Since the Seventies, the children of flamenco masters have adopted the rhythms of their gypsy ancestors to create their own genre of contemporary Spanish music A flamenco-rock, -pop, and -jazz hybrids that nonpurists classify as "new flamenco." The daughter of renowned Andalusian folklorist and Fifties movie star Lola Flores (who died in May at age 72) and flamenco guitarist "El Pescailla," Rosario Flores has the pedigree to join groups such as Ketama and Pata Negra as a leader of this younger generation. She also has the voice. On her first album, 1992's De ley, Rosario huskily keened her tough-love lyrics in the spirit of canto hondo, and the tracks' flamenco rhythms were accented with gritty rock riffs. The singer's raw emotional power and sexy, modern gypsy style -- as seen in her videos -- quickly put her on the charts in Spain and Latin America.
On her new release, Siento, Rosario experiments with more elaborate arrangements A with varied success. The opening track, "Estoy aqui," is a well-orchestrated mix, an upbeat, jazzy pop tune that highlights the singer's throaty sensuality and the sounds of electric guitar and brass. But on "Puede ser" Rosario struggles in vain to spice up a tepid jazz arrangement. Things improve on "Sus fantasias," on which Rosario's vocals are rendered as a more contemporary, broadly defined take on traditional flamenco, with crisp accompaniment from Spanish guitar, conga, caj centsn, and clapping hands. "Era un garaje" -- an homage to the flamenco jams the singer attended as a child -- follows this pattern, while "Ay que calor" adds a tropical touch with rumba flamenca and calypso rhythms. "Leccion de amistad" has a Top 40 pop-ballad feel, a waste of Rosario's talents, which are showcased to much better effect on the title track. A riskier ballad rich with flamenco guitar and acoustic percussion underscoring the singer's aggressive vocals, "Siento" combines an accessible pop sensibility with the seduction of southern Spanish song.
By Judy Cantor
"Yes, I have a sense of humor! Don't you sense my sense of humor?" contends Fugazi singer-songwriter-guitarist Ian MacKaye midway through the D.C.-based underground kings' latest album. Unless the title of Red Medicine puns on the group's leftist concerns, though, there are no out-and-out ha-ha's to be found here. Those listeners sick of the outcry from both sides of the current generational divide may find Fugazi's sentiments both amusing and rousing. "By You" lambastes boomers' insistence upon their own cultural superiority, while "Target" decries "a thousand grudging young millionaires" and "the sound of guitars." Fortunately, Fugazi doesn't take that last blast too seriously, powering their thoughtful attacks with avant-punk that goes its own way while remembering the Minutemen, as well as PiL's Second Edition. And there are nods to outright poppiness on "Forensic Scene" (a song about sexuality the band might think about pitching to ex-new waver Madonna) and the gut-level existentialist "Fell, Destroyed." It's enough to make you glad Fugazi started slapping bar-code stickers on their albums to allow them to chart.
By Rickey Wright
In the aftermath of band breakups, the listening rule is usually simple: Follow the leader. Sometimes this works (ex-Policeman Sting), misfires (the Talking Head-less David Byrne), or crashes and bursts into flames (David Lee who?). And while it might be too soon to tell, you can add Natalie Merchant's name to the list of failed solo wanna-be's. The former lead singer of 10,000 Maniacs makes her debut on the single scene with Tigerlily, proving there's a lot more to be said for her 9999 former bandmates than anyone ever gave them credit for.
Solely written and produced by Merchant (she dumped Maniacs' producer Paul Fox, as she has said, "to preserve my vision"), the album lacks the snap and luster of her old band's six LPs. There's nothing as catchy as "What's the Matter Here"; instead, the album is dark and lumbering, with Merchant's willowy coo wafting over themes of death ("River," an anomalous tribute to dead actor Phoenix) and despair (practically every other song here). Wholly uninspired, Merchant adopts the age-old formula of telling a story through the eyes of a soul searcher, striving to overcome some inner conflict as if she's the lost love child of Helen Reddy and Richard Simmons ("I am woman, hear me deal a meal").
