Another delightful contribution to the disc is "Boom," a dark, pulsating rap featuring Rob Van Winkle (yes, the onetime Vanilla Ice), whose blustery lyricism underscores Ali's relative verbal dexterity. While the Ice Man sputters lines like "Stop as we drop this bomb/Blow up this place like another Vietnam," Pop zings off couplets like "Sneaking up like celery, yeah I'm stalkin'/I squeak like Stephen Hawking, yeah but I'm walkin'." Annoying as Vanilla Ice may be, you've got to credit the Bloodhound Gang for sporting him the cameo. If nothing else, it takes guts. So does sampling Duran Duran's "Hungry Like the Wolf" on the mini-epic "Your Friends Are Only Make-Believe." Or slowing the Rockmaster Scott and the Dynamic Three hit "The Roof Is on Fire" into a dirge, as the B-Gang does on the MTV hit "Fire Water Burn."

To be sure, there are moments on this record in which Ali's idiocy gets the best of him (most notably the deplorable "I Wish I Was Queer So I Could Get Chicks," and "Kiss Me Where It Smells Funny.") But he seems as willing to tease himself as anyone else, and for the most part this disc is a joyous romp through the gutter of his mind.

-- Steven Almond

Carolan's Harp
The Harp Consort
(Deutsche Harmonia Mundi)

If you think the name Turlough O'Carolan is a mouthful, then you should try its Gaelic equivalent: Toirdhealbhach O Cearbhallain. He was born in Ireland in 1670 and went blind from smallpox at age sixteen; it was then that he took up the harp. Within three years he had become an itinerant bard who traveled the land as a poet, musician, and storyteller. His death in 1738 took from Ireland a man who united the Catholics and the Protestants through his parables and who fertilized traditional Irish music with more sophisticated dance forms of the European mainland.

This CD is an excellent introduction to O'Carolan's work, which is mostly meditative but occasionally boisterous. Almost 78 minutes long, the disc contains dance tunes and other instrumental music played on authentic instruments such as the lyra viol, the psaltery, and -- of course -- the Irish harp. There are songs, too (some in English, others in Gaelic), and these and the jigs are what make this disc so difficult to classify: Is it an early-music CD or is it a folk CD? Well, it's really both -- kind of like a backwoods antique store, but classier. The members of the Consort come from both of those musical worlds. Notable among them is harpist Andrew Lawrence-King, who has already recorded several splendid harp CDs for this label. Mention should also be made of Caitriona O'Leary, whose beautiful voice can be heard on several other folk and early-music CDs. Don't wait for next St. Patrick's Day before listening to the music of Turlough O'Carolan.

-- Raymond Tuttle

Super Chikan
Blues Come Home to Roost
(Rooster Blues)

These days it may appear that the Mississippi-based Fat Possum label has a lock on all the worthy bluesmen from that state -- from R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough to Cedell Davis and Dave Thompson. Not true. Jim O'Neal and the folks at Rooster Blues in Clarksdale have, along with other luminaries, James "Super Chikan" Johnson in their corner. This lifelong Delta resident writes verse about everyday life while making the rounds as a truck driver. He sets it to fetchingly fresh blues music that features his au naturel take-it-or-leave-it singing and playing of electric guitar, harmonica, and piano alongside a no-frills rhythm section and, in spots, a tenor saxophone. "Crystal Ball Eyes" is wonderfully disarming in the way it hangs on an infectious little guitar figure and the most homespun of lyrics. "White Rock Rooster" and "Super Chikan Strut" get by as witty barnyard parables, while "Bleeding from the Heart" finds him trying to make sense of love trouble. Don't be misled by his fowl nickname; Super Chikan is an insightful and capable musician drawing on the same spirit, the same resolve, that sustained his ancestors who worked the land he lives on today.

-- Frank-John Hadley

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