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Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs
Pharaohization! The Best of Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs
(Rhino)

"One, two ... one, two, tres, quatro!"
It's one of the greatest, if not the greatest, count-off in rock- and-roll history, an intro so nutty that following it with equally nutty music would seem impossible, even for a bunch of transplanted Texas rockers holed up back in the Sixties at Sam Phillips's legendary Memphis studio. Fortunately the turbaned Sam the Sham and his mighty Pharaohs were up to the task, and "Wooly Bully," the group's huge hit from 1964, ranks with the Trashmen's "Surfin' Bird" and the Chips' "Rubber Biscuit" as one of rock's supremely silly anthems, from the bug-eyed intensity of Sam's screaming vocal to his furiously pumped Farfisa organ.

Suitably, Pharaohization! kicks off with that seminal garage rocker, and the momentum doesn't let up until the last notes of 1967's "Banned in Boston." A generously appended version of Rhino's 1985 LP of the same title, Pharaohization! chronicles the brief but tantalizing career of Dallas-based madman Domingo "Sam" Samudio and his ever-changing roster of Pharaohs, who fused the choogling groove of Tex-Mex with the relentless pound of sax-driven R&B and the intensity of garage rock. The group never came close to matching the success of "Wooly Bully," but the best stuff assembled here -- the hoodoo-tongued "Ju Ju Hand," the wicked kiss-off "Sorry 'Bout That," the pile-driving instrumental "Pharaoh-A-Go-Go," to name a few -- define the lunacy of a rock-and-roll mindset that didn't give a good goddamn about the Beatles, the Stones, or any of the garbage being pumped into American ears from the other side of the big pond. And even at 24 tracks, Pharaohization! doesn't tell the whole story: A second volume would be necessary to round up stray gems such as "Uncle Willy," "Haunted House," "Like You Used To," "Sweet Talk," "Grass Hopper," and "Struttin'."

Samudio is a preacher now, spreading the gospel throughout Memphis and the United States via sermons and recordings. But his psycho-rock legacy lives on, as witnessed by the Norton label's 1994 tribute album Turban Renewal, wherein underground rockers such as the Lyres, the Mummies, Teengenerate, and Flat Duo Jets pay respects to Sam's secular oeuvre. It's a fine record, to be sure, but hardly the manic, bone-rattling masterpiece that Pharaohization! is. We can only pray for its sequel.

-- John Floyd

The Freshmaka
The Boy in the Plastic Bubble-Hop
(PopRox Records)

If you believe the liner notes of The Boy in the Plastic Bubble-Hop, the Freshmaka is Klaus Von Freshmaka, a German-born turntable virtuoso who first rose to prominence as the DJ for teenyboppers New Kids on the Block. After a fling with Ally Sheedy (described as a "teen icon/poetess") and a painful censorship controversy involving an erotic recording, Klaus took refuge in the arms of the Hubba Bubba heiress, setting aside his music for a job with the bubble-gum company.

If you believe the liner notes, you're an idiot.
In reality of course, Klaus von Freshmaka isn't German, or in bed with Ally Sheedy, or even in reality. He's an inside joke at PopRox records, the New York Internet-only independent (www.poprox.com) that has released a series of electronic music albums. Having sprung fully grown from the head of label founders Duke Mushroom and Sam Hollander, the album caused enough of a stir online to earn the Freshmaka a distribution deal with Moonshine records, the home of DJ Keoki, C.J. Mackintosh, and other electronic music stars.

It's easy to hear why. The record isn't as high-tech or complex as some dance records -- the beats are suggestive, not aggressive -- and many of the songs communicate the ecstatic alchemy of electronic music. The leadoff track, "Get Up Thru Da Night," samples Nicolette Larson's famous cover of Neil Young's "Lotta Love" to great effect, while "git 2 gether" uses the electronic percussion of guest artist Iku Iku (also on PopRox) to overcome the sappiness of the foundation sample, which sounds suspiciously like the Sunshine Company's bubble-gum hit "Let's Get Together." (If it is, I want one million dollars.)

Half the fun is picking out the originals (Is that Nick Lowe? Is that Poco?). The other half is listening to them after they've been given Freshmakovers. And although some of the tracks are monotonous ("The Freshmaka Defines Leisure," "Unselfish Love"), most succeed either as funk ("Sing in the Sun") or atmosphere (the epic "Are U Happy," which buries soft-pop Sixties horns in the mix and comes off sounding like a cross between Cornershop and Deee-Lite). With cheesy Seventies artwork and obscure spoken-word snippets interleaving the songs, this is perfect party music.

-- Ben Greenman

Fun Lovin' Criminals
100% Colombian
(Virgin)

Wearing their New York City citizenship proudly, this funky trio merges laid-back hip-hop beats, loungey singing, and a little snarl. More so than their 1996 major-label debut (which had the semihit "Scooby Snacks") the band's second album is a cohesive record that settles into a mellow groove and only rarely lifts its head from the back of the couch. Like a stoned, working-class Soul Coughing or a stoned, less-jazzy Cake, or a stoned, less-bluesy G. Love and Special Sauce, the Criminals know how to work a groove, even if it means they have to put some effort into it. The Criminals seem to care little for the world outside the five boroughs, mentioning something about the city in nearly every song. This provincialism is disappointing, considering the band's huge following in Europe.

But as a set piece of zonked out, self-conscious, groovy genre-hopping tunes 100% Colombian is consistent. The slinky beats, chilled horns, and smooth jazz bass of "Sugar" provide an impetus for headbobbing, with singer/guitarist Huey (no last name for anybody in the band) adding wafts of wah-wah guitar with late-night rapping for the verse and tranquil crooning for the chorus. In contrast "Southside" is like a double shot of tequila. With Steve's stout bass line bobbing and weaving under Huey's distorted six-string and Fast's heavy drumming, the cut is harder and faster, but no less grooving.

Crunchy or smooth, the strength of the band is that they play together. "Love Unlimited," a tribute to the aphrodisiac powers of Barry White, sounds almost as funky as something from the soul singer's early Seventies work, with the trio shuffling along as one soulful sex machine.

Unfortunately when the band strays too far from the groove they are less successful. "Korean Bodega" relies on a Bo Diddley beat, country slide guitars, and lyrics about the owner of their favorite corner store and winds up sounding a lot like "Are You Jimmy Ray?" by Jimmy Ray himself. The thrash guitars and the two-four country beat of "10th Street," a tribute to a place where drugs can be scored in New York City, are an odd mish-mash that fall flat. And the classic rock coda, "Big Night Out," shows that the trio hasn't totally abandoned its juvenile sense of humor. Still, with three clunkers out of thirteen, 100% Colombian is 77 percent great.

--David Simutis

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