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By Michael Henningsen

AUGUST 2, 1999: 

Reverend Horton Heat Holy Roller (Sub Pop)

Not as slick as the Stray Cats, as traditional as Flat Duo Jets or as crazed as Hasil Adkins, The Reverend Horton Heat is his own special brand of rockabilly cat. This fantastic, nicely-packaged 24-track retrospective neatly encapsulates the Rev's five-album output on Sub Pop Records, from 1991's Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em to last year's Space Heater.

As always on this sort of compilation, themes emerge; in this case, the positive effects of inebriation seem to be a preoccupation, with tunes like "Bales of Cocaine," "Marijuana," "It's Martini Time," "Baby I'm Drunk" and "Eat Steak" glorifying excess with tongue planted firmly in snuff-filled cheek. However, modern-day Puritans should attempt to get their knickers out of a twist and go look up a few definitions of the word "irony." It's difficult to think that a man who'll write a song called "Where in the Hell Did You Go with My Toothbrush?" isn't, at least on some level, kidding.

The songs are in the classic guitar-slap, bass-drums, rockabilly format, but the trio's fiery, noisy playing blows apart any notion of polite revivalism, even on covers of 'billy classics like "Folsom Prison Blues." For those who haven't checked out Reverend Horton Heat -- and if you haven't, you've missed one of the most scorching live shows you will ever see -- this is the place to get started.

The Beta Band The Beta Band (Astralwerks)

This Scottish quartet bounces from Four Freshman-style pre-rock balladry to menacing hip hop to demented Elvis-style rockabilly that's mutated into some sort of bizarre amalgam of the Bonzo Dog Band and Roy Wood's Wizzard. And that's just on the first song!

After the opening "Beta Band Rap," singer Stephen Mason -- who sounds uncannily like Pink Floyd's Roger Waters -- and crew sound like the sort of guys who would rather talk endlessly about other bands' records than make their own. This fact is borne out by the way the sweetly poppy and relatively normal "Round the Bend" devolves into Mason enthusiastically launching into a spoken comparison of late '60s Beach Boys albums. The Beta Band aren't mere nutters, however, as shown by the lovely, Soft Machine-like "It's Not Too Beautiful" and the extended piano coda of "The Hard One," which also features Mason singing snatches of, of all things, Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart." Both of these songs break the eight-minute barrier, but they're brilliantly arranged and exquisitely structured so that tedium never even becomes a possibility.

This album is the sound of four men with a contagious try-anything-once attitude and almost more ideas than they know what to do with. Beefheart, Syd Barrett and Beck fans will enthusiastically approve.

Cabaret Voltaire The BBC Recordings 1984-86 (Pilot)

The most peculiar thing about Cabaret Voltaire was that for a band so reliant on electronics and tapes, they thrived in live settings. Where many electronic acts never leave the studio, Richard H. Kirk and Stephen Mallinder released nearly as many live albums as they did studio recordings, using the stage as a forum to expand and pervert ideas touched on in the less chaotic studio setting. Therefore, it follows that Cabaret Voltaire's BBC recordings, made for such programs as the John Peel Show, share little more than their titles and a few basic building blocks with the band's studio tracks. Of the 13 tracks, only "Sensoria" bears much resemblance to its studio-created doppelganger. A slashing run through "Sex Money Freaks" is considerably more disturbing than the comparatively placid original. Recorded during the most artistically successful era of Cabaret Voltaire's long career (translation: "before they started to suck"), The BBC Recordings is a worthy archival release.

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