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New Bomb Turks
Pissing Out the Poison
(Crypt)

Before punk rock found new digs on the Billboard album chart, it was the provincial music of outcasts and miscreants who had little interest in (let alone a chance in hell of attaining) the massive fame and success awarded to the likes of Offspring, Green Day, et al. New Bomb Turks, from Columbus, Ohio, remember a time when the music was hard, fast, a little sleazy, and catchy as hell. For the last five or so years, the Turks have cranked out that kind of punk over the course of two brilliant albums (1993's Destroy-Oh-Boy and last year's Information Highway Revisited), about a dozen singles, two EPs, and innumerable compilation cuts, all of which expand the sonic possibilities of punk and bring a passion and a flair to the music that's all too absent both in the platinum arena of the dye-jobbed poster boys and the underground in which the Turks dwell.

Pissing Out the Poison rounds up 26 of the band's stray tracks -- from their 1991 debut shot ("Tail Crush") to some previously unissued demos -- with a remastering job that greatly improves upon the crappy fidelity of the original singles. It's an amazing compendium, full of meaty guitar riffs and frantic tempos that, surprisingly, never trample over the lyrics of vocalist Eric Davidson, whose political concerns are as much emotional ("Last Lost Fight," "Girl Can Help It") as they are social ("Pist," "Sucker Punch"). And unlike too many of their hardcore peers, the Turks are well-versed in the punk-rock verities: Witness the ace covers of Radio Birdman's "Do the Pop," Nervous Eaters' "Just Head," and the New York Dolls' "Bad Girl." They're also clever enough to revive lost gems from the most unlikely sources (e.g., their blazing takes on the Rolling Stones' "Summer Romance" and Hawkwind's "Ejection"). And, just in time for the holidays, there's a breakneck rendering of Darlene Love's seasonal standard "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)."

Even better is the band's "Croonin' [nee Cryin'] Into the Beer of a Drunk Man," an almost graceful version of one of their earliest songs, culled from a European radio broadcast. It's no doubt too slow for the boys in the pit, but "Croonin'" proves that, beyond Jim Weber's wall of guitar, the furious rhythm section, and Davidson's bug-eyed vocals, this band writes great songs that work wonders at any speed.

-- John Floyd

Tab Benoit
Standing on the Bank
(Justice)

Fans of the guitar-hero blues-rock genre will find plenty of reasons to prostrate themselves on Tab Benoit's Standing on the Bank. Fans of authentic blues, however, will find plenty of reasons to mutter about the state of blues today, and then retreat back into their record collections.

Benoit is a fine, muscular guitar player, and there are moments here when he approaches blues veracity: the original Fifties stroll-styled "If I Could Quit You," and a cover of the slow-burning Albert King staple "Laundromat Blues." Full of blues feeling is the spare "Still Going Down the Road," an original blues rambler in the Robert Johnson mode that features only guitar and miked boot stomps.

However, Benoit has a typical white-guy bluesman wanna-be voice, with his singing sometimes approaching parody. He also seems to have an annoying addiction to boogie beats, which makes Standing a rather tedious listen at times. Even the presence of Buddy Guy sidemen Ray "Killer" Allison on drums and Greg Rzab on bass does little to help, nor does a duet with Willie Nelson rescue it from being a supreme yawner. (If anything, Nelson's effortless croon puts Benoit's strained machismo to shame.) You know you're in for a long ride when an album actually makes you nostalgic for ZZ Top. Geez, those guys made it sound so easy.

-- Bob Weinberg

Tab Benoit performs at the Musicians Exchange, 729 W Sunrise Blvd, Ft Lauderdale, tonight (Thursday) at 8:30 and 10:30. Tickets are $10. Call 764-1912.

Ian Hunter
Dirty Laundry
(Cleveland International Records)

Ian Hunter was alternative before alternative was, as it's spelled nowadays, kool. A quarter of a century ago, while the music world was still grooving on Woodstock's lingering, illusory vibes of peace, love, and happiness forever, Hunter and his working-class bandmates in Mott the Hoople were clearing a path for punk with a rollicking mix of basic Chuck Berry-ish riffs, dark humor, and an anarchic world-view that reached its peak with the rave-up "Violence," from the band's classic 1973 album Mott. The group imploded a few albums later, but some of Hunter's best work still lay ahead. He hooked up with ex-Bowie axman Mick Ronson and forged on through the end of the Seventies, delivering hard-rock gems ("Once Bitten Twice Shy," "Just Another Night"), smart, brutally personal ballads ("Irene Wilde," "Ships"), and nearly everything in between. He delivered them all in an abrasive Cockney croak, despite the encroaching efforts of record companies to pass off cream-puff bands with helium-voiced front men as rock and roll.

