Supersexy Swingin' Sounds
Rob Zombie had this great idea for a party: Invite a bunch of dance-music and hip-hop hotshots to remix some tracks from White Zombie's best-selling Astro-Creep: 2000. And, surprise, Supersexy Swingin' Sounds throws down in mighty style. No Trent Reznor circle-jerk, this thing not only kicks, but displays a relative subtlety that White Zombie have seldom shown in the past. Some tunes stick fairly close to their well-known templates, although the magnified stomp of Charlie Clouser's new "More Human Than Human" does place the song a good bit closer to the dance floor than it lived before. One of the biggest pleasures here, though, is hearing RZ's mock-threatening vocals in clubland contexts. "I, Zombie," for instance, has its power chords stripped down in favor of a techno getup that recalls the original's crunch while making room for a whole new closetful of tricks.
Some of the band's metal-head fans are likely howling in protest, but as there was never anything serious or authentic about this crew in the first place, this groove thang will make the rest of us feel mighty real. If nothing else, Supersexy certainly packs more of a wallop than the lethally dull funk-punk of Rage Against the Machine or the sleepytime ska-revival revivalism of every third band on 120 Minutes this month. And while "El Phantasmo and the Chicken-Run Blast-O-Rama" probably won't replace "We Are Family" in anybody's house-party heart, it just might make ZZ Top jealous as hell.
-- Rickey Wright
This album had two things against it right off the bat: (1) It's world beat, a genre I respect more than I actually listen to; (2) a record company flak recommended it.
Despite these obvious danger signs, No Sant is one of the finest albums I've heard this year, a brilliant musical tapestry that deftly weaves instrumentation from Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas.
Wasis Diop is a Senegalese songwriter of the same approximate vintage as Youssou N'Dour. Like N'Dour, his career has been spent primarily in Paris. Unlike N'Dour, Diop knows how to rock. Consider the title track: The hypnotic melody is goosed with a Cuban rhythm, while Diop's resonant baritone (think Lou Rawls) tells the story of his travels from Senegal to Gay Paree in both French and Wolof, a Senegalese dialect.
"African Dream" is a sunny melody propelled by bopping polyrhythms. Diop's velvety delivery is answered by the gorgeous vocal accompaniment of Lena Fiagbe, a London-based Ghanian chanteuse. "Di Na Wo" fuses a solid rock chord progression with a traditional Senegalese chanted anthem. Japanese sax wizard Yasuaki Shimizu contributes a lovely, languid outro. "TGV" relates the true story of a bloody African protest to French oppression. Percussionist Steve Shehan and talking drum maestro Leity M'Baye lend the song its chugging backbeat, and Diop's nephew Tim provides a mellifluous French rap.
"Dames Electriques," Diop's tribute to Sine Ladies -- the polyphonic singers he heard perform evening chants when he was a boy in Senegal -- features a full chorus of Sines. Listening to their voices swell and swoop, you can tell why the young Diop was hypnotized.
Perhaps the most ambitious cut on this most ambitious album is "Le Voyageur," which combines the keening Japanese vocals of opera star Kaoru with the traditional Scottish cornemuse, or bagpipe, of Loik Taillebrest. It sounds like it's a mess, I know, but in Diop's nifty arrangement, the two potentially strident noises weave a strangely satisfying spell.
The same can be said of this entire disc. Rarely has world beat sounded as simultaneously exotic and acces-sible.
-- Steven Almond
Beau Jocque & the Zydeco Hi-Rollers
Gonna Take You Downtown
Without doubt, this Kinder, Louisiana, combo is the greatest zydeco outfit to emerge since the mid-Eighties death of Clifton Chenier, the genre's forever master. Beau Jocque plays the push-button accordion like some kind of virtuoso bayou swamp beast, and sings in a guttural growl that could summon Howlin' Wolf from the grave; and no one can ride a groove longer and harder than the Hi-Rollers. Sadly, album number four finds Jocque and band monkeying around with the sound that made their first three Rounder sets so essential. Guitarist Russell Dorion now whacks off endlessly on numerous solos, and Jocque has taken to covering the likes of War ("Cisco Kid," not as bad as you'd think) and Dylan ("Knockin' on Heaven's Door," exactly as bad as you'd think).
There's some good, smoking stuff here, with a few Jocque originals that extend the legacy of zydeco and rock like mad in the process. Judging by the covers, though, Beau don't know his own considerable strengths. You shouldn't make the same mistake; snap up last year's live set, Git It, Beau Jocque! instead.
