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AUGUST 10, 1998: 

*** Love and Rockets

LIFT

(Red Ant)

Even as the goth nation gets its black panties in a bunch over the Bauhaus reunion, three-fourths of that quartet -- Daniel Ash, David J, and Kevin Haskins -- defuse any accusations of resting on their laurels by launching the seventh Love and Rockets album. Dilettantes who know only the group's hits ("So Alive," "Motorcycle") may dismiss the dance beats on Lift as evidence of opportunism, but the electronics remain in keeping with the band's stylistic evolution since 1994's Hot Trip to Heaven. Indeed, the current single, "Resurrection Hex" (available on a separate CD with mixes by Deep Dish, Mood II Swing, KMFDM and Keoki), is hardly their first club hit -- remember "Ball of Confusion"?

These seasoned pros should have an easier time than Crystal Method coming up with solid songs to anchor the grooves, yet the ideas here occasionally feel thin. "My Drug" rewrites Diana Ross's "Love Hangover" for ravers; "Bad for You" invokes Anthony Newley via David Bowie. And the guitar textures on "Too Much Choice" wouldn't be out of place in the Cocteau Twins. Regardless, the group get ample mileage on atmosphere alone, and thus the cuts that strip down to little else -- the mesmerizing "Deep Deep Down," "Party's Not Over" -- prove the most enduring.

-- Kurt B. Reighley


**1/2

THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY

(Atlantic)

The Brothers Farrelly may be the Dumb and Dumber guys, but they're savvy about their soundtracks. This one actually features songs used in the movie, a rarity nowadays. The Providence-based filmmakers have called on a lot of New England talent, including the Lemonheads ("If I Could Talk I'd Tell You"), the Push Stars ("Everything Shines"), and, most notably, Jonathan Richman, who serves as the troubadour narrator in the film and has three songs here in his trademark wistful, whimsical-but-heartfelt mode. Two are new -- the title track and "True Love Is Not Nice"; the other is a stinging little update of his "Let Her Go into the Darkness."

The rest of the album maintains the film's air of bright, cheery romantic frustration, but except for the Dandy Warhols' "Every Day Should Be a Holiday," there are few standouts among the new and newish songs (by the likes of Ben Lee, Ivy, Propellerheads, Lloyd Cole, and Zuba). The obligatory oldies, however are well chosen, offering cheery romantic frustration from 10, 20, and 30 years ago: Danny Wilson's "Mary's Prayer," Joe Jackson's "Is She Really Going Out with Him," and the Foundations' "Build Me Up Buttercup." Just fine for listening while you're, uh, working up a lather of hair gel.

-- Gary Susman


***1/2 Pat Martino

WE'LL ALWAYS BE TOGETHER

(32 Jazz)

This newly reissued 1976 collaboration between guitarist Pat Martino and pianist Gil Goldstein (here he's an electric pianist) is something of a cult classic as well as an anomaly among Martino's recordings from the period. Always a graceful player, he would typically dart over crisp, compelling rhythm sections; in this duo setting, however, the flame is low and the ruminations have a more spacious quality. Yet the music is never merely "pretty" (which is usually a euphemism for "enervated"). Martino is too intelligent a player to settle for pointless filigree, and it's a pleasure to hear him prod the petulant melody of "You Don't Know What Love Is," give just the right measure of dramatic pause to "Send In the Clowns," or bring to the forefront his unabashedly soulful side on "Willow Weep for Me." Goldstein has the difficult task of trying to coax warmth from a usually recalcitrant instrument, and he does a good job, keeping the comping soft and mellow, often sounding like a lightly treading organ. This is quiet gem from one of jazz's great underrated guitarists.

-- Richard C. Walls


**1/2 Bela Fleck & the Flecktones

LEFT OF COOL

(Warner Bros.)

After guesting on the Dave Matthews Band's newest album and opening for them on a stadium tour, Bela Fleck & the Flecktones have had a taste of full-blown pop stardom. And it seems to have led the group astray on their sixth album, Left of Cool, which departs from their unique bluegrass-jazz fusions to dabble in pop songcraft with vocals.

The grassroots success of Fleck, a banjo virtuoso, and his band owes a great deal to the group's phenomenal live shows, which depend on the incredible instrumental prowess of Fleck and bassist Victor Wooten plus the band's engagingly down-to-earth yet playful stage antics. At a typical show Fleck allows Future Man (who plays an electronic percussion instrument known as the synth-ax drumitar) to sing one -- and only one -- tune. On Left of Cool, Future Man sings six. Most of the cliché'd lyrics were penned by Fleck, but on "Sojourn of Arjuna," the most embarrassing of the six, Future Man reads passages from the Bhagavad Gita in a hipster-cool tone over a lukewarm funk groove -- it's every bit as pretentious as you might imagine. When the band return to instrumental territory, however, the funky-ass bass lines and crystalline bluegrass pickin' remind you of what put the Flecktones on the map to begin with.

