DOCTOR L, TONY ALLEN, JEAN PHI DARY
Psyco on da Bus (Platform)
“Yeaaah,” groans Afro-beat legend Tony Allen, his bluesy Nigerian drawl responding to the tones of a jazzy keyboard as if a masseuse has just pounded the kinks out of his back. “We don’t want to fight no wars.” Those are the first words heard on Psyco on da Bus, which, despite the sentiment, was recorded before 9/11, most of it with producer Doctor L’s Mac G3 on Allen’s tour bus last spring. Doc finished the tracks in several studios at home in Paris, calling on musicians like saxophonist Eric “Ricco” Gaulthier, vox man Don Farkas and acoustics heavyweight Smadj to toss some love into the flow.
Afro-beatniks into downbeat, dub, funk and jazz: Time to get giddy. Featuring Allen’s Afrobeat 2000 trio (Cesar Anot, Jean Phi Dary and Jeff Kellner), Psyco is a tribute to jam-session self-indulgence as an art form. No need to shriek; there are plenty Rebirth of Cool moments throughout the disc to keep you on familiar ground. Opening with “Afropusherman,” which showcases a tight Fender Rhodes supported by Allen’s slick drumming and the coldest parlando since Soul II Soul’s “Jazzie’s Groove,” the album also superbly engages early funk rhetoric with “Never Satisfied.” Likewise, “Push Your Mind” craftily employs Allen’s previous pacifism amid stripped-down psychedelia. While “K.I.S. Compatible” kneels at the altar of Bitches Brew, “Pictures Talk” and “Hands Full of Sand” easily place you barefoot, bloated ’n’ sunburned, givin’ it up at an outdoor world-music fest.
Fact is, Psyco on da Bus is one of the sparkliest gems to be released this year. The set’s loose production delivers unshackled spirituality freed from the evil twins Pretension and Oppression, along with an old soul’s sage advice for these uncertain times. Just listen to Allen’s calming mantra on “K.I.S. Compatible,” and do what the man says: “Keep it simple.”
Photo by Dennis Morris
Golden State (Atlantic)
If Bush’s commercial fortunes don’t turn around, front man Gavin Rossdale’s in danger of becoming better known as Mr. Gwen Stefani — and, hey, worse fates could befall a guy! But ol’ Gav’s not done with this rock-star thing, and he and his Brit buddies return with a new record deal and disc to make their case. Sadly, nothing about the unspectacular Golden State will save them from the Where Are They Now? file; far from circling the musical wagons, Bush’ll soon be circling the Musicians Wanted ads if they don’t pull their songs up.
It’s a mystery. Bush’s 1994 debut, Sixteen Stone, leapt off the blocks like a Red Bull junkie, their glossy take on grunge spawning no fewer than five radio hits and rightly landing the band almost instant arena status. But the tune font dried up, and two subsequent releases stagnated. The shockingly modest showing of ’99’s The Science of Things should have been enough to scare up the best in Bush, but not so; Golden State offers only more of the same. This is an album of faded photographs, its vision vague and distant; trademark tides of guitar, once cresting and crashing over rugged hooks, now just lap the ear like gentle reminders. Rossdale’s practiced last-breath pleading struggles to make the tepid material matter, overdressed against aimless dynamics.
Golden State is like running into the aging prom queen at your class reunion and wishing you’d never seen her that way. Spend your money instead on another copy of Sixteen Stone — you should’ve worn that sucker out by now. Oh, and Gav — be sure to have dinner on the table when Gwen gets in . . . (Paul Rogers)
Photo by Danny Clinch
The Grand Pecking Order (Elektra)
Doobious brothers be Trey Anastasio and Les Claypool. Anastasio, guitarist with Phish (the hippie jam band that’s shepherded the Grateful Dead’s audience into relatively modern times), and Claypool, Primus’ bassist extraordinaire, are both cult figureheads and excellent musicians. That was all they had in common till they jammed together and decided to cut a record.
