys had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Then there's Michael Jackson, who . . . well, there's really no need to elaborate, is there?

Besides, we're getting off the point, and none of this is meant to imply that Tal Ross -- who hard-core fans of the Parliament-Funkadelic alliance may remember as a founding member of the latter band -- is playing with anything less than a full deck. It's just that Ross certainly wears his eccentricities on his sleeve. The press bio that accompanies a.k.a. detrimental vasoline A Giant Shirley recounts the singer-guitarist's withdrawal from the music biz 24 years ago, noting that Ross, for reasons that were "partially chemically induced, part noble intent," walked out on Funkadelic in the middle of a 1971 tour and retreated to a trailer in Maxton, North Carolina, in a "quest for musical purity and deliverance." The bio takes pains to point out that Ross was, "contrary to popular funk lore," the first Funkadelic member to wear a diaper in performance, and "one of the first (if not the first) of the Seventies musicians to don a dog collar on-stage."

Ross's history and eccentricities having been established, what to make of a.k.a. detrimental vasoline -- Giant Shirley, his first release since he split from Funkadelic almost a quarter century ago? The results are decidedly mixed, though not for lack of effort. The CD gets off to a promising start with "Green and Yellow Daughter," an understated rocker distinguished by Ross's fragile vocals and twisted hooks. Other highlights include the trancelike "Cry and Show Me," the engaging ballad "Forget Her," and harder numbers such as "Get So Mad," "Feelin' Good," and "It Was (Wars of Armageddon)," on which Ross and his band work up a decent funk lather. But there are also long stretches during which the album meanders along a self-indulgent trail of electronic blips, whooshes, and yelps that recall the free-form jazz explorations undertaken by Spinal Tap when guitarist Nigel Tufnel temporarily left the band during its Smell the Glove tour. Dedicated P-Funk fans may not mind, but for the casual listener, a.k.a. detrimental vasoline -- Giant Shirley is a hit-or-miss proposition.

By Jim Murphy

Paul Kelly
Deeper Water
(Vanguard)

He's dropped his backing band, the Messengers, but Australia's most prolific rock balladeer is still firing off the messages in delightful three- to five-minute bursts. The fare here runs from brooding blues ("Difficult Woman") to jaunty country pop ("Extra Mile") to chiming Afro pop ("Madeleine's Song"). Simon Polinski's Eno-inspired mix infuses these earthy songs with an oddly shimmering energy. Add a liberal dose of pedal steel guitar and the result is an unexpectedly pleasing ambient feel. Kelly continues to develop as a lyricist, and his songs continue to tell the oldest and saddest story men and women know, of love lost and found, of the ruin left in its dark wake. Deeper Water sounds to me like the work of a heartbroken man. A songwriter, in other words, at the top of his game.

By Steven Almond

Various Artists
The History of Space Age Pop, Vol. 1-3
(RCA)
Henry Mancini
The Days of Wine and Roses
(RCA)

Lava lamps live! Lounge music has made a comeback! The quirky instrumental strains of stereophonic Muzak that drove rock and rollers screaming away from their hi-fi consoles are back, swirling on the fringes of the alterna-universe like swizzle sticks in a highball.

