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FEBRUARY 23, 1998: 

** The Paul Butterfield Blues Band

AN ANTHOLOGY: THE ELEKTRA YEARS

(Elektra)

Behind the cardboard slipcase of this double CD rests a blurry, black-and-white shot of Paul Butterfield puffing on a cigarette and smirking like a kid out of some old Ivy League class picture. The image is a fitting one -- Butterfield was one of the great white blues hopes of the mid '60s. But he never lived up to the hype. The Elektra Years, which features 33 tracks drawn from five albums the Butterfield Band released between '65 and '71, is a reminder that he was, at best, an accomplished harmonica player with a skilled band who never got much past rote blues clichés.

The collection's highlight, "East West," is an adventurous jam built around droning modulations and intense scalar runs by guitarist Mike Bloomfield. The Byrds, however, accomplished three times as much in a fraction of the time with "Eight Miles High." The instrumental "Work Song" is a tune the Animals had already flogged the hell out of on the BBC. Everything here is pleasant enough, but it pales next to what bluesmen like Otis Rush, Little Walter, and Buddy Guy accomplished with the same raw materials.

-- Colin Fleming


***1/2 Sylk 130

WHEN THE FUNK HITS THE FAN

(Ovum)

King Britt, the man behind Sylk 130, is a musical nostalgist who can pass for a historian. When the Funk Hits the Fan is the first of a proposed three-part "autobiography" of his favorite sounds, conveying the tone of what someone would have heard on black radio in Philly in the '70s while updating it with '90s rap and production tricks. (Britt is probably best known for collaborating with techno-guy Josh Wink.) It's carried mostly by a rich stream of Gamble & Huff's lush, smoothed-out funk, as well as a couple of curious tributaries: the drawled poetry of the Last Poets and the '70s proto-rap of Hustlers Convention, which are approximated on a few tracks by poet/rapper Ursula Rucker; and the mellow diva disco that Britt honors with a gorgeous, faithful-in-its-fashion cover of "Last Night a DJ Saved My Life."

The loops that Britt pulls out of his crates are from a time and place where black and white pop nourished each other -- the cleverest sample is from Boz Skaggs's "Lowdown." At its best the album can suggest an entire soul-radio era: "When the Funk Swings" is Parliament via the Sound of Philadelphia with something like the Earth Wind and Fire horn section. It's got the deceptively utopian glow of nostalgia, but it glows with soul and warmth, too.

-- Douglas Wolk


*** Stickmen

LIFE COLORED GREEN

(911)

The Stickmen are one of the hardest-working bands in Boston. Before this national debut, they played the clubs relentlessly, putting out for audiences with the heads-down determination of a team of oxen. They make modern everyman's rock: a twining of hardcore, Chili Peppers post-funk, and lyrics laced with uncomplicated ennui and humor.

Except for one great, wry tune called "Get a Life," I've always heard their sound as a big, dumb, loud thunk. But Life Colored Green is a major evolution. They've slowed their tempos but stayed heavy, infusing these 13 tunes with a sense of menace. They've also smartened up their sound, using guitars and studio effects for sonic coloring, to conjure nice textural washes. And singer Steve Demirjian's gotten on top of his craft. He varies his vocal tones and delivery, having learned that the traditional hardcore bark will ultimately get your band no further than the next all-ages show. I assume they've spent much of the last year touring behind this creepy and creative CD, flogging that work ethic, 'cause they haven't played 'round Boston much. When they do return, they'll have earned more than a Rodney Dangerfield welcome.

-- Ted Drozdowski


***1/2 Megasoft Office

97

(F Communications/Chipie)

From France's F Communications, the home label of DJs Laurent Garnier and St. Germain, comes a "sequenced set of laid-back cuts" (as the CD's liner notes aptly put it) performed by some new acts on the label's roster, all of whom share a liking for the drowsy moods, spacy textures, and lazy low beats common to all European dreampop. The acts who contribute to the Megasoft program are no mere repeats of Robert Miles or Cerrone, however. The melodic dryness of "Way Form One" by Elegia, the jazzy sweets of Ready Made's "Saulbass Theme," and the sultry witchery of Nova Nova's "Bewildered," for instance, import into dreampop enough bits of musical flesh and blood to entice Anglos and Americans, with their taste for the flawed, material, empirical world. But not enough to overrule the fundamental ethereality of songs like Feedback's "Seasons," Chaotik Ramses's "No Way Out," and A Reminiscent Drive's "Footprints," which bind this compilation -- and all Eurobeat -- irretrievably to romantic idealism, perfection's touch, and Plato.

