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Wednesday, Jan 28 1998
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ATTICA BLUES
Attica Blues (Mo Wax)

Much like the bizarre R&B/New Jazz album and song "Attica Blues" that brought saxophonist Archie Shepp acclaim in 1972, England’s trio Attica Blues has cultivated a style that’s sure to move you in all-new ways. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s the closest you’ll find to a fully realized expression in sampled music. You get full platters of hip-hop, down-tempo drum ‘n’ bass, jazz and soul, all involved in a way that pushes the bounds of electronica into the nowhere-to-be-found. Rather than the common blend of loose-ended samples that floods most soundbite music, these works are foremost about texture and feeling, crystallized through highly thoughtful orchestration and interpolations, as opposed to loops. Attica incorporates lush soul vocals from the talented young Roba El Essawy, often arranged to match intricate string progressions composed by Tony Nwachukwu, who along with D’Afro devises all the beats and other musical layers.

Mo Wax has released Attica’s "Contemplating Jazz," "Blueprint," "Tender" and "3ree (A Means To Be)" over the last four years, and it’s through these singles that the band has developed and maintained an ever-growing buzz. Luckily, all of those songs have found space on this 15-track long-player. Epitomizing Attica’s full scope is the record’s last track, "Enter," a high-energy drum, vocal and scratch ascension apparently inspired by the harsh reality of prisoners throughout the world, including inmates at New York’s Attica Prison. The insightful lyrics relate a profound understanding of the internal struggles we share in. The struggles that we call forth in our blues and "excursions through the inner mind’s eye" are expressed with sensitivity and agreeable provocation. (Carlos Niño)

LINK WRAY
Shadowman (Hip-O/Universal)

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Link Wray: "My music has always represented something screaming, something dangerous, something not normal." Sporting black leather and black sunglasses, Link Wray proudly took distortion (he poked holes in his amp’s speaker with a pencil), feedback and the power chord out of the shadows and onto the charts with his hit "Rumble" (No. 16) back in 1958. And nowadays, thanks to one Quentin Tarantino, his old music has become a veritable cottage industry, popping up in the soundtracks of all sorts of Pulp Fiction (which used "Rumble" and "Ace of Spades") rip-offs. On Shadowman (previously available only as an Ace-U.K. import), the first thing you notice is that raunchy, dirty guitar. Link has been fairly reclusive since 1980, when he moved to Denmark, but now he has decided to bless us ‘90s, drum-machine-jaded heathens with this vicious slab o’ live noize. Elemental, crude, embryonic and basic, this musically subversive disc proves that you don’t need expensive, high-tech equipment — heck, you barely have to know how to play!

Wray was 65 years old when he recorded these songs live a couple of years ago. Basically, it’s hard-rockin’ power-trio billy-sleaze ‘n’ surf from Link, his Fender Mustang, some kinda deadly fuzz (with amp tremolo on 11), two (sometimes even three) chords and a well-used whammy bar, along with a drummer and a bass player. More than half the cuts are instrumental, with Link doing the vocals on the rest, including a totally twisted take on "Heartbreak Hotel" and a tender vocal-and-guitar-only (check that tone!) version of Hank Williams’ "I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love With You)."

Some great instrumentals here, including excellent surfage on "Moped Baby," a "Pipeline"-take complete with screaming Vox organ; the slow, stomping "Rumble on the Docks"; more (fast) surfing on "Geronimo"; a crunching version of Creedence’s "Run Through the Jungle"; the lonely and mysterious "Shadowman" (which would be a great soundtrack for a spaghetti-Western-biker film); and "Night Prowler," another big riff of instro crunch at throb tempo as Link explores his Fender’s switches.

And check out his leads, daddy: Link says more with three notes than any guitar teacher could do with a thousand. (Scott Richard Morrow)

SUBLIME
Second-Hand Smoke
(Gasoline Alley/MCA)

Broad, tattooed bare backs or no, the entirely original ska-offshoot sound that Sublime’s three big bald guys without suntans invented was more notable for its hip-hop and hippie proclivities than its hardcore or heavy metal ones. Brad Nowell (R.I.P., heroin OD, May 1996) pulled off his lonely-Romeo sappiness better than D. Boon or Anthony Kiedis ever had, but his noisier moments could be a pain. There’s even a disappointing stiffness to "Saw Red," his lovey-dovey punk duet with Gwen Stefani on Sublime’s new-songs-and-old-rarities collection, Second-Hand Smoke.