The History of Space Age Pop is a three-disc collection of kitschy easy-listening tunes that originated in the mid-1950s as sort of Donna Reed house music and re-emerged in recent years with a new hep-cat moniker: "space-age bachelor pad music." Pioneered by the cheese wizardry of pop avant-guardist Juan Garcia Esquivel, this genre of cocktail lounge background babble explored the exotic eccentricity of combining resonating percussions, blasting brass sections, and perky xylophones, all laden with an acoustic tinge and a Latin beat. Vol. 1: Melodies and Mischief whips the banal into the absurd: Sir Julian's bizarro arrangement of the Duke Ellington standard "Caravan," sort of seventh-inning-stretch organ music on acid; Henry Mancini's samba sendup of "Springtime for Hitler" (from the Mel Brooks film farce The Producers); and Perez Prado's "Why Wait," which sounds like the music Granny Clampett cooked vittles to on The Beverly Hillbillies. Vol. 2: Mallets in Wonderland doesn't maintain the same level of spunk, but cuts such as Bob Thompson's "Ain't We Got Fun," with all of its bells and whistles (literally!), and the Three Suns' accordion-laced take on "Fever" are hallucinating howls. The series concludes with Vol. 3: The Stereo Action Dimension, which explores the Ike era's technological leaps, creating what was then known as the "living stereo" experience. Most of the third disc sounds like variations on the Jeopardy! theme song, but Esquivel's tambourine- and steel-guitar-driven "Carioca" couldn't be any more campy if he had planned it that way (he didn't). But Lee Addeo's "Stumbling" is the real find on Dimension, mixing wooden recorders, Hawaiian guitars, harmonica, and tuned hotel lobby bells (and that's just for starters) into a sprightly shuffle with a walking bass that'll bend your ears like a lame beret that's too tight. As a whole, this hip set turns out to be a swinging gas.

Though Henry Mancini makes a couple of appearances on Space Age Pop, his work can best be classified as waiting lounge music, rather than the cocktail variety. And while he remains revered as one of the most successful film composers ever, Days of Wine and Roses amounts to a missed opportunity. With most of his mainstream material already available on CD (themes from the Pink Panther, Romeo and Juliet, Love Story, et cetera), it's too bad that this three-disc, 80-song retrospective chose to rely so heavily on Hank's film and television music at the expense of his left-of-center recordings. You get the TV hits (seven cuts from Peter Gunn, three from Mr. Lucky) and the film hits (three tracks from Breakfast at Tiffany's, including "Moon River," for which Mancini earned an Oscar for Best Song). Even though Mancini was associated closely with director Blake Edwards for 30 years -- their collaborations include the Pink Panther series and Breakfast at Tiffany's -- this set omits Mancini's music from Edwards's 10 and Victor, Victoria, which earned the composer an Oscar nod and a fourth Oscar win, respectively. Instead, dreck such as the theme from TV's What's Happening gets immortalized (remember? boing, boing . . .). Mancini lovers would have been better served if Days of Wine and Roses had minimized the TV- and film-score angle and grabbed the cool stuff from the vaults instead.

By George Pelletier

Nature
Nature
(Zoo/BMG)

Didn't this band used to be called Faith No More? It must have changed its name when it decided to mutate into an overprocessed hardcore-metal band. And, oh, these guys still suck.

By Georgina Cardenas

Bone Thugs-N-Harmony
E. 1999 Eternal
(Ruthless/Relativity)

It's somehow fitting that Ruthless's first release since the death of label founder Eazy-E would come from Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, a Cleveland-based crew that mixes the smooth L.A. gangsta grooves Eazy helped formulate with the group's own spooky fascination with the afterlife. Bone's debut long-player, E. 1999 Eternal, the successor to last year's multiplatinum EP, Creepin' on Ah Come Up, contains some of the most beautiful music you'll ever be repulsed by. The group's vocal style is so tuneful and harmonically coordinated that it sounds more like a ghostly chant than a traditional rap. They come off like Boyz II Men's evil twin, their complex potion of bittersweet crooning and insidious, rapid-fire rhyming pulling the listener deep into the dark side of life.

However, had the fivesome decided to stick with its earlier gimmick of horror-show occultism, it merely might have turned into rap's answer to filmmaker Wes Craven. Instead, on Eternal the group has waxed much more hardcore: There's the ultraviolence of "Die Die Die" and "Mo' Murda"; the idiotic obsession with smoking pot on "Budsmokers Only" and "Buddah Lovaz"; and "1st of tha Month" (a graceful number that appropriates Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" refrain of "wake up, wake up" to celebrate using welfare checks to buy drugs) contains plenty of ammunition for the extremist theories of the new right. That Eternal is so damn musical only makes its noxious lyrical content all the more subversive.

By Roni Sarig

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