-- Michael Endelman


*** Monster Magnet

POWERTRIP

(A&M)

For my money, Monster Magnet's space rock has always been more hype than hip, but dang if they don't kick out the jams for real on Powertrip. Written by Magnet auteur Dave Wyndorf in Las Vegas and recorded in Los Angeles, the 13-track effort recycles garage riffs (13th Floor Elevators-style on "19 Witches," Seeds-ish on the title track, Strawberry Alarm Clock-cheesy on "See You in Hell"), blues metal ("Space Lord"), and cosmically tinged Detroit-cum-Seattle grunge ("Tractor," "Atomic Clock") to craft an indictment of American excess. An ironic twist, indeed, given Wyndorf & Co.'s own tendencies toward more for more's sake.

But Wyndorf doesn't seem to give a shit -- whether he's affecting a characterization on "Bummer" or not, he's crafted (at 7:35) one of the year's most indulgent, demonic, kick-ass rock-and-roll epics. "Some people go to bed with Lucifer/Then cry when they don't greet the day with God," he snarls. "I know life's a bummer, baby/But that's got precious little to do with me." On Powertrip, high camp, lame social criticism, and unforgiving rock force are all brought together with the bitterest intent. And it's absolutely stunning.

-- Mark Woodlief


***1/2 Mitchell Froom

DOPAMINE

(Atlantic)

Mitchell Froom's demons run amok on his second solo CD, rattling up a sound somewhere between Tom Waits's noise-noir masterpiece Bone Machine and the compositions of lounge king Juan Garcia Esquivel. He transforms Sheryl Crow into a mad automaton for "Monkey Mind," which could be a great lost Residents track. (Was Froom one of the mystery men beneath those giant eyeballs?) The album opens with the quivering Eastern melodicism of "Tastes Good," segues into "The Bunny" (which features Soul Coughing's M. Doughty mumbling about a menacing rodent over some queasy funk), and gets downright beautiful in a skewed way by "Overcast," the penultimate and pretty ballad that Ron Sexsmith sings like a muted horn. Imagine every sonic fillip Froom's ever put into his productions for Elvis Costello, wife Suzanne Vega, the Latin Playboys, and Bonnie Raitt in one strong elixir. Froom says the concept here is to showcase the role of the arranger within pop song structures. But with its dissonant curves, unusual vintage instruments (optigon, Indian harmonium), and clattering sonic detours, Dopamine seems more an act of musical exorcism designed to make our heads spin.

-- Ted Drozdowski


***1/2 Bill Fox

TRANSIT BYZANTIUM

(spinART)

"Mary of the Wild Moor" is the only actual public-domain standard on bedroom popsmith Bill Fox's quiet, lovely second solo outing. But the album's other 17 tunes, written by the ex-leader of the defunct Cleveland power-pop outfit the Mice, sound just as timeless, as woven into the fabric of popular music, as Woody Guthrie's salt-of-the-earth folk, Fred McDowell's back-porch blues, the acoustic side of the Beatles' Rubber Soul, and, most prominently, Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. And beyond the array of influences that shadow Fox's work, these songs are all adoringly crafted, small in scope but unwittingly precocious in ambition, and brimming with a vibrant, if slightly bashful, personality. Singing in a ragamuffin voice reminiscent of Dylan and Ronnie Lane, Fox strums waltzy acoustic guitar over a gorgeous little love song called, uh, "For Anyone That You Love," pausing occasionally to blow some scratchy harmonica. Like much of Transit Byzantium, "For Anyone That You Love" shows how love songs should be done yet rarely are: with tenderness, intimacy, and heart, and without histrionics posing as emotion.

-- Jonathan Perry


*** Ben Neill

GOLDBUG

(Antilles)

Calling Ben Neill a trumpeter is like calling Mr. Spock a frequent flyer. The NYC-based Neill is much more, and much less, than that. He lays out sinuous, minimalist lines on his "mutantrumpet" -- a wired, three-belled, six-valved device with a slide, capable of triggering myriad MIDI pulsings and echoes -- to create a hypnotizing ambient throb-athon on Goldbug, with ceaseless techno rhythms, industrial hums, tape loops, and the contributions of "illbient" table master DJ Spooky. The music brings to mind Brian Eno and Bill Laswell; meanwhile Neill's simple, pastel mutantrumpet playing comes off as a bastard child of Miles Davis's cool jazz. Perhaps because of his reliance on electronic sounds, the soul of this trippy music is as distant, but as vibrant, as the galaxies beyond. His blending of ambient textures and techno-beats (on tracks like "Freezer Burn" and "Tunnel Vision") is both adventurous and artful -- the work of a performer/composer who is equal parts musician and mathematician.

-- Bill Kisliuk



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