Various Artists
Desperado: The Soundtrack
(Epic Soundtrax)

Here's yet another soundtrack that exists comfortably without its companion film A a self-sustaining disc that uses snippets of dialogue (see Pulp Fiction) to underline the effectiveness of its music, and not merely to give the songs context. And like Pulp Fiction's soundtrack, Desperado revives long-lost surf rock (Link Wray) and Sixties pop (Roger & the Gypsies), squeezing subtle power from the kitsch. Additionally, it weaves new material (from Los Lobos) with old, instrumentals with vocals, to create a hazy sort of Latin music (under)world A the kind found only in fiction and in song. The music shifts from the thundering rumble of Wray's "Jack the Ripper" to the nightmarish murmurings of the Latin Playboys' "Forever Night Shade Mary," then just as suddenly explodes again with Tito & Tarantula's "Strange Face of Love." Finally, each song is like a soundtrack not to a film but rather to a bar fight in which only one man's left standing.

By Robert Wilonsky

Diane Ward

Coming from most singers, a simple throwaway line such as "doo doo doo doo doo" in a chorus might seem a little silly, even a tad self-conscious. But when Diane Ward casually tosses off the phrasing in the midst of the shimmering guitars and bouncing bass line that close out the bubbly "Home" (from Mirror), "doo doo doo doo doo" takes on a whole new meaning. It's hard to say exactly what that meaning is, but such is the effect of Ward's voice as well as her music, a tasteful blend of acoustic guitar stylings and hard-edged rock that seems equally well-suited to intimate coffeehouses and 10,000-seat arenas.

Although Ward has graced local stages for the better part of a decade, Mirror marks her first full-length studio release. From the opening acoustic guitar strains on "Goodbye Mary Jo" to the soothing lullaby "Now in This Hush," Mirror stunningly showcases Ward's prowess as a singer, songwriter, musician (she plays guitars and keyboards), and producer. It helps that her backing band includes local hotshots such as Matt Sabatella on bass and vocals, Jack Shawde (of Little Nicky and the Slicks) on guitars, and rotating drum work by Brett Thorngren (Muse), John Yarling (Little Nicky), and Steve Scully (Mary Karlzen's band). Even so, Mirror remains Ward's vehicle, brimming with the passion and melodic sensibilities that have made her one of South Florida's top live performers.

The album covers a lot of musical territory, often within the same song. Consider "I Will Wait for You," which begins as a ballad with gently sloping guitar lines and Ward's cooing vocals. After tension is introduced in the bridge by Shawde's electric guitar, the band plunges in for a glorious ride through an ebb and flow of crunching guitars, sledgehammer drums, swirling feedback, and soaring harmonies. And that's just one song. The nine others on Mirror are just as satisfying, including the shuffling "Hey Joe" (not the Sixties standard), distinguished by Nicole Yarling's bittersweet violin interludes; "Damn Me," a full-throated rocker in which Ward's voice effortlessly fluctuates between a growl and a swoon; and "When I'm Needing Someone," a plaintive ode to the proverbial tug of war between accepting a flawed love or opting for solitude. Toward the end of that song, Ward sings, "It's been good to know you/But better to be free from the chains/When I'm needing someone." Judging by the images offered on Mirror, Diane Ward should do fine on her own.

By Jim Murphy
Diane Ward performs at 11:00 p.m. on Wednesday, September 20, at the Hard Rock Cafe, 401 Biscayne Blvd; 377-3110. Admission is free.

Malachi Thompson & Africa Brass
Buddy Bolden's Rag (100 Years of Jazz)

Under the direction of trumpeter-composer Malachi Thompson, the thirteen-piece Africa Brass ensemble roars with the second-line intensity of a Mardi Gras parade. Four trumpets and four trombones blast you square in the face, soaring over the rumbling polyrhythms of drums, congas, and assorted African and Latin percussion. This is no brass rehash, but rather some bold reinvention of old forms.

