All for Nothing, Nothing for All
Sometimes I listen to old Replacements records and wonder why I still listen to old Replacements records. Their Twin/Tone albums were loaded with Kiss riffs and Beatles rips, novelty songs and poignant ballads, country goofs and punk poses -- it's often hard to tell the trash from the treasure. Maybe the Replacements were great because they never tried to be, because their brand of rock and roll was so inadvertent. No one could try to write a song like "Unsatisfied." It just happens.
That's why the first disc of this two-CD set is expendable. It's an alleged best-of collection that chronicles the downfall of the Replacements in the post-Twin/Tone years, when Paul Westerberg began believing he alone was the band.
If part one (All for Nothing) reminds us where the Replacements went wrong, part two -- a collection of B-sides and live tracks and outtakes -- suggests where they went right. Let It Be, the quartet's last record before moving to Warner Bros., was its final start-to-finish triumph. Nothing for All is its accidental posthumous followup, a dustbin of purposeful gems and tossed-off wonders.
Nothing opens with a version of "Can't Hardly Wait" originally recorded for Tim; it's shorn of the gaudy, emasculating Memphis Horns producer Jim Dickinson would later bring in. The less the Mats did to a song, the more it seemed to matter. The rest of the disc is a patchwork masterpiece filled with the sort of nonsense ("Beer for Breakfast," "Till We're Nude," "All He Wants to Do Is Fish") and sappiness ("We Know the Night," "Portland," "Who Knows") that made Let It Be seem so fucked up and flawless. It's hard to believe there was a time when Westerberg so easily offset heartbreak and despair with a drunken giggle.
Nothing for All shows the band for what it was -- soused idiots who stumbled into a record deal and came this close to being something bigger. We adored them because they didn't give a shit; we began hating them when they did. If nothing else, All for Nothing, Nothing for All reminds us of why we cared and when we stopped caring.
-- Robert Wilonsky
When I Was Born for the 7th Time
(Luaka Bop/Warner Bros.)
Sometimes the most universal music comes from the most provincial places. I've never been there, but I imagine Leicester, England, to be a quaint university town in which choral groups battle a second-rate symphony for cultural supremacy. Though now based in London, Cornershop staggered onto the Leicester scene in 1993, a ragtag group of East Indians who adopted an English stereotype (the immigrant as bodega owner) for its proud, defiant name.
The band's 1995 release, Woman's Gotta Have It, was best at its most exotic, with Eastern melodies and beats played by sitars and tablas. The other half was fairly ordinary: indie guitar-rock with a little masala sprinkled over it. That makes When I Was Born for the 7th Time even more revelatory. The song that will be mentioned the most, a Punjabi version of the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood," is important as a reclamation of the band's Indian roots. But it isn't as thrilling as the CD's opening accordion flourish, which announces the arrival of a group unafraid to mix musical cultures, from the Cajun sounds of Louisiana and boho poetry of New York to the dance beats and hip-hop scratches of underground London.
Still, I'm partial to bassist/vocalist Tjinder Singh's more conventional pop structures, especially "Sleep on the Left Side" and "Brimful of Asha," which are the latest in a long, proud tradition of tunes about the power of good music. But even such slight, goofy dance shuffles as "Funky Days Are Back Again" and "Good Shit" are too amiable to be faulted much for their hippie-dippie lyrics. An experiment that could have ended disastrously -- Allen Ginsberg's poem "When the Light Appears Boy" spoken over the sound of the polyglot streets -- proves compelling. Singh's duet with Paula Fraser of Tarnation is less successful; it's just a conventional country song that happens to have flute in it.
The sitar on 7th Time isn't quite as prominent as it was on Woman's Gotta Have It, but the new CD's "It's Indian Tobacco My Friend," with its odd vocal modalities and high-hat splashes, is Western music as it could be conjured only by Easterners.
-- Keith Moerer
(Maison de Soul)
Not long ago in Louisiana, it was a cultural taboo for a woman to perform with a Creole or Cajun band. Fortunately, zydeco's no longer a bastion of chauvinism, and 26-year-old Rosie Ledet is now in charge of the family band earlier fronted by her bass-playing husband. On her third and best album so far, she works hard at whooping up dance-floor merriment with her griddle-hot accordion and sexy, forthright singing. "Roll It Over" and "My Joy Box" and many of the other ten tunes here, all written by Rosie, insistently affirm the pleasures of the flesh, with the bandleader riding the rhythmic flow of electric guitars, bass, drums, and washboards.
-- Frank-John Hadley
For the convenience of music retailers, early music is often classified as that which preceded Bach -- roughly the 1600s and before. True to its title, more than half the music on this CD fits that definition. John Dowland and Hildegard von Bingen, however, would probably be confused to hear their vocal music arranged for string quartet, which is a modern innovation in classical music, relatively speaking.
The Kronos Quartet has made a career of defying the formal and stuffy stereotypes associated with classical string quartets. They dress informally, groom themselves haphazardly, and play contemporary music that runs from the kitschy to ear-scouring. Such chaste and levelheaded Early Music, then, is a strange move for them.
Even stranger, though, is the assortment of music that fills the rest of the CD, everything from a dryly traditional Swedish bridal march to an arrangement of John Cage's Totem Ancestor, whose ticklish monotony resolves into a sort of African opera without words. Moondog's Synchrony no. 2 sounds like a congregation of Baptists singing as they sink into the ground.
The point seems to be that some ancient music sounds strikingly contemporary and some contemporary music sounds strikingly ancient, and that the concepts of time and history can completely erode, depending on where one is on this Earth. This is no revelation, but few ensembles have been as earnest (some might say humorless) about it as the Kronos Quartet is on this new CD.
The packaging, for what it's worth, is beautiful. Tattered images of celestial bodies share space with the black doorway to a Jordanian tomb and Turkish domes, either cut open to the bright sunlight, or closed and ornately painted. Unlike Turkish domes, this CD is not particularly centered, but it is plenty provocative.
-- Raymond Tuttle
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Having already done more to live up to the word "irrepressible" than just about any other Nineties artist, Jamaica-to-Brooklyn transplant Shaggy is back with a third album that steps closer to mainstream R&B. While the Shagster is less willing to play silly than on his previous stuff, there are no mock sneezes in the midst of a seduction routine, as on 1995's mega-hit "Boombastic." He does namecheck Sonny Bono on "Think Ah So It Go," and he claims Siskel and Ebert's endorsement on the bouncing title track, which also features a group chorus whose slovenliness seems to mock the star's own claims to desirability. The steel drums of "Sexy Body Girls" are a perfect setup for the record's best example of Shaggy's oddball style, while the pre-ska influences of "Perfect Song" render it irresistible.
Less successful is a cover of "Piece of My Heart" with guest vocalist Marsha, which draws on Erma Franklin's obscure original rather than Janis Joplin's frantic remake. It's an interesting idea, especially given its reappearance in a lusher "urban remix" at the disc's end, but the lyric doesn't really translate to the smooth-operator routine Shaggy is running. Still, Lotharios with this much wit, not to mention musical savvy, don't show up every day. Shaggy is a fresh twist on the R&B cliche.
-- Rickey Wright