Anastasio’s nimble, seemingly improvisational guitar and Claypool’s smarmy funk meld into something far removed from either man’s regular gig. If defying expectations is the sign of the true artist, then these guys deserve certificates; it may take a few listens before fans of either Phish or Primus admit that Oysterhead hits the mark. Hitting the bong first probably wouldn’t hurt — and neither does the inclusion of legendary percussionist Stewart Copeland, who intuitively ties together Oysterhead minisagas like “Oz Is Ever Floating,” “Pseudo Suicide” and “Army’s on Ecstasy,” while Anastasio’s voice (earnest and sounding like it belongs to someone with manicured stubble and a Guatemalan pullover) creates some jarringly effective harmonies when paired with Claypool’s cartoony, nasal squawk. The pair’s lyrical collaborations are surprisingly seamless; they spin tales around a host of colorful characters, including a shell-shocked Vietnam vet, the recently expired Dr. John C. Lilly and a down-and-out fellow who used to be “Owner of the World.”
To Anastasio’s credit, his Phish dip into a far more varied sonic palette than most of their neo-hippie compatriots: Elements of folk, funk and psychedelia bounce off a decidedly rock & roll foundation. Claypool’s bass playing, too, though firmly anchored in jazz-funk, is stylistically all over the map, and it’s as instantly recognizable as his songwriting style. With The Grand Pecking Order, these two masters create a musical bridge that should appeal not only to Phish-heads and funksters, but to all the weirdoes in between. (Skylaire Alfvegren)
Photo by Corey Wright
Duces ’N’ Trayz . . . The Old Fashion Way (Doghouse/TVT)
The story thus far: Rappers Goldie Loc and Tray Deee once represented rival gangs, the Duces and the Trayz, but they agreed to put their differences aside to assemble a hip-hop supergroup with the help of mentor Snoop Dogg. “Can you dig it?” asks a spliffed/sedated Snoop as he holds court Warriors stylee, declaring the new and improved gang . . . the Krip’s Klux Klan!
There’s good news and bad news about the sophomore release by Snoop’s Tha Eastsidaz, Duces ’N’ Trayz. There’s nothing on Snoop’s latest spinoff that can’t be found on his previous releases, and (this is the good news, since it gives the hip-hop fan another adventure to go on) there isn’t much that can’t be found on five or six P-Funk records and one Curtis Mayfield. From the harmonized voice of “Sir Dog,” à la George Clinton’s “Sir Nose” — a character that gets replayed on so many hip-hop releases it’s hard to count — to the voice of Kokane, an MC the press release boldly describes as “George Clinton incarnate,” this new product stinks of old news. The voice is remarkably similar, but let’s not forget Snoop’s other alter ego, “Snoopy Collins,” affecting the persona of Bootsy.
But enough P-Funk, right? You’re a Snoop fan, and you wanna know if this record’s for you. Well, let’s confirm that there’s some crisp execution here, and aside from being produced in Snoop’s own studio, some of these tracks were labored over at the famed Electric Ladyland. Rawkus Records’ Hi-Tek puts on a production clinic, giving tracks like “Eastside Ridaz” just the right bounce. And with other guests such as Nate Dogg, Mobb Deep and Kurupt, if you’re too lazy to crate-dig for the O.G. shit, yeah, you’ll probably like it. (Daniel Siwek)
At the Movies: Cornbread, Earl and Me; The Dynamite Brothers (Prestige)
Bringing together two rare jazz-oriented ’70s blaxploitation-picture soundtracks, At the Movies is a welcome release indeed. And while they’re no Coffy, Across 110th Street or Superfly, they are — of course — another fine blow against The Man! The first in our double feature, 1975’s Cornbread, Earl and Me, is not your average blaxplo, but a still-compelling tale of hoops and police corruption. Donald Byrd, having already hit the big time with his silky, funky urban jazz, wrote and arranged this soundtrack for his group of students, the Blackbyrds, whose next three albums went solid gold on the contemporary charts. Basically, these are jazz-funk instrumentals Blackbyrds-style: omnipresent electric piano, some git-down-funk, lotsa wah-wah, Byrd’s always clean blowing, and a title song so cool it’s done twice. Check out the lyrics: “He’s goin’ to school/Not lookin’ to fight/Not a neighborhood fool/with a gun or a knife/He’s Cornbread!”
