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NOVEMBER 17, 1997: 

*** Toni Lynn Washington

IT'S MY TURN NOW

(Tone Cool)

There aren't a whole lot of blues singers around who know how to swing -- at least not without making an unintentional parody of the music. But two-time Handy Award-nominee Toni Lynn Washington probably swings when she calls Domino's. She is what Aaron Neville calls "a tone singer," constantly adding filigrees of vibrato, rounding her syllables into smoothly colored phrases. That's why "Ain't Gonna Cry No More" glides on its girl-power lyric and the old Ruth Brown hit "Teardrops from My Eyes" sounds fresh and personal. This Bostonian's especially strong on ballads and mid-tempo numbers -- anything that lets her flex her sweet-butter voice, right from the opening "Just Around the Corner" to Charlie Rich's contemplative gem "Who Will the Next Fool Be." That's why uptempo tunes like "Paycheck in My Pocket" sound more tossed-off than considered. But when the going gets slow, Toni Lynn's artistry really gets going.

-- Ted Drozdowski


***1/2 Sweet Honey in the Rock

SELECTIONS 1976-1988

(Flying Fish/ Rounder)

Nurtured in the rich loam of Mother Africa by way of that Baptist church in rural Georgia where founder Bernice Johnson Reagon's father was minister, Sweet Honey cry, moan, whisper, and fiercely roar their multi-textured songs, chants, poems, and prayers on this two-CD, 34-track retrospective filled with power and exoticism. With amazing falsetto/bass interplay, a take on Mahalia Jackson's "In the Upper Room" reveals the holy cornerstone of doo-wop. Based on Psalms 19 and 137, "Rivers of Babylon" resounds more intensely than Jimmy Cliff's reggae version. Praise songs honor black freedom fighters like Stephen Biko and Mississippi's indomitable Fannie Lou Hamer. "We who believe in freedom cannot rest!" they explode. But amid the blood and sorrow of black oppression, there's solace -- the sweet honey in the rock.

-- Bruce Sylvester


***1/2 Soundgarden

A-SIDES

(A&M)

When Soundgarden arrived as a force in the then largely ignored Seattle scene just over a decade ago, it was clear from the band's contribution to the now seminal Deep Six compilation that they had at least a few things going for them -- muscle, volume, and the formidable wail of Chris Cornell's banshee voice. But hooks, melodies, and the other elusive qualities that make hit songs did not immediately appear to be among the weapons in their punk-metal arsenal of dark steely riffage. In other words, though the band had commercial potential (there's always been a large, suburban market for rock's heavier alloys), nobody was betting on them to become a Top 40 hit factory.

And yet, 10 years later, just months after the group disbanded, here it is: a Soundgarden greatest-hits package that proves they were, after all, a textbook singles band. Every track's a winner, from 1989's "Hands All Over," which revolves around a repeating riff remarkably similar to the one Pearl Jam later used for "Evenflow," to the thundering Zeppelinesque gallop of '91's "Jesus Christ Pose" to the Beatles-inflected swirl of '94's "Black Hole Sun." There's only one rarity here for hardcore fans -- the Down on the Upside leftover "Burden in My Hand." But in a decade or so A-Sides is going to be a treasure chest for classic-hits-of-the-'90s radio.

-- Matt Ashare


*** Robbie Fulks

SOUTH MOUTH

(Bloodshot)

On last year's Country Love Songs (Bloodshot), Robbie Fulks offered up a honky-tonking collection of tunes that really weren't country love songs so much as songs about loving country -- the classic country of George Jones, Hank Williams, and especially Buck Owens, whose name got top billing in Fulks's clever mini-anthem "The Buck Starts Here." South Mouth finds Fulks aligning his classic strum-and-twang songwriting with the retro C&W of BR-549 both in style and in spirit, particularly in the tune "Fuck This Town," a witty pedal steel-driven ditty that takes aim at Nashville's staid music business culture. It says a lot about Nashville that someone as good as Fulks is putting out albums on a Chicago-based independent label, but, hell, even Buck Owens would probably have trouble getting a deal if he were starting out these days.

-- Matt Ashare


***1/2 Guitar Wolf

PLANET OF THE WOLVES

(Matador)

At just the moment you might expect the novelty of Guitar Wolf's no-fi scumbucket greaser rock & booze revue to wear off, along comes Planet of the Wolves, for which someone apparently tricked the Japanese threesome into entering a professional studio. It's also something approaching a greatest-hits package -- both their own (reworkings of past faves "Invader Ace," "Buttobase," and "Kung Fu Ramone") and other people's (the Stones' "Satisfaction," Link Wray's "Rumble," the Oblivians' "Motorcycle Leather Boy," and Teengenerate's brilliant "Let's Get Hurt"). In the past, Guitar Wolf have made a sound like what you might have caught in 1954 upon hearing rock and roll for the first time -- an assaultive sound that refused to make sense yet insisted on being heard and defied you to understand. This time the opening slashing chords announce themselves as glass-shard sharp as the Stooges, ferocious instead of just messy. This is the payoff, where what they make sounds like great rock and roll -- is great rock and roll -- instead of mimicking the confusion and chaos that often accompanies it.