-- Michael Freedberg


*** Hum

DOWNWARD IS HEAVENWARD

(RCA)

Making loud, heavy music with electric guitars and drums isn't an original career choice these days, but Hum do it pretty well. True, these 10 songs do recall the work of other groups plowing nearby stylistic fields -- Superchunk, Helmet, and especially the Poster Children, for whom Hum bassist Jeff Dimpsey used to play guitar. Yet Hum display a certain artfulness, and they know better than to lapse into endless grunge. When they're not flattening you with layer upon layer of distortion, they keep you on your toes by playing with texture (the nifty interlocking guitar lines of "Dreamboat," or the touches of acoustic on "Ms. Lazarus") and rhythm (just about every cut features several added and/or skipped beats, perhaps the best example being the jerky stop-and-start chorus of "Comin' Home"). Matt Talbott's singing is less exciting than his guitar playing but it's serviceable. There's nothing here as immediately arresting as "Stars," off their previous release, 1995's You'd Prefer an Astronaut, though "If You Are To Bloom" comes close. But this is a more consistent album -- their best so far.

-- Mac Randall


**1/2 Funkdoobiest

THE TROUBLESHOOTERS

(RCA)

Funkdoobiest's third CD hits the streets like a souped-up Cadillac, fueled by bits of almost every rap influence: the spunky smooth musicality of hip-hop; the crusty, vinyl-scratching sounds of the old school; the Snoop Dog bugged-out spookiness of gangsta rap; and some full-bodied Latino spice blended in with a touch of lovely-lady R&B harmonies. And Sondoobie's convulsive rap technique is often overshadowed by a potent collection of guest rappers like L.C., whose rabid dog style takes a bite out of "The Anthem," a funked-up, plucky take on Bill Withers's "Just the Two of Us."

The snags here are tired-out Cypress Hill noises and the sometimes overwhelming smell of testosterone. The Squirrel Nut Zippers loop on the first track, "Papi Chulo," and the refreshing salsa rhythms aren't enough to make it interesting. Funkdoobiest fare best when they abandon ominous minor keys and experiment with sound. "Natural Fun," a cut turned over to the CD's smoothest MCs, skips with a playful hopscotch rhythm and slender instrumentation. And "Five Deadly Indians," Sondoobie's op-ed on Native American genocide, pumps with scary belligerence but succeeds thanks to the tight, well-organized arrangement.

-- Laura Worrell


*** David Holmes

LETS GET KILLED

(A&M)

Most tourists visit New York City armed with cameras and theater tickets, but Irish DJ David Holmes spent his last vacation at the Big Apple armed with a DAT recorder and plenty of acid. The resultant electronic soundscape, Lets Get Killed, pays tribute to the gritty ambiance of the metropolis, complete with the street sounds of strung-out drug addicts, effeminate fortune tellers, angry moshers, and street musicians. These native voices form the bedrock for songs that are then embellished with scratched-up funk 45s, drum 'n' bass rhythms, guitar whines, and the occasional 40-piece symphony. When the voices fade, the remaining digital vibrations are set to an unhurried beat to produce a cinematic soundtrack for the city that conjures images of poorly lit streets and broken glass (the title track) and a dark corner in a Latin music club ("Gritty Shaker").

Elsewhere, Holmes pays tribute to '70s espionage films, including James Bond ("Radio 7"), in less adventurous tracks that rely too heavily on mainstream club clichés -- digital beats layered with repetitive samples. Yet he instills the music with a sense of place and feeling, qualities that are too often lost on the techno dance floor.

-- Ian Pervil


*** Sax Gordon

HAVE HORN WILL TRAVEL

(Bullseye Blues)

Have Horn Will Travel is not just the title of Sax Gordon's romping debut CD. It's his life. Thirteen years ago, Gordon Beadle was a Berklee student who climbed into an old beater on Sundays and rumbled to the muddled afternoon blues jams at Cambridge's 1369 Club. Today the tenor saxophonist is a top blues sideman, touring the world and recording with an astonishing list of heavyweights.

This blues groovefest puts the spotlight on Gordon's reedy growl, swinging improvisations, and jam-packed musical-trick bag, with backing from guitarist Duke Robillard and the Roomful of Blues horns. Low comedy like the title tune ("We ain't in it for the money, it's the fun AND the money") and "Hey Officer" follow the jump-blues tradition of being danceable without compromising intelligent, entertaining musicianship. Covers are torn from the songbooks of grade-A honkers King Curtis and Arnett Cobb. It's a good thing that Beadle has a horn in his mouth most of the time, because his vocals wouldn't earn him change to ride the T. He honks, he bleats, he coos. It's a blast.

-- Bill Kisliuk


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