While her vocals are passionate, it's unfortunate that her songs leave her little to cheer about. Merchant forges no new ground here, and yet she also seems to forget where she came from. Only "Wander" finds her back in familiar waters (and for that matter, in a familiar time signature), as she sings "laughed as she came to my cradle/know this child will be able/...with love, with patience, and with faith/she'll make her way." Let's all wish the same for Merchant on future outings.
By George Pelletier
Having finally exorcised all the little records from his system -- we're going with little, though shitty might be a better word -- the man who put the jam in the Jam has emerged from creative Siberia with a big, fat, shake-that-ass-and-kick-another-back album. Stanley Road should go a fair distance toward re-establishing Weller as one of his generation's preeminent song stylists, a man capable of melding the emotive wallop of R&B with the tuneful lyricism of pop.
Well past the angry-young-man thing and exercising admirable control of his notorious Motown hard-on, Weller wears his heroes on his sleeve, even more markedly than in the past. They are right there, on the collage that adorns this twelve-song collection: a winsome Aretha, a young and achingly handsome John Lennon. Weller owes Lennon the most, and it is no coincidence that the brick-inlaid lettering on the back cover of this album directly echoes that most revered of Pepperland roads, Abbey. Hell, even some of the juicy riffs here sound as if they were lifted from the Fab Four. (See if you don't pick up the devious thump of "Come Together" in Weller's "Porcelain Gods.")
That's not to say Stanley Road should be held up against the Beatles. This record isn't going to change your life. But it may very well be enough to adjust your attitude. Sweetly.
By Steven Almond
A little too soon to call an album 2000, perhaps? Not for Grand Puba. Based on how long it took to deliver this record, it's likely Puba is counting on it to carry him through the end of the decade. After appearing on two of rap's more accomplished and entertaining releases -- Brand Nubian's 1990 debut, One for All, and his own 1992 solo effort, Reel to Reel -- Grand Puba seemed to fall off the face of hip-hop. Three years later, he has resurfaced, first freestyling in a Sprite commercial, and now with his long overdue second solo album.
Puba carried the two above-mentioned records on the inventiveness of his rhyme style: a little Slick Rick swagger, some Biz Markie pop-culture referencing and tone-deaf singing, and a lot of Puba's own distinctive whine and boast. On 2000 he recaptures all of that and sounds as if he's never been away. As before, he packs scores of name drops and song snatches (from Erkel, on TV's Family Matters, to "Little Drummer Boy") in between his own self-aggrandizing hyperbole, earning more than a few chuckles for his efforts. Also tried-and-true Puba: The tracks favor a heavy bounce and melodic soul groove over the more raw and rhythmic funk backings of many rappers, which means more music and fatter hooks than you normally hear. Plus, he's toned down to a minimum the Nation of Islam-derived race theories that occasionally have popped up in his lyrics in the past.
The only disappointment: not enough material, a mere eleven songs, many of which lean more on a hired R&B singer's croon than on Puba's raps. Not to worry, though -- 2001 is just around the corner.
By Roni Sarig
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100o and Rising
(Verve Forecast/Talkin Loud)
Kind of odd that Brits would keep alive the sound of uptown American soul music, which traces a time line from late-Sixties Isaac Hayes through early-Seventies Aretha Franklin through its mid-Seventies heyday with Earth, Wind and Fire, Ashford and Simpson, Tavares, the Three Degrees, and Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra, right through to late-Seventies Chic and Cheryl Lynn. But they have, from dabblers such as Everything But the Girl and Sade to acolytes such as Style Council and Swing Out Sister. But no one -- Brit or otherwise -- has evoked the genre quite as effectively or convincingly as Jean-Paul "Bluey" Maunick, who, as producer, principal songwriter, and guitarist, rides herd on the U.K.'s Incognito. Instrumentally, Maunick adroitly meshes the lush (strings, Fender Rhodes piano, vibes) with the street (popping bass, fatback drums), then rotates a group of clear-voiced singers -- mostly women -- to flesh out his songs, which range from calls for empowerment ("Roots," the title cut) to meditations on urbane love ("Spellbound and Speechless," "I Hear Your Name"). Really superb.
By Michael Yockel