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NPR's "On the Media" ran a segment in January (it's archived at http://www.onthemedia.org/ otm012105.html) which posited the demise of my generation of pop critics, asserting that "we" spent too much time and ink wringing our hands over the next Springsteen release or why Elvis Costello's latest disc wasn't up to Armed Forces, that we'd lost perspective. More importantly, according to the editors of more than a few big circulation dailies, we'd lost the attention of a key marketing demographic: females between the ages of 18 and 34, who buy recorded music at a rate disproportionate to their share of the population and presumably turn to big circulation dailies as their first choice for critical review. The clear message: enough with the old farts; give us Britney, J-Lo, Christina, Justin, Avril and so on. Among the victims of the gray purge have been Joel Selvin of the San Francisco Chronicle, one of my early models of thoughtful pop criticism, and Richard Harrington of the Washington Post, who, despite my many disagreements with his critical judgment, blanketed the local music scene with dogged determination, setting a standard for metro dailies everywhere.

As I scan the list below, I fear that this is one critic who, consciously or not, falls into that mold. Only a small handful of the artists on parade this month (Joss Stone, The Iguanas, Rachel Yamagata, Nellie McKay) aren't fighting advancing grayness and the weight-shifting ravages of middle age. Even Sonic Youth should perhaps consider an appropriate name change, say, Sonic LongInTheTooth.

Even if we're wont to preach that rock'n'roll is the province of the young, we're equally prone to castigating them for being, well, young ... and feckless, self-absorbed, angst riddled--for shamelessly displaying all the trappings of young adults, who simply haven't lived long or hard enough to have achieved the lofty perspective of advancing age, as if the genus fartus antiquus has the answers, much less a clue. Our job, indeed if we've learned anything at all, is to critically assay the success, or lack, of an artistic endeavor on its merits, not by holding it up to some cultural, ageist scoring system, and certainly not by promoting things popular for the proximate reason that they're popular.

If this column has any objective, it is to suggest to you, gentle reader, the possibilities of pop music--especially in an audiophile environment where too many consider pop music steerage class. We are not afraid to toss brickbats, as with Fogerty's forgettable Deja Vu All Over Again or Mark Knopfler's regrettable Shangri-La last issue. Nor are we afraid to toss bouquets to artists whose visions or virtuosity broaden and mature (R.E.M.'s Around the Sun last ish or Sonny Landreth's Grant Street below), because in the end they're plowing furrows that are new to all of us, tentative responses to the persistent query, "What do you do with fat, gray, wrinkled rock stars?" Are they any different than aging conductors or jazz idols? Certainly, less was not expected of Leonard Bernstein or Herbert von Karajan. Similarly, Sinatra's and Armstrong's dotages were paragons of due praise for the mastery of their craft, despite diminished physical gifts. I don't think you ignore the Stones, Brian Wilson, Joe