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JULY 6, 1998: 

**1/2 Ebba Forsberg



At the height of the Lilith generation, we've definitely been here -- to the land haunted by melancholic songs of loss, resilience, and redemption. But Swedish singer Ebba Forsberg's soulful delivery offers a welcome twist of perspective. Her clear, supple voice seeks confidence (in a higher power on "Carried," in herself on "I'll Do Fine") and solace rather than retribution or self-pity. Her music -- crafted by Forsberg and producer Mats Asplén -- sways in mellow jazz-soul modes. Incorporating powerful keyboard nuances (some fabulous Hammond organ from Asplén), kinder-gentler drum programming, and fluid arrangements, the dynamic instrumental work provides Forsberg with a comfort zone that includes torch-song balladry ("Didn't Treat Me Right"), folk (a cover of South African songstress Tumie's "Photographs"), and silky trip-pop ("You Surprise Me," "Most of All"). Forsberg's been there, all right, but Been There isn't blasé about the experience.

-- Mark Woodlief



(BMG Classics)

Like a Luna CD, the soundtrack to the indie film Mr. Jealousy (directed by Noah Baumbach and starring Eric Stoltz and Annabella Sciorra) begins and ends with the by now familiar sound of singer Dean Wareham's unsteady deadpan floating amid the austere jangle of Velvetsy guitars. And it's Luna's knowing romanticism, the urbane sensibility of their poised pop, that sets the tone for the album. But between the opening cut -- Luna's fine cover of John Lennon's "Jealous Guy," which finds Wareham comfortably slipping into the role of one of those tragic villains you hate to love -- and the hummably bleak new Luna tune that closes the disc ("Hello Little One"), we're treated to a little classic R&B from Irma Thomas ("It's Raining"), a couple of French-pop gems (Parisian indie rockers Autour de Lucie's "Ce que l'on tait" and Françoise Hardy doing "Je ne suis là pour personne"), Luna's "Chinatown," the Harry Chapin chestnut "Cat's in the Cradle," and some instrumental score material. All of which may leave you wanting to hear a little more of Wareham, an effect that Luna's last couple of full-lengths haven't really produced.

-- Matt Ashare



(Work Group)

Judging from the glut of nearly identical collections flooding the market these days, you could swear that what killed disco wasn't the evil machinations of history's favorite scapegoat -- joyless white heterosexual men -- but rather, too much of too little for too long. The disco era actually yielded some incredibly innovative tracks, which is something you might never know from the way so many disco compilations revisit the same 30 or so classics. Despite a few momentary flashes (Evelyn "Champagne" King's "I Don't Know If It's Right," Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes' "The Love I Lost"), The Last Days of Disco wastes an opportunity to pull some lesser-known tunes out of the dusty DJ crates of history. And the absence of anything from the Casablanca Records catalogue, home to Donna Summer and the Village People, is a glaring omission. That said, the cuts included here -- particularly Diana Ross's "I'm Coming Out" and Sister Sledge's "He's the Greatest Dancer" -- are uniformly wonderful. And if The Last Days of Disco can sprinkle a little pixie dust into the lives of a few angst-ridden youngsters who may never savor such abandon first-hand, then predictable programming can be pardoned.

-- Kurt B. Reighley

*** Tuatara



All of Tuatara's core members -- R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin, Luna bassist Justin Harwood, Critters Buggin' saxophonist Skerik, Young Fresh Fellows guitarist Scott McCaughey, and Los Lobos saxophonist Steve Berlin -- have been down some interesting musical avenues in the past. But it's still refreshing to hear them branching out on Trading with the Enemy, the group's second release. Lounge-jazz vibes, bongos, timpanis, mandolins, and guitars drenched in reverb, wah-wah, and tremolo all contribute to the disc's exotic atmospheres. Less laconic than the rock-instrumental ensemble Friends of Dean Martinez, and more accessible than the jazz-driven post-rock instrumental group Tortoise, Tuatara draw on a variety of world musics, from "The Bender," with its didjeridoo intro, to an Afro-pop-tinged tribute to the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti ("Fela the Conqueror") to the Japanese-inflected "Koto Song (The Old Shinjuku Trail)."

