El Vez
G.I. Ay, Ay! Blues
(Big Pop)

The world's most popular Hispanic Elvis impersonator uses his latest album G.I. Ay, Ay! Blues to attack current anti-immigrant fervor, adding his usual mingling of music cultures and a broad spectrum of rock history that begins with the King. From the resounding opener "Say It Loud! I'm Brown and I'm Proud!" through a "Taking Care of Business" that acknowledges the BTO hit's link to "Dance to the Music," El Vez is in control of his sources as much as history plunderers like Pavement, the Pooh Sticks, or Dread Zeppelin. His library leans heavily on Seventies glam (T. Rex, Mott the Hoople, Alice Cooper, Gary Glitter) but includes Lennon and Public Enemy as well. El Vez also takes time to update his running bio of Cesar Chavez, illuminate corners of Mexican history ("The Arm of Obregon," "Malinche"), and declare "I'm not white bread, but I am a sandwich" on "Soy un Pocho," an anthem for Chicanos whose first language happens to be English. Among such democratic sentiments, his feeling for Elvis is both affectionately wiseass and unfashionably compassionate, as proven on "Mexican-American Trilogy" ("You know that your Elvis was bound to die") and G.I.'s emotional climax, an inspired medley of the '68 comeback anthem "If I Can Dream" and Bowie's "Rock and Roll Suicide."

-- Rickey Wright

Salonen/Los Angeles Philharmonic
Bernard Herrmann: The Film Scores
(Sony Classical)

Few people know Bernard Herrmann's name, but almost anyone who has watched a movie from the last 50 years knows at least some of his compositions. The shrieking violins that accompany Janet Leigh's fatal bathroom misfortune in Psycho have entered the collective cinematic and cultural consciousness to the point where all you have to do to convey the idea of a brutal murder is raise an imaginary knife and scream "Scree! Scree! Scree!"

A complete classical musician, Herrmann's first film score was for Orson Welles's Citizen Kane. His best-known body of work, however, is the music he wrote for Alfred Hitchcock's thrillers, including, in addition to Psycho, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Marnie, North by Northwest, and Vertigo. Their partnership broke up after Torn Curtain when Hitchcock -- who stupidly had been convinced by studio executives that movies should spawn pop tunes -- fired Herrmann for turning in yet another masterful score. Hitchcock never made a first-class movie again, but Herrmann went on to produce more remarkable work with auteurs such as Truffaut (Fahrenheit 451) and Scorsese (Taxi Driver, his final score).

This new disc contains music from the aforementioned films. No news there; other compilations have covered the same territory. What's interesting about this release is the fact that it's conducted by a young Finnish conductor, Esa-Pekka Salonen, who is associated with modern classical music of the thorniest kind. Is Salonen slumming? Not at all. Herrmann's music can stand beside some of the best twentieth-century works written for the concert hall, and Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic are determined to prove it with these passionate, intense performances. Preconceptions about how this music should sound are swept away by the conductor's analytical ear, and even listeners who are very familiar with the scores will be impressed with the musicians' fresh approach.

-- Raymond Tuttle

Jason & the Scorchers
Clear Impetuous Morning

Jason & the Scorchers have always been an important band. Since they pulled onto the lost highway with their 1984 Fervor EP and its twang-punk version of Dylan's "Absolutely Sweet Marie," they've been heroes to country rockers from Rank and File to Steve Earle to Son Volt. Thing is, the music they've made since then has always felt like a letdown.

Until now. Clear Impetuous Morning captures Fervor's rollicking spirit, then betters it by letting Warner Hodges's guitar run wild over Jason Ringenberg's catchiest batch of songs yet. Granted, Jason's lyrics on these new songs try a tad too hard ("Feeling like an unburied ostrich in a see-through disguise") and other times they don't seem to try very hard at all ("In the eye of sin, in the lion's roar, I can hear the slam of an iron door"), but what makes his songs work anyhow is the way he throws himself headlong into their stories, even when it's a story we've all heard before: The girl in "Going Nowhere" leaves home, searching for something better; the restless guys in "Self-Sabotage" and "Victory Road" are caught up in versions of the same thing.