-- John Floyd
Flippin' the Script: Rap Meets Poetry
Remember the spoken-word craze a few years ago, when all the hip-hop poets on MTV and the trendy magazines were declaring "poetry is back"? Well, if it ever was back, it sure left again in a hurry. Once the novelty wore off, people remembered that poems were just like song lyrics, except they didn't have a beat. And without a beat, they weren't very much use to audiences weaned on pop music.
What remains of the poetry revival is Mouth Almighty, a label formed by Bob Holman and Bill Adler, ringleaders of the original poetry slam scene in downtown New York. Mouth Almighty's second release, Flippin' the Script, captures the best moments from the spirited slams that brought together rappers and poets between 1993 and 1995. Seventeen different performers, from the well-known (poet/playwright Sekou Sundiata, cultural critic Greg Tate, UMCs rapper Kool Kim) to the less-known (Dasez, 17, High Priest) take turns at the mike, with Holman hosting.
As with most of what passes for spoken poetry, the cuts on Flippin' the Script are better classified as monologues or performance art, since most are unstructured, proselike, and need to be experienced live to really be appreciated. Some are a cappella raps, some free-form stories, some little more than mouth sounds. As a whole, though, Flippin' the Script is among the better spoken-word records. Most memorable: Tish Benson's hilarious poem and commentary "Processions" and a frantic bit from Sundiata's theater piece "The Circle Unbroken Is a Hard Bop." But like other nonmusic albums (think comedy records), there's little reason to play this more than a handful of times. Literature is one thing on the page, but on record, it don't mean a thing if ain't got that swing.
-- Roni Sarig
Mean Old World: The Blues from 1940-1994
It's a wacky game, but let's play it anyway: What one blues album would you take to that proverbial desert island? Robert Johnson's King of the Delta Blues Singers? Muddy Waters' old Best Of? Howlin' Wolf's Moanin' in the Moonlight? Something by Skip James? Fred McDowell? Albert Collins? Buddy Guy? Bessie Smith? Robert Cray? Stevie Ray Vaughan? The Blues Brothers? (Please, say it ain't so.) Let's say you pick a multidisc boxed set: Johnson's best-selling Columbia set or Muddy's MCA/Chess masterwork? The Complete Recordings of T-Bone Walker? As far as boxed collections go, candidates include the Smithsonian's Blues and MCA's Blues Classics. Consider, too, the new Mean Old World, with 79 songs by famous and not-so-famous worthies spread over four CDs.
The set has been praised to high heaven by the mainstream press, but is it really that good? Certainly album producer Larry Hoffman knows his stuff, and he's made his blues selections with all the painstaking care of a jeweler picking out the finest gems. Hoffman doesn't get hung up on whether a Billie Holiday or a Hot Lips Page more properly belongs in the jazz camp and he's alert to important rock and roll pioneers like Amos Milburn and Jackie Brenston. All the titans are here -- Muddy, Wolf, B.B. King, Magic Sam, on and on -- and so are a number of unsung heroes, from Jimmy McCracklin to Jimmy Johnson. Found herein are country and urban blues and rockin' R&B in all its sensuality and fine emotional detail, from 1940 (when set opener Memphis Minnie cut "Ma Rainey") to the mid-Nineties (exemplars Corey Harris, Billy Branch, Buddy Guy, and Tutu Jones). Eyebrows get raised at a couple of Hoffman's song choices and omissions, but a big compilation like this automatically invites nitpicking. The set's handsomely laid-out 89-page booklet gives welcome details about the songs, musicians, and oh yes, the state of the blues in the period covered.
Mean Old World doesn't have T-Bone Walker's "Stormy Monday Blues" or Charles Brown's "Driftin' Blues" and a few more seminal numbers because they appeared on the earlier Smithsonian collection Blues. Okay, but something else isn't as easy to digest. The box steers way clear of some remarkable blues musicians because of their skin color. Hoffman apparently shares the Living Blues magazine's position that only African Americans are legitimate purveyors of the spare, dramatic music they created out of enslavement, segregation, and the black experience. Thanks but no thanks, says Hoffman, to Mose Allison; Charlie Musslewhite; Mike Bloomfield; Koerner, Glover & Ray, et al.
So is Mean Old World a desert island disc? A qualified yes. However, it is best suited for blues neophytes and semi-serious fans, for blues diehards probably own most of the material here on other CDs or LPs. Most likely, they would find this set a luxury they can live without, island or no.
-- Frank-John Hadley