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OCTOBER 27, 1997: 

*** The Longpigs



U2 may have miscalculated the public's response to their "PopMart" tour, but they certainly didn't misjudge the potential of this Sheffield foursome -- one of the first acts signed to the band's Mother label. The Longpigs know how to sound at once expansive and controlled. Singer Crispin Hunt's soaring, glitter-flecked voice and broad arcs of melody swoop toward the edge of histrionic excess -- then pull back, reined in by hooks and the disciplined grandeur of the music. The shimmery bounce of the La's-like "She Said" and the sashay-swagger of "Happy Again" (guitarist Richard Hawley does a great Mick Ronson here) are drawn in strong, vivid colors before the band begin to add glass-clear harmonies and an oceanic undercurrent of atmosphere. Although it remains to be seen whether the Longpigs can break from the long shadows thrown by similar-sounding extravagant rockers like Suede and Radiohead, the group are certainly making a serious bid for the sun.

-- Jonathan Perry

*** The Electric Prunes


(Heartbeat Productions)

Here it is, the authentic link between Trogg and Stooge. Granted, guitarist/rock historian Lenny Kaye gave us the news back in '72 with his Nuggets compilation, a double LP of the finest greasy garage groups of the '60s. But there was still something a little too tame -- too Beatles-like -- about the studio recordings by Nuggets groups like the Electric Prunes, the Standells, and the Remains to justify their being linked aesthetically with the nascent punk of Iggy and the Stooges.

Stockholm 67, a legendary live recording of the Electric Prunes in Sweden, documents a group freed from the burden of crafting coherent pop tunes, and sounding Stooge-like in a way that the Nuggets version of "I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night" simply doesn't. On "Get Me to the World on Time," the rhythm section enters the same throbbing Fun House the Stooges would three years later. As for lead guitarist Ken Williams, well, here he is indulging in the kind of feedback freakouts that Iggy and his cohort wouldn't put on vinyl for another two years.

-- Justin Farrar

*** Superchunk



This Chapel Hill foursome have been doing what they do so well for long enough now that it's all too easy to take their patented brand of emotionally resonant hum-and-buzz indie rock for granted. (Consistency may not breed contempt, but it sure isn't the best way to make headlines.) Which may explain why singer/guitarist Mac McCaughan is now finding inspiration in the example of a semi-obscure jazz saxist from Georgia. "Are you bitter/Are you tired/Is your jaw permanently wired/From years of explaining how you feel?" he asks against a backdrop of tuneful, churning guitars on "Song for Marion Brown."

McCaughan and Superchunk don't sound bitter or tired. They are, however, a little less wired than they were in '91, when No Pocky for Kitty offered adrenaline rushes that also stimulated the cerebral cortex. After seven years, the tempos are a little slower and there are more keyboards in the background. But bristling guitars, rippling melodies, and sharp songwriting are still what define Superchunk -- consistently.

-- Matt Ashare

** Pram


(World Domination)

Pram represent the experimental arm of Too Pure, the British label behind like-minded retro-futurists Stereolab and Laika. Tossing aside traditional pop structure and instrumentation in favor of a jazz-infected carnival rife with theremins and toy pianos, the Birmingham combo shine brightest when pitting their instrumental stew against Rosie Cuckston's surreal lyrics and girlishly exotic voice.

In this reissue of their 1991 debut EP (previously available only on vinyl and through the mail, and here buffed up with bonus tracks), Pram are noisier than usual, offering clamorous drones and trash-can percussion in place of the circus keyboards and smooth vocals that dominate later albums. The eerie atonality and dark edginess of Gash capture the paranoia lying at the heart of those later albums. Transmitting dark emotions through a playful lens makes Pram consistently intriguing, even in the fledgling stage documented here.

-- Jay Ruttenberg

*** Mike Jones



A hilarious Type A personality, Mike Jones runs the requisite laps up and down the keyboard. The latest "find" of producer Hank O'Neal, whose label boasts scores of solo albums by Earl Hines and Dave McKenna, Running Wild is a recording he unearthed of a live date in a Buffalo club. Like most solo pianists from New England who play standards, Jones echoes McKenna, particularly in the energetic yet legato use of the stride left hand. Although he can also rip Tatum-esque lightning bolts and cross-chop the format like Oscar Peterson, speed is not really at issue. It's Jones's playful and original treatments of the oldies that make his choices fresh and engaging. "Ma, He's Makin' Eyes at Me" takes on new connotations as a ballad. His tempos spar and feint, up and down, like a runner's pulse, but his syntax is always polite and his melodies correct.

