Spirit of '73: Rock for Choice
The concept: a grab bag of contempo women musicians turned loose on Seventies songs associated with women artists from that decade. The purpose: to raise consciousness regarding the need to protect a woman's legal right to obtain an abortion. The results: as with tribute albums, uneven. And telling. For instance, as good as Eve's Plum sounds covering Yvonne Elliman's "If I Can't Have You" (originally from Saturday Night Fever), it reminds listeners the band likely never will write anything remotely this good on their own. Ditto the relentlessly overpraised Babes in Toyland, who cheese their way agreeably through the Andrea True Connection's still-amazing disco manifesto, "More, More, More." Further, in such a setting, vocalists accustomed to shouting, shrieking, or muttering their way through their own material often find themselves in the discomfiting position of having to sing; say what you will about Stevie Nicks and Olivia Newton-John (both done a disservice here via fumbling covers, by Letters to Cleo and Pet, respectively), at least they can carry a tune.
The successes come from the more established singers: Johnette Napolitano gives a suitably darkling reading to the darkling Patti Smith's darkling "Dancing Barefoot"; Rosanne Cash brings an elegant country air to Joni Mitchell's affecting "River"; and Sarah McLachlan's interpretation of Mitchell's "Blue" sounds fine, if a tad too referential. Also includes nice takes on Sister Sledge's "We Are Family" (Ebony Vibe Everlasting) and Roberta Flack's "Feel Like Makin' Love" (Melissa Ferrick). Conversely, the hopelessly overwrought and ludicrous-sounding Sophie B. Hawkins performs accordingly on the Band's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" (by way of Joan Baez, of course). And oh, the people responsible for the allegedly amusing Seventies-related blips between cuts should be placed in stockades wearing headphones and forced to listen to an endless loop of Cheech and Chong.
By Michael Yockel
An intriguing mix of straight-ahead jazz and brain-bending avant-garde experimentalism, reedman Roscoe Mitchell's Hey Donald displays a fearless disregard for the marketing and programming nightmares it must surely provoke. To which we say, "Right on, brother!" The Donald of the title is the late saxophonist Donald Myrick, who, along with Mitchell and others, founded the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, the Chicago jazz movement that spawned the influential Art Ensemble of Chicago. Myrick was also an original member of Earth, Wind & Fire. Mitchell salutes his spirit with an uncompromising recording that veers from the loping swing of "Walking in the Moonlight" -- played almost, but not quite, tongue-in-cheek -- to evocative, free-form compositions such as "The Band Room."
Like a painter, Mitchell varies his palette, changing colors by changing instruments: gutty tenor and alto saxophones on one tune, shrieking soprano or sopranino saxes on another (particularly affecting on the heartrending "Song for Rwanda"). Mitchell's lyrical flute playing offers still another dimension, childlike but worldly, as on the sweet-sad-soulful "Jeremy."
A solid and sensitive quartet of jazz vets comprises Mitchell, Jodie Christian on piano, Al "Tootie" Heath on drums and percussion, and Malachi Favors on bass, who also crafts some challenging and creative duets with the leader. Hey Donald represents a mature statement from a jazz artist who doesn't care as much about category as he does about creativity. A breath of fresh air.
By Bob Weinberg
Lordz of Brooklyn
All in the Family
While many pale-faced rap crews follow paths blazed a decade ago by the Beastie Boys, Lordz of Brooklyn (LoB) seem conceived as an inner-city white-trash counterpart to the House of Pain (HoP) gang. Where HoP inserts Irish pride in slots usually reserved for Afrocentric rap, Lordz of Brooklyn seem -- at least by association -- oriented toward the Italian enclaves of their namesake New York City borough. And in the proud tradition of HoP's questionable ethnic credibility, LoB are led by two brothers named McLeer -- there doesn't seem to be a paisan in the bunch.
But hey, rap is like musical pro wrestling: The more real it claims to be, the more reason to doubt it. The Lordz grab a gimmick and milk it A no more, no less. Using the script from the film GoodFellas as source material, LoB craft an image as mom-loving, God-fearing, U.S. flag-waving, union dues-paying, blue-collar bad boys with a shared Mafia-like brotherhood code. In "American Made," the centerpiece to their debut album, All in the Family, they assert their collective identity with an effective A if thoroughly unfunky A country-rock riff and gruff raps such as "I'm a Lord to the day that I die/Real man, drives a Chevy, drinks a Bud when he's dry," and "My mother in the window hangin' clothes on the line/My father on the job he never crossed the picket line." Pool halls, card games, one-way trips to Coney Island A you get the idea.
While LoB won't win any prizes for nimble rhyme skills, they hold up at least as well as their Catholic cousins in HoP. And with musical references ranging from violin loops to the Guess Who to Schooly D to Saturday Night Fever -- all in the same song -- the performers behind the Lordz clearly are not the caricaturish Bensonhurst provincials they portray.
By Roni Sarig
On her second solo album, the Icelandic pixie princess continues to create her unique industrial-strength blend of synthesized house, disco, and ambient pop -- think of it as "Ice-house music." Bjork has referred to her former group, the Sugarcubes, as a "party band, a piss take." Here, as with her spectacular first solo outing, the cleverly titled Debut, she continues to shake off that past, exhibiting a resplendent savvy for quirky hooks and earthly songwriting. With conviction in her shrill whammy-bar of a voice, her words on songs such as "Army of Me" come across as more than compelling A they're puissant, as if she's got a Napoleon complex without any of the petty tyranny. Then, without missing a groove, she adopts the role of nymph on "Possibly Maybe," sweetly pleading and flirting, "As much as I definitely enjoy solitude, I wouldn't mind spending time with you." This dichotomous approach makes for a lissome adventure, especially on her shoulder-rolling big band number, "It's Oh So Quiet," as Bjork squeaks and squeals "Ssshhh" over the backdrop of a lush brass section. Updating the old Jekyll and Hyde bit never sounded so good.
By George Pelletier
Los Fabulosos Cadillacs
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Starting off as a studiously frivolous party band with a cult following in their native Buenos Aires, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs have evolved into the consummate Latin rock-dance act, their hyperactive mix of tropical rhythms and grunge attitude ultimately spawning a movement of imitators in Argentina and other South American countries.
Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, of Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club fame, produced Los Fabulosos Cadillacs' ninth release, Rey Azucar, whose sixteen tracks are typical Cadillacs fare: brass-heavy ska and reggae fused with Latin genres (samba and tango) and a rock sensibility best expressed through a rough rhythmic edge. Add to that lead singer Vicentico's gruff vocals, which adapt easily to everything the band tackles, from lackadaisical ballads to aggressive rap. To their credit, Frantz and Weymouth have engineered a solid production of intricately layered sounds, but the album lacks the raw chaos of past Cadillacs efforts, the element that perhaps constitutes the real charm of this band.
Rey Azucar, however, is redeemed by a number of unexpected guest appearances: Big Audio Dynamite's Mick Jones pitches in with prissy, British-accented Spanish on the chorus of "Mal Bicho"; Debbie Harry makes a sultry contribution (in English) on the Cadillacs' cover of the Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever," while alternately Vicentico drunkenly slurs the same lyrics in Spanish; and Big Youth vocalist Dread performs a tough dub reggae rap on "Raggapunkypartyrebelde." Mixed here at South Beach Studios, the album includes a backhanded homage to this place, the ska ballad "Miami," whose lyrics gibe, "Spiritual life doesn't exist here, in this Hell." As if Buenos Aires is paradise.
By Judy Cantor