Still, what a perfect album title for what at its best is a clambaked dub jam session. Remixes like "Doin’ Time (Uptown Dub)," stretched out with echoes that open up rhythmic space while boogie-woogie sax and ivories make the groove meatier instead of just turning it atmospheric, come off like ganja ghosts of Sublime’s past. Jah’s own music has almost never throbbed with that kind of aggression, but this band had reggae tendencies out the wazoo: deep, slam-your-body-down bass lines, erotically minded Latin dancehall toasts, billowing nasal whines, offensively minstreled fake-Kingston accents about "don’t start a rye-ott," guitar strings surfing the Sahara like the Grateful Dead at the pyramids.

Thanks in part to inspiration by loc-ed out gangstas who haven’t got half their melodic sense, Sublime were expertly detailed memoirists of cannabis-blitzed coastal coming-of-age — bills to pay, shit under shoes, stinky Vans, Mom on pot and Dad on crack, alarm clocks and arm needles, sand in your bed sheet, informers finking on your herb, gun barrels stuck down Sancho’s throat, a brown-eyed Mexican Lolita with budding bosoms and a nicotine habit and five horny brothers and a drunk-ass dad who puts her on the street turning tricks, and more stuff about owning a dog than any band I’ve ever heard. On Second-Hand Smoke, irate neighbors call from next door as the dead guy’s voice hits early-’70s-R&B high notes and Betty Wright and Foghat and Peter Tosh and Sugarloaf and Status Quo provide gurgling riffs. Brad talks a lot about having no home, drives drunk for five seconds, covers a Marley solidarity song when he should’ve covered a Marley murder song, says if he had a shotgun he’d shoot stars from the sky for you. The kid didn’t always "play guitar like a motherfucking riot," but he did it often enough. And what a warm, soulful heart he had. (Chuck Eddy)

THE YARDBIRDS
BBC Sessions (Warner Archives)

In 1965, the Yardbirds — then flying high with their third straight U.S. smash, the double-A-sided "I’m a Man" b/w "Still I’m Sad" — told a Hit Parader interviewer that they were "playing the rock ’n’ roll of the future." While at least one cynical 14-year-old reader thought that was an incredibly bold statement, thus far they’ve been the only band to say that and be right.

Led Zeppelin, heavy metal and grunge. Prog-rock, protracted jamming and guitar heroes. The Yardbirds invented ’em all. They didn’t discover fuzztone, feedback or distortion, but they — and the Who — popularized them all pre-Hendrix. They weren’t the first to bring Indian ragas, Gregorian chants or Chicago blues into the pop mix, but they got hits that incorporated all of the above.

Okay, so the Yardbirds matter — and not just because once upon a time Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page each successively held down the lead-guitar slot.

This particular album collects 26 tunes recorded for BBC radio from 1965 to ’68. (That’s Beck 20, Page six and Clapton nil, if you’re keeping score, in which case you probably know that all this stuff has never been legitimately available on domestic release, and some of it’s previously un released, and there are loads of quaintly period radio-geek chatter, and . . .)

Enough trainspotting. Aside from two obvious missteps, it’s all good: audibly different versions of "I’m a Man," "Smokestack Lightning," "The Train Kept A-Rollin’" and "Little Games"; powerful performances of "Heart Full of Soul," "Still I’m Sad," "Over Under Sideways Down," "Think About It" and "Goodnight Sweet Josephine"; and — towering above everything else on the disc — Beck’s supercharged big-block solo on "Too Much Monkey Business" and his "look, Ma, no slide" workout on what is traditionally a bottleneck showpiece, "Dust My Broom."

Yeah, it’s all mono, and the overall sound is a bit thin and trebly at times. Yeah, Keith Relf’s pinched, nasal vocals made him a better blond pinup boy than a dirty low-down bluesman. And if a buncha English art students tryin’ to sound like Authentic Voices of the African-American Experience isn’t pretty much the auditory origin of punk rock (‘60s edition), I don’t know what is. Yeah, yeah, yeah. (Don "It Was All Steely, High-Tension Guitar Solos Around Here When I Was a Lad" Waller)

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