-- Fred Bouchard

*** June Tabor


(Green Linnet)

If Richard Thompson is England's prince of gloom, then Tabor is England's icy princess. Her tightly controlled alto has grown deeper and darker as she's reached the half-century mark, but the Oxford-educated vocalist still glides from traditional balladry to smoky pop with the impeccable taste she's demonstrated since her mid-'70s debut, Silly Sisters, with Steeleye Span's Maddy Prior. Aleyn's ominous opener, "The Great Valerio," is more suspenseful than Linda & Richard Thompson's original -- there's no net to catch falling lovers in June's bleak view. "Bentley and Craig" addresses in six minutes the controversial case of capital punishment that was the subject of the film Let Him Have It. But there is a merrier respite in "Fair Maid of Islington," an 18th-century number that revels in ribald double entendres.

-- Bruce Sylvester

***1/2 Horace Tapscott



Pianist Horace Tapscott has spent a lifetime playing jazz in LA, where he's mentored many musicians who have gone on to widespread fame -- including saxophonist Arthur Blythe. But the same recognition has eluded Tapscott. One can only hope that this album, his second for Arabesque, will make it clear that, famous or not, he's one of the most accomplished pianists and composers in jazz.

He's especially adept at blending the tonal and melodic liberties of free jazz with the swing rhythms and song forms of hard bop. On "Bibi Mkuu: The Great Black Lady" and "Social Call," an overlooked gem by bop saxophonist Gigi Gryce, his most adventurous passages are grounded by bass vamps and post-bop drumming. He can also take an affectionate, funky original like "Willetta's Walk," or Sonny Rollins's classic "Oleo," to extremes where more conservative players would never dare go.

Bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Billy Hart are perfectly in synch with Tapscott's approach, supporting each of his excursions to the post-bop frontier. If you think there's nothing new to be done with music in the bop tradition, check out the populist avant-garde of pianist Horace Tapscott.

-- Ed Hazell

*** Christian Marclay



Both in the liner notes and in peer-group scuttlebutt, Marclay's name is being mentioned with hip-hop DJs and their latter-day, theory-driven electronica progeny. But his motivations are a little removed from body-oriented club dance tracks. This is primarily contemplative stuff, wedged firmly in the world of art, where the pieces Marclay works are objects, better suited to the gallery or the performance space than the sound lab. Which doesn't mean this compilation of album-based work from the early '80s isn't a gas to hear, with its nutty, sampled juxtapositions of jazz, pop, classical, and experimental riffs and sounds from disparate recordings captured on a two-track tape. It does not groove and it does not create ambient (or illbient) vistas; on the other hand, its total lack of flow breeds a white-knuckle tension without any resolution, and the experimental enthusiasm is almost palpable.

-- Jonathan Dixon

*** Carey Bell



Not only are most of the formative Chicago blues players gone, but the generation that learned directly from them is also dwindling. The state of harp is especially dire. Junior Wells lies in a coma. James Cotton still blows with vigor, but his throat's been savaged by illness. Which leaves Carey Bell to carry on both blowing and singing, harp and soul.

The best tunes on his latest are all beauty and sadness. "Teardrops" is especially tender, with Bell's harp choking on the song's soured romance and waxing eloquent soliloquies of heartache to the subtle accompaniment of a band of Chicago session aces. There are plenty of hard-grooved numbers like "My Love Strikes like Lightning" and the shuffle "Good Lover" to lighten up the heavy blues. The instrumental "Double Cross" teams a chipper melody with good ol'-fashioned virtuosity. But it's in entries like "Hard Working Woman" (about a woman leaving an abusive relationship) that Bell rings out best, his deep voice and full-bodied harmonica plumbing the ache. Throw in the more up-tempo "Love Her, Don't Shove Her" and you find Bell also espousing a fairly progressive agenda for a 60-year-old bluesman.

-- Ted Drozdowski

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