Although the Chicago-based Thompson uses the traditional brass-band format, his nine original compositions blend the exuberant blowing of an earlier time with bebop and experimental modern jazz. The record is not so much a homage to Buddy Bolden, the incalculably influential New Orleans cornetist-bandleader mentioned in the title, as it is a commentary on his music and the various threads that were pulled from it. The title track, played in Bolden's style (one supposes, as he was never recorded), is the most traditional song here, a joyous jump with muted trumpets. From there on, the music takes on a more modern tinge, from the fast bebop rhythm of "Worldview" to some avant-garde primal trombone screams on "Harold the Great." The album ends with "A Mouse in the House," a cool jive call and response that conjures images of Bourbon Street and the French Quarter but would've sounded just as at home in Harlem or Chicago in the Twenties.

By Bob Weinberg

Jane Siberry

Hailing from the Great White North, chanteuse Jane Siberry writes about the usual themes taught in singer-songwriter school: pretty vignettes about love and despair interspersed with clever ditties about waitresses and dogs. Luckily, Siberry's no coffeehouse hack -- she knows what she's doing. On Maria, her seventh album, Siberry skates on familiar ice, with mostly winning results. Breezy lullabies such as "See the Child" are sweet and affecting without sounding as if she has a twisted fixation on Mister Rogers. And jazzy slice-of-lifers such as "Lovin' Cup" shimmer as she sings about getting some during the week. Siberry's knack for skillfully arranging fragile melodies around the most unorthodox chord structures is quite compelling. Unfortunately, pop-star pretension -- to which she frequently subscribes -- creeps in: She presents this set in two parts, separated by a two-minute intermission of silence. The first part is Maria, a nine-song mosaic of Siberjazz that centers on the subjects of love and adolescence. And while most of Siberry's tales from the crib delve into the psyche without being too intrusive, other tracks, such as "Honey Bee," start off alluring and end up cloying, as Siberry softly drones, "And when I lay me down to sleep/In my flowery keep/The moon upon my face/I dream of bowls of milk." (Talk about lactose intolerance.)

The second part features a single twenty-minute song, "Oh My My." This self-indulgent heap sounds like a cynical version of Life's Little Instruction Book set to music, with Siberry reciting aphorisms such as "There will be no answer" and "You'll discover drugs and alcohol." She even manages to break into a chorus of "Puff the Magic Dragon." Oh my my, indeed. To solve this problem: Leave during intermission.

By George Pelletier

Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments
Bait and Switch

Their Ohio roots and stark cover visuals promise a Pere Ubu-style critique of the crumbling of the Midwest's soul. But Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments' first nonindie release -- Onion is an arm of Rick Rubin's Warner-distributed American Recordings -- couches its occasional social commentary in a high-energy goofball swagger that suggests an uproarious smashup between the Dead Boys and the Dead Milkmen. Singer Ron House gripes about being on the "Negative Guest List" ("even if I pay, I can't get in") and, in his best Daffy Duck (Daffy Fuck?) sputter, begs for the bombing of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame before "Steve Albini makes a speech." Elsewhere, "My Mysterious Death (Turn It Up)" suggests Ubu or Flipper gone grunge pop (demo-quality production being a hallmark of Bait and Switch), while another garage-burner asks the eternal question, "Is she shy or is she stuck-up?" Oh yeah, the CD credits "WEA Manufacturing . . . imported oil and foreign labor reliant on Japanese technology bought with American dollars."

By Rickey Wright

Suave Suave

Spain's b-tribe backs the beats of house music with the consciousness of new age to create an ambient mix of continuous tracks on Suave Suave. As the title suggests, this is seductive, trippy music (Ecstasy anyone?), a cool flow of chimes, electronic drums, and the sounds of the wind and the ocean. But the hook here is flamenco, the purest, deepest kind of flamenco song heard in Andalusia. German producer Claus Zundel, an Ibiza resident and the leader of b-tribe (shorthand for the Barcelona Tribe of Soulsters), clipped the vocals from flamenco singers whose voices he sampled during trips to southern Spain. Weaving them together with flamenco guitar riffs, subtle dance rhythms, and sounds from nature, Zundel softens the jarring effect of these ethnic wails. Elsewhere the soulful Brazilian singer Deborah Blando adds a pop accessibility on several songs. The album, a sort of musical suite, includes a traditional Spanish lullaby and a poem by the rural-minded Spanish poet Antonio Machado. For the most part, Suave Suave is classy club music: a smooth, well-structured blend that makes for nice background noise.

By Judy Cantor