-- Carly Carioli


**1/2 Fu Manchu

THE ACTION IS GO

(Mammoth)

No one pulls off in-the-red '70s boogie metal like Fu Manchu, who've resurrected a blunted genre that may never have really existed. Back in the day, you would have had to put up with a bunch of wanky bullshit to get this much maximum riffage, and the wah-wah was always mixed above the crunch. That's not a problem on the Fu's latest, which was produced by psychotronic ace (and White Zombie guitarist) J Yuenger, with a reconfigured line-up that brings in a natural ally in former Kyuss drummer Brant Bjork, and a fresh blood donor in guitarist Bob Balch. Not as arid and sinister as Kyuss, or as primary-color-psychedelic as Monster Magnet, the Fu offer a certain unobtrusive, no-frills haziness that occasionally mistakes drab repetition for drone exploration. But the main point of their stylistic trademark -- the dirty raunch of biker-movie-soundtrack fuzz welded to updated Sabbathisms -- remains as it was: to provide a receptacle for slow-motion terrycloth memories of blurry beanbag comfort and blazing daredevil flare.

-- Carly Carioli


**** Earle Brown, John Cage, Morton Feldman, Christian Wolff

THE NEW YORK SCHOOL 3

(hat Art)

The Swiss record label hat Art continues to release an essential series of New Music recordings, focusing largely on the American composers known as the New York School. This compilation, third in a series, is perhaps the most engaging and instructive of all: pieces by Brown, Wolff, and Cage are played twice each, so as to dramatize the nature of indeterminate composition. Performances of the same piece are not grouped together: the CD goes through them once and then again in reverse order. At the center of this musical palindrome is a dramatic reading of an entertaining and informative essay by Morton Feldman, in which he explains the '50s: "For one brief moment -- maybe, say, six weeks -- nobody understood art. That's why it all happened. . . . But there's no place now where you can hide out for six weeks." Hat Art is trying, one hour at a time.

-- Damon Krukowski


*** Congo Norvell

ABNORMALS ANONYMOUS

(Jetset)

Congo Norvell know how to rebound. After their second album, The Dope, the Lies, the Vaseline, was scrapped at the last minute by their record company (it still hasn't been released), vocalist Sally Norvell and guitarist Kid Congo Powers moved from LA to New York, signed with Jetset, and re-emerged with Abnormals Anonymous, their finest collection of tunes so far. So it's not surprising that this disc has a tougher edge than their earlier work -- especially on the rambunctious "Johnny in the Boudoir," which loads up on distorted organ and yelping vocals. The prevailing mood is still dark and creepy, both as to music (lotsa heavy reverb and spaghetti-western guitar) and in terms of lyrics (most of these songs deal with rather unusual family relationships). Powers's résumé -- Gun Club, Cramps, Bad Seeds -- should give you some idea of where he's coming from. But it might not fully prepare you for where he's arrived, through the splendor of Norvell's spook-chanteuse singing and the equally powerful vocals of Abnormals Anonymous guest star Mark Eitzel.

-- Mac Randall


***1/2 Club 69

STYLE

(Twisted)

There's enough top-heavy diva attitude in this, the second Club 69 release from Austrian disco auteur Peter Rauhofer, to give any wig a good hair day. Standard stuff it is, but with Miss Thang monologues like "Style," "I Look Good," and "My Orchard" puckering all over the place with charm and egotism, who's complaining? "Twisted," "Much Better," and "Muscles" reach, smartly, back to that lascivious ferocity that spawned the diva experience in the first place. As for divas today, the flash and boom of "Drama" and "Alright" goes for the big kiss on leap-of-faith hard-house breaks.

-- Michael Freedberg


*** Bardo Pond

LAPSED

(Matador)

Welcome to the psychedelic underground, where self-indulgence, volume, and torrents of guitar noise wash your eardrums in an expanse of textural bliss. Philadelphia's Bardo Pond deliver an exorcism of sorts via billowing, effects-laden sonic canvases from guitarist brothers Michael and John Gibbons. Bolstered by a strong rhythm section, Lapsed reins in the group's earlier elongated meanderings without sacrificing passion or grandeur. There's majesty in the soaring opener, "Tommy Gun Angel," which is kind of a heavenly interpretation of the Clash's "Tommy Gun." Acoustic and electric guitars tangle against vocalist Isobel Sollenberger's languid, distorted voice on "Pick My Brain." Bardo's past work earned them kudos as lysergic alchemists -- their last album, Amanita, took its name from a genus of trip- (also cardiac-arrest-) inducing mushrooms. Lapsed reaffirms their commitment to psychedelic explorations, particularly in epic excursions like the nine-minute sludgefest "Flux," and the 14-minute seduction of "Aldrin."

-- Mark Woodlief


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