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Few artists can claim to be both the progenitor of a genre and also a continually vital and creative upstart within that genre. Afrika Bambaataa does both on Warlocks and Witches, Computer Chips, Microchips and You, his first widely available release since 1991's The Decade of Darkness. The lengthy set is significant not just because it marks the return of hip-hop's godfather (Bambaataa was one of the central figures during rap's formative years in the early Eighties), but also because the old man's record compares more than favorably to anything out there by young MCs who boast of taking the music to the next level.

Bambaataa's strength is in his world-view: Where some rap stars merely represent their neighborhood (Staten Island's Wu-Tang Clan, for example), Bambaataa and his Universal Zulu Nation include the entire planet in their scope of positivity. The all-inclusiveness extends to the music, in which Bambaataa routinely fuses old-school beats, new-school rhythms, jazz grooves, African chants, punk rants, reggae romps, go go bumps, James Brown jumps, and P-Funk pumps into a monster jam that sums up and advances everything hip-hop has come to signify.

As with other Bambaataa records, Warlocks is the combined effort of unknown rappers (Queen Asia, Arthur 4X) and familiar players (the P-Funk Horns, the Time Zone Band) under the direction of the master producer. With Warlocks clocking in at a whopping 78 minutes, there's room enough for everyone and everything, including a return to an old classic ("Unity Part 7," a revamp of his 1984 collaborative EP with James Brown) and the title track, which offers a bizarre extraterrestrial conspiracy theory.

By Roni Sarig

Jack Logan and Liquor Cabinet
Mood Elevator
(Restless/Medium Cool)

If ever a rocker set himself up for a sophomore letdown, it's Jack Logan. An unassuming Georgia swimming pool repairman, Logan was plucked from obscurity two years back when Medium Cool released Bulk, a critically praised 42-song compilation of spooky ballads and earthy, Beatles-esque blazers that Logan recorded in a homemade studio with the help of some musician buddies.

Mood Elevator, his second album, offers a mere seventeen cuts, but the quality of the compositions actually equals that of Bulk, and the record exudes the same recorded-live, low-fi appeal. That comes as no surprise, given that the backing band, Liquor Cabinet, is really just a sly cover for the same guys who played on the first album. Logan's songs are built around the most basic of chord progressions, usually strummed on rhythm guitar and sloppily embellished with Kelly Keneipp's tinkling piano, Dave Phillips's rumbling lead guitar, and Aaron Phillips's rickety drumbeats. Terry Rouch's lazy slide guitar lends a delicious twang to "Chinese Lorraine" and moans darkly on the minor-keyed "Vintage Man."

Logan's morose songwriting sensibility is probably too grim for mainstream radio, but the hook that anchors "When It All Comes Down" is juicy enough to stand a chance at airplay. His voice, an adenoidal baritone that draws its strength from understatement, is put in the service of word pictures that resonate like poetry. "Since the collision/My stitches are itchin' me . . . I emerged unscathed/But I don't seem to think as hard," he explains in the droll but catchy "Unscathed." On "My New Town," Logan sings, "I smell the paper mill across the river/I smell the oil refinery/I smell the citizens that walk these wretched streets." Sunny bromides and pop anthems they're not. But if thoughtful rock and roll lamentation is your bag, this followup will not disappoint.

By Steven Almond

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