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Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise!

By Stephen Grimstead

FEBRUARY 1, 1999: 

Various Artists, Hempilation2: freetheweed (Capricorn)

The late, great comedian Bill Hicks observed that “anyone opposed to drugs should burn their CDs, because all of the musicians who made that great music were real high on drugs.” Obvious exceptions (Frank Zappa, for example) aside, Hicks was more right than wrong. Mary Jane, in particular, has certainly done her share in facilitating the creation and enjoyment of music.

Hempilation2: freetheweed, a benefit CD put out by NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) is an attempt to acknowledge, and better yet, legalize this symbiotic relationship.

“Free to Choose” by Everything has a rubbery B52’s-at-the-beach groove that happily kick-starts things. Then you get the proverbial kitchen sink. To give you some idea of the eclecticism found here, mull over this fact: For the first time in the history of recorded music, George Clinton and Willie Nelson appear on the same release.

P-Funk boss Clinton raps a hilarious tale of a German shepherd with a jones on “U.S. Custom Coast Guard Dope Dog” (“Got a habit, trained to have the habit/Receiver of the golden nose award”). Nelson recites an off-the-cuff live take of “Me and Paul,” wryly celebrating his own brushes with The Man.

While Nelson and Clinton provide the star power, lesser-knowns get their chance on the 72-minute, 20-song CD. Oddly, there are a number of country (both traditional and alternative) tunes on freetheweed: “Don’t Bogart Me” by Robert Bradley’s Blackwater Surprise; a passable remake of Charlie Daniels’ “Long Haired Country Boy” by From Good Homes; “The Dope Smokin’ Song” from Hank Flamingo; and the classic “One Toke Over The Line,” performed here by originators Brewer & Shipley, with The Rainmakers in tow.

The cover tunes are the real pick of the litter. Spearhead slaps a soulful hip-hop spin on Steve Miller’s “The Joker” (who would have thought that Miller, a virtual ’70s hit factory, had penned a protest song?). Gov’t Mule deep-fries Humble Pie’s “30 Days In The Hole,” making like AC/DC if they came from Alabama. And my personal favorite – Paul McCartney’s “Let Me Roll It,” morphed by Big Sugar into a reggae-tinged thud rocker.

Does this mean that all of the good dope songs were written in the heady days of the past? No, at least two bands score with songs worth mentioning. “Let’s Get High,” written by Boston’s Letters To Cleo specifically for this project, is a wonderful punk/pop celebration of ganja’s power to incite escapism. New York’s Fun Lovin’ Criminals perform “Smoke ’Em,” a funky, spacy rap tune, signifying both street wisdom and the general vibe of this endeavor with the lines “Smoke ’em if ya got ’em/If ya ain’t got ’em, then ya hit rock bottom.”

Yes, this is a good collection of tunes, but there is something else at work here, too – a political and economic statement urging sanity in the face of our nation’s misguided and wasteful “war” on drugs.

Make a stand. – David Kendall

Randy Weston, Khepera (Verve)

Pianist/composer Randy Weston and arranger Melba Liston have long honored the rich African heritage and roots of jazz, often using various African cultural and historical touchstones for musical inspiration. Khepera continues in this vein, this time drawing on the premise that African culture predates and influences not only Western culture, but Chinese culture as well. The result is a joyous celebration of the musical and spiritual roots of Africa, and their influence on jazz, blues, Caribbean, and Chinese music. This blending of influences results in a series of powerful, emotive compositions.

Weston, percussionists Chief Bey and Neil Clark, drummer Victor Lewis, and bassist Alex Blake brilliantly lay down a simmering rhythmic foundation, over which the horns (saxophonists Pharaoh Sanders and Talid Kibwe, and trombonist Benny Powell) play Liston’s charts with warm sophistication. To emphasize the influence of African culture on China, Chinese pipa player Min Xiao Fen joins in on two tunes. The disc is a cornucopia of styles, including percussion-laden blues vamps and delicate Chinese pipa numbers. Between the exotic-yet-familiar feel that fills these selections, the perfect sense of pacing, and the spiritual element that pervades this music, the combined effect is elegant and beautiful. – Gene Hyde

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