Then again, the Scorchers have always been more about their hell-bent twang than their lyrics anyway. These boys play the way corn whiskey feels in your gut, and on Clear Impetuous Morning they sound like they've had a bellyful. From the breathless opening blast of "Self-Sabotage" to "I'm Sticking with You, " in which the steel guitar's whiz shifts to a quaking metallic rumble, this disc rocks the twang like the band's admirers have long known it could. The Scorchers have always been an important band, but now they've made an album that comes close to approaching their legend.

-- David Cantwell

Beautiful Freak

It doesn't take eels singer/songwriter E long to find the heart of the matter. He opens Beautiful Freak with the following bruising question: "Rags to rags and rust to rust/How do you stand when you get crushed?"

In the case of E and his two bandmates, the answer comes in the form of this hauntingly gorgeous debut, 44 minutes of musical bliss that combines hip-hop beats, soul-pop song lines, and fuzzbox production that calls to mind fellow hipsters Soul Coughing and Beck. (Not surprisingly, Michael Simpson, one half of the Dust Brothers recording team that's manned the boards for Beck and the Beastie Boys, shares producer credits with E.)

The disc's most ambitious songs present themselves as sonic collages composed of dreamy lyrics, chunky guitar, sweet riffs, looped samples, and loping drum beats. "Novacaine for the Soul" opens with the gentle tinkling of a Wurlitzer, before E lowers the boom with a crunching guitar solo. Bassist Tommy Walter opens "Susan's House" with a thick, thumping bass line; drummer Butch Norton adds a jazzy, syncopated rhythm; and E finally kicks in with a tripped-out urban travelogue that reads like top-drawer acid poetry. Then the song gets really weird. It stops on a dime, falls silent, and is reborn as a sweet Randy Newman-esque piano interlude. Gradually the drums and guitars start back up, this time with samples of kids cheering, canned sitcom laughter, and roaring power tools.

The title track, a dark lullaby fashioned from E's gentle keyboard fills and edgy tenor, is the trio's most revealing. "You're a beautiful freak," he sings, "and that is why I love you." Take heart, then, freaks: There is no shame in abnormality. With bands like the eels around advocating, the freak green room can be a pretty damn cool place to hang.

-- Steven Almond

Various Artists
Money B Presents Folk Music Vol. 1
(Bobby Beats)
Various Artists
Insomnia: The Erick Sermon Compilation Album

Commercial rap -- hate it with a passion? Two compilation albums strictly meant to make the underground head nod have recently made their way into the marketplace for your listening pleasure. Folk Music is the compilation brainchild of Digital Underground's Money B, who keeps things balanced on this set with a mix of new and familiar faces. While Digital and Money B give up two cool new tunes apiece, the bomb is dropped truly by the new faces. Detroit's No Coast rocks hard and does the Motor City justice on "U Justa," Clee & John Doe rip mikes on the ragga-flavored "Heartbreaker," and Vickia proclaims her unabashed love for the nasty on "Like to Freak Ya." Others getting down on this Bay Area family affair include T.M.F., Neighborhood Kingpinz, Kumpny, and Shay.

Erick Sermon, late of the duo EPMD, uses Insomnia to offer a peek into a fictional world "six billion feet beneath where the Def Squad dwells." Radio station WFDS (We're From the Dark Side), staffed here by real-life Boston air personality Cherry Martinez, dishes out the comic relief while guiding the listener on a journey through some seriously thick funk. Compatriots Redman, Keith Murray, and E-Double himself represent throughout, but as with the Money B set, it's the new acts that shine. Add the name Passion to the long list of bad females suddenly getting wreck; and duos Jamal & Calif and the Wixtons ensure this Def Squad Ball stays an unkempt affair, keeping things low and dirty on "Beez Like That (Sometimes)" and the stanky funk throwdown "Up Jump the Boogie," respectively.

-- Jesse Ballinger

The Heads
No Talking Just Head
No Byrne Just Dreck.
-- John Floyd


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