-- Dave Brigham

**1/2 Red Aunts



Give the women in Red Aunts some credit for discovering the alleyway between garage and punk, and for reveling in the sheer dirtiness of their sound. The group's guitar tone brings to mind amps coughing up blood, but they can get an awful lot of mileage out of a single chord, or even a single note -- one guitar lesson would probably be enough to get most people through "The Things You See, the Things You Don't," though the song's squelchy synth line and sneak-attack rhythm belie its simplicity. Ghetto Blaster lacks the laconic rage of earlier Red Aunts CDs -- where their older tunes tended to get to the point in two minutes or less, the new ones try to sustain a groove and hint at the blues, which often just makes the songs drag. And the pissed-off-housewife lyrics on "Poison Steak" don't do justice to the whiplash sneer of the setting. Still, this is the Aunts' most adventurous record, and it's great to hear them trying to get out of the garage-rock dead end. Unfortunately, Ghetto Blaster has turned out to be another kind of dead end for Red Aunts, who recently announced that they're calling it quits.

-- Douglas Wolk

***1/2 Magic Slim & the Teardrops


(Blind Pig)

Singer/guitarist Magic Slim simply doesn't fuss with what is not essential. The blues veteran pours heart, soul, and sweat into every high-voltage tune, with nothing behind him but thumping drums, thrumming bass, and 30 years of South Side Chicago blues dues. His vocals are rugged, righteous, and unvarnished, even when he's not dropping an occasional Howlin' Wolf imitation; and his guitar playing consistently hits intense, rough-hewn peaks. Black Tornado captures the 60-year old Slim (a/k/a Morris Holt) and his Teardrops at their gritty best, whether on hard-driving Chicago stomps or (slightly) more suave cuts like a cover of Bobby "Blue" Bland's classic "You've Got Bad Intentions." If you're looking to sip some note-perfect, smooth contempo blues, turn right around and head the other way. Magic Slim is the hard stuff they've been serving in roadhouses and juke joints ever since the electric blues began.

-- Bill Kisliuk

**** Jimmie Vaughan



Texas blues guitarist/singer Jimmie Vaughan chronicles the spiritual and artistic journey he's been on since achieving sobriety and losing his little brother, Stevie Ray, in these ostensibly back-to-basics songs about women and automobiles. Vaughan recently told me that even when he settles down with his archtop acoustic to pinch out the crying, walking one-man blues "Little Son Big Son," it's an instrumental tribute to country bluesman Little Son Jackson, Sun Ra, the sun, the Son of God, the notion we're all sons of a "creator," and Vaughan's own place in the world as a son and father. Obviously this is the thinking of a man who's been taking the measure of life. He's also been tending his guitar craft. So he wraps Out There's fine songs in his best playing ever, bringing rich-toned exuberance to the familiar trappings of rippling blues and shuffle beats, soul grooves, and vocal arrangements that tap the celestial richness of the glory days of doo-wop. Those are Vaughan's musical first loves, and throughout this album, he keeps the faith.

-- Ted Drozdowski

*** Buddy Guy



It's been a while since Buddy Guy got Stone Crazy on us, but you can hardly blame him for playing it safe these days. Four decades into his career, one of the world's greatest guitarists -- blues or otherwise -- is still trying to find the formula that'll get him over to an audience that finally wised up to Bonnie Raitt and made Eric Clapton a multi-millionaire. So on Buddy's recent records, we've had to endure a procession of "special guest star" axmen like Clapton, Jeff Beck, and now blue-eyed teenage phenom Jonny Lang, who gets trotted out to duet with the Chicago-bred master on "Midnight Train" -- a good tune that would have been better without Lang's redundant support. I've yet to figure out why anyone would buy a Buddy Guy album to listen to another guitarist. Still, this is his best in ages. The setting is stripped to warm, soulful essentials that allow Guy's guitar to cry, cavort, and ruminate on losing love, finding redemption, and nursing the hangover in between. And the star cameos are, I'm happy to say, kept to a minimum.

-- Jonathan Perry

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