Our second feature is the pretty much forgotten, more typical 1973 The Dynamite Brothers (“He has what every woman wants/He packs the biggest rod in town!”). The soundtrack’s a buried treasure, forgotten only because hardly anyone’s ever heard it. Organist Charles Earland (who died late last year) was a complex, misunderstood musician who often played the organ like a percussion instrument. Significantly, he was also self-taught, and “He didn’t know one chord from another,” according to guitarist Mark Elf. But “He had the feel.” Indeedy. The Dynamite Bros. was sort of a preview of Earland’s next LP, Leaving This Planet, six months later. But the overall rawness and the spirit of entering unknown territory make this disc unique, as does this Dynamite burger’s extra-special secret sauce — inimitable synth pioneer Doc Patrick Gleeson.
Not so coincidentally, the only comparable release from the period, Herbie Hancock’s Sextant, also sports “Squeaky” Gleeson. But here, Earland takes the cake — to left field at times, as on “Weedhopper,” best described as acid garage band jazz! The finest cut, “Kungfusion,” has both title and beat to kill for. “Snake” is like a cross between Can and later Beasties, while the freaky “Grasshopper “ resembles Sabbath jamming with a tripping Jack McDuff. Earland was clearly having a blast, and it’s infectious. Dy-no-mite! (Scott Morrow)
TREMBLING BLUE STARS
Alive to Every Smile (Sub Pop)
There’s a belief in certain literary circles that all writers have one recurring theme in their work and that a writing career is, in fact, a constant pursuit of the perfect way to express that theme. Bob Wratten, the creative force behind the British act Trembling Blue Stars, embodies that theory.
In the previous three Trembling Blue Stars albums, Wratten has obsessively analyzed his failed relationship with Annemari Davies, with whom he teamed in the late-’80s/early-’90s cult favorites the Field Mice. It’s not obvious from the poetic lonely-heart lyrics, which make Mark Eitzel seem downright peppy (examples: “These are haunted days/The year is facing its old age” and “So we’ll just be the greatest couple that never were”), but Wratten does seem to have begun the healing process.
Perhaps the musical reunion with Davies on last year’s Broken by Whispers has proved a minor cathartic release for him, as evidenced by the shift in sound. The acoustic wistfulness of previous Trembling Blue Stars work has given way to a blend of alternately dreamy and jangly pop hooks on Alive to Every Smile. Otherworldly standouts include “Until the Dream Gets Broken” and the heavily textured keyboards of “With Every Story” (one of two tracks that could be called Cure-esque). Representing the jangly front is the middle-of-the-disc one-two punch of the ’80s-flavored “St. Paul’s Cathedral at Night” and the singsongy “The Ghost of an Unkissed Kiss.”
If Alive to Every Smile doesn’t indicate Wratten is ready to move on thematically, it does show him evolving musically. It might only be a baby step, but it’s an important one for Trembling Blue Stars and their fans.
THE FALL at the Knitting Factory,
Last time the legendary Mancunian art-punk combo The Fall arrived on these shores, a reported epic bender by leader Mark E. Smith led to onstage intra-band fisticuffs, a hotel ruckus and a black-eyed Smith spending some slumber time in a Manhattan slammer on assault charges. Today Smith blames the horror show on the rest of the band (“They had jet lag and all that crap,” he explains in the Knit‘s promo mag); that crew, meanwhile, is long gone (some quit, some fired), replaced by three cheery-faced garage-rock lads who — from the looks of them tonight — may not predate The Fall’s first record (1977’s Bingo-Master Breakout).
Smith, on the other hand, looks every bit his advanced age. He walks onstage like a leather-jacketed William F. Buckley, chewing his bottom lip and flicking his reptilian tongue, his hair done up to resemble a four-way comb-over. As The Fall Mach 46 bash out the simple descending riffs, Mark, hand in pocket, wanders the stage as if he’s puttering around the house: He fiddles with the guitarists’ amps mid-song (they fiddle them right back), he reads lyrics off a notepad with his back to the audience, he scrapes dead skin off his nose, he adjusts the mic stand so often you begin to wonder if it’s the first time he’s encountered one. But Smith is in fine vocal form, declaiming in his inimitable rhythmic, barely melodic fashion-ah the usual cryptic stuff-ah about German soldiers and antidotes and kicking the can-ah. Solid new songs (and an adaptation of Robert Johnson’s “Bourgeois Town”) are aired; old favorite “Mr. Pharmacist” appears mid-set to much applause and dance; and an evening-closing rendition of “I Am Damo Suzuki” brings down the very-old-school house. Best of all, no one has to call the police. A success, then. (Jay Babcock)
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