His output tailed off in the 1980s, but throughout his career, Hunter's best work has come when he seems to have hit rock bottom, either emotionally or professionally. Maybe it was the death of Ronson last year, but Dirty Laundry A Hunter's first album in six years A ranks squarely among his finest efforts. The opening track, "Dancing on the Moon," bristles with sinewy guitars, a tinkling piano, and a soulful, gospel-tinged chorus. As the tempo shifts from a bruising barroom stomp to a hypnotic groove, and Hunter howls his way through the frenzied closing, you realize this is the type of smoky lounge standard the Rolling Stones have been trying to record for almost two decades.

The anthemic "My Revolution" -- which borrows much more than its slide guitar intro from Mott the Hoople's biggest hit, the Bowie-penned "All the Young Dudes," from 1972 -- shows that Hunter's sense of humor is intact, as he explains to the likely product of one of his meaningless one-night stands the dynamics of the ballyhooed (sexual? political? cultural?) revolution that was ushered in by rock and roll: "I've been there / I've done it / I've seen it all / That was my contribution / So much for revolution." As Hunter shrugs later in the song, it was "a revolution for fun." On a more somber note, "Scars" is the sort of majestic, haunting ballad that Hunter can pull of so adroitly without sounding maudlin or trite. One shudders to think of the sonic and emotional carnage that would result if the refrain "I've still got your blood running through my veins" were to be repeated over and over by the likes of, oh, Alanis Morissette or Gloria Estefan (take your pick). Coming from Hunter after such a long absence, the lament sounds nothing short of heavenly.

-- Jim Murphy

Michael Feinstein
Sings the Hugh Martin Songbook
(Nonesuch)

Hugh who? You might not know his name, but if you've ever paid a moment's attention to Judy Garland, you probably know two of Martin's most famous songs: "The Trolley Song" ("Clang, clang, clang, went the trolley / Ding, ding, ding, went the bell") and "(How Can I Ignore) The Boy Next Door." His third big hit was the timely "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," one of the most poignant holiday songs ever written. ("Someday soon we all will be together, if the fates allow / Until then we'll have to muddle through somehow / So have yourself a merry little Christmas now." Think about it.)

Martin had a strong career on Broadway and he also worked at MGM as a songwriter and vocal arranger. With Ralph Blane, he wrote songs for the films Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) and Ziegfeld Follies (1946), scores that can be heard in their entirety on recent Rhino CDs. This collection contains Martin's hits, some fine numbers that got away ("Here Come the Dreamers"), and even a passionate new love song ("I Have Something to Say to You") from the 81-year-old composer. Whether passionate, funny, or downhearted, there isn't a song here that doesn't put a clever new lyrical and musical twist on the standard songwriting formulas.

This is a nice return to form for Feinstein, after his mopey and over-orchestrated Such Sweet Sorrow from earlier this year. The singer often is at his best when he's in his Harold and Maude mode, casting a fond gaze at songwriters several decades his senior while remaining spunky. Earlier songbook CDs have paired Feinstein with greats such as Burton Lane, Jerry Herman, and Jule Styne. The recipe remains the same here: Martin accompanies Feinstein at the piano (and adds his voice to a few of the numbers), and Feinstein sings Martin's songs with the enthusiasm of a netsuke collector showing off his newest rare acquisitions. While not exactly a self-effacing performer, Feinstein never sings as if he's more important than the song. That's what makes him one of today's shining treasures of classic American pop and musical theater songs, and that's what makes this CD another one of his jewels.

-- Raymond Tuttle

Michael Feinstein appears at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW 5th Ave, Ft Lauderdale, tonight (Thursday) at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $25-$35. Call 462-0222.

g//z/r
Plastic Planet
(TVT)

Blessed with one of the greatest names in rock-and-roll history, Black Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler still yearns for more. A true trouper, Geezer dutifully kept his feet in both camps after Ozzy Osbourne fled the band in '79, sticking with Sabbath through its many non-Osbourne incarnations and playing behind the Oz on some recent solo tours. But he's still remembered, if he's remembered at all, as the guy tiny Malcolm Young beat up when AC/DC opened for Black Sabbath in the mid-Seventies.

With age rapidly rendering his name redundant, Butler is detouring from the heavy-metal-memories circuit with g//z/r. While the general turgidity of this Geezer-led outfit might suggest connections with the seminal Sabs sound, the comparisons end there. G//z/r hammers out stiff, dense Nineties metal -- tuneless washing-machine riffs grinding into infinity, bellowed rap-inflected vocals, no waiting. Geezer doesn't sing, but he does write the lyrics (the songs reflect the same punning sensibility that made later Sabbath albums such a delight: "Seance Fiction," "Sci-Clone," "Drive Boy, Shooting"), and former Fear Factory vocalist Burton C. Bell supplies the requisite gargling fury as he negotiates Geezer's tongue-twisting invective. Bell's foghorn delivery is a far cry from the comparative melodicism of Ozzy (or Ronnie James Dio, for that matter), and first-generation Sabbath fans are unlikely to find anything to bang their graying heads to in the industrial-strength teen racket of Plastic Planet. But at least Geezer is doing his best to keep up with the kids.

-- David Dudley

KRS One
KRS One
(Jive)

It's been ten years since KRS One (a.k.a. Kris Parker) came barreling out of the South Bronx and burst onto the hip-hop scene. While he has yet to achieve crossover stardom, he remains one of the genre's most intelligent and influential voices. Unlike Public Enemy who seemed to direct their lyrics at critics as much as at fans -- KRS One has served as a street-level conscience. Whether decrying the effects of the inner-city drug trade or black-on-black crime, he has eloquently staked out the higher ground of an art form that has, increasingly, been given over to mindless braggadocio and misogyny.

This most recent effort (Parker's eighth album overall) is, with a few glaring exceptions, a welcome addition to his oeuvre. As with previous efforts, the so-called Blastmaster's primary interest is not simply to catalogue ghetto woes, but also to suggest the moral fallout that ensues from them. On "R.E.A.L.I.T.Y.," he observes that every black man "leads two or three lives trying not to be kilt / We say peace cuz that's what we want / A piece of the pie that America built." The minimal backing -- flashes of synth and fat, syncopated drum lines -- purposefully spotlights Parker's oddly endearing nasal baritone.

"Squash All Beef" is as close to a pacifist manifesto as rap will allow, with Parker exhorting his followers to become "mental vegetarians / I never ever ever ran from the Ku Klux Klan / And I shouldn't have to run from a black man."

"The Truth" is the record's most ambitious effort, a lyrical lecture that lays bare the abundant hypocrisies of biblical scripture. Set to a bubbling bass line, Parker slyly reframes the Christian obsession with crosses: "See, what if Jesus Christ was hung upon a tree? / Up on every church wall, that's exactly what you'd see / If Jesus Christ was shot in the head with no respect / We'd all have little gold guns around our necks / If Jesus Christ was killed in an electric chair, now get it / You'd be kneeling to the electric chair with Jesus still in it / You gaze upon the cross and you see the execution / You yell 'Stop the violence,' but the cross is still worn." His take on the Adam and Eve story -- that Eve, the only woman on earth, "must have had it going on" with her two sons -- offers a succinct answer to a question that has long puzzled scholars.

Parker's rarest talent is an ability to assume the voice of fictional characters, which allows him to make his points by telling a story. On "Hold" he speaks from the perspective of a crack-crazed murderer, and "Out for Fame" offers a firsthand account of the graffiti artist as creative force.

Sadly, the album is also tinged by the kind of bullshit posing that Parker usually stands against. "I'm all about survival / I got all the rhymes / Cuz I killed all my rivals," he chants on the thoroughly unpleasant "De Automatic." Coming from most other rappers, this kind of hateful and hackneyed self-celebration would be more routine than galling. But by this time, Parker should know better. If he wants to portray himself as a prophet of the inner city, he needs to be pointing the way out, not going with the flow.

-- Steven Almond

Passengers
Original Soundtracks 1
(Island)

U2 should be celebrated for doing what so few major rock bands have managed to do: They broke the chains of their own stardom. For a while it looked as if they were going to carry the "monsters of rock" banner into the area staked out by institutionalized and calcified old-timers such as the Who and Pink Floyd. But with 1991's Achtung Baby and 1993's Zooropa, U2 stopped waving flags and learned to laugh at their fame, shedding their self-important image and finding more creative legroom in the process. Only in this context could U2 allow their long-time producer Brian Eno virtual membership in the band and immerse themselves in the anonymity of film music as faux group Passengers.

On their debut album, Original Soundtracks 1, a collection of fourteen compositions for independent films (and one performance piece), Passengers take on the challenge of interpreting the moods, themes, and textures of the visual medium. Eno, who's done this sort of thing for decades, plays a defining role. With their electronic pulsations and organic atmospheres, tracks such as "United Colours" and "One-Minute Warning" are akin to Eno's previous ambient-techno work. Even the tracks bearing U2's stamp are enriched by collaboration: The hilarious "Elvis Ate America" becomes even more absurd with rap maven Howie B's scratching and vocal shouts, and the touching "Miss Sarajevo" is made infinitely more profound by opera icon Luciano Pavarotti's tenor. Passengers is more likely an inspired tangent rather than an indication of U2's future sound, but it adds to the band's impressive and progressive body of work.

-- Roni Sarig


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