-- Adam St. James

Wurster
Wurster
(Black Janet Music)

Former Black Janet vocalist-guitarist Jim Wurster's second solo release serves as a showcase for his melancholy, Dylanesqe voice and compelling storytelling on twelve well-crafted original songs and a cover of Neil Young's "Cowgirl in the Sand." The Fort Lauderdale high school history teacher is accompanied by guitarist Peit Campbell, guitarist/mandolinist/producer Bob Wlos, bassist Dave Thompson, and drummer Frank Binger.

On "Angelique," a love ballad, Wurster's voice goes from a slight quiver to a subtle soar as he sings, "Oh Angelique/Won't you come to me/You'd be wise/To enter my dream/And in the morning/When we rise/Watch me fall/Into your eyes," while Wlos coaxes a hypnotic wah-wah effect from his guitar that could touch even the most hardened soul. Wurster moves from the countrified "Yellow Rose" to the dark folk of "Gray Sky Day," but it comes across best on the ghostly, genteel rock of "Big Surprise," "Loping Vampire Blues," and "Black Widow."

Support from topnotch guests -- vocalist Amy Baxter on "Big Surprise," singers Kristi Boswell and Kelly Christy on "The Sun and the Moon," and Silver Nightingale flutist Laura Sue Wilansky on "Black Widow" -- helps flesh out the sound on this wide-ranging disc. (2861 N. Oakland Forest Dr., suite 105, Oakland Park, FL 33309)

-- Larry Boytano

Pan*American
Pan*American
(Kranky)

Close followers of the ambient underground might know Mark Nelson as guitarist-singer for the trio Labradford. When not working that gig, he moonlights as the one-man "band" Pan*American, exploring somewhat dubbier territory. This self-titled release constitutes the first official album, although Nelson has recorded cassettes in the past as Pan*American and swapped them with chums on the subterranean ambient/dub/ electronica scene. On these nine tracks (only one, "Lake Supplies," can properly be described as a "song"), he constructs loping, minimalist soundscapes, building his compositions on a foundation of teeth-rattling bass throbs. He then erects a sonic exoskeleton with sampled percussion, guitar washes, and keyboard manipulations, plus some occasional whispered vocals, the latter giving the proceedings a somewhat unfortunate gothic tinge, notably on "Lent" (think of the spooky-ooky voice of Frank Booth in the David Lynch film Blue Velvet).

Mostly, though, Nelson forgoes singing to create dark, haunting instrumental mood pieces, particularly on the white-noisy, album-closing "Part One." Overall his tracks exude an organic feel, unlike the more clinical work undertaken by ambient-dub lab techs such as Fila Brazillia and Heights of Abraham. Nelson escorts Italian soundtrack maestro Ennio Morricone though the West Indies on "Lake Supplies," fleshing out the cut with electric piano, real drums, metallic junkyard percussion, and a thereminlike effect, while on "First Position" he fashions a deep-space sci-fi electronic environment that he interrupts with some cosmic static. And "Tract," with its snippet of beamed-in-from-another-galaxy conversation, recalls studio whizbangers Cabaret Voltaire.

Elastic enough to function equally as postrave chill-out balm or, if home alone, ghostly bathtub music. (P.O. Box 578743, Chicago, IL 60657)

-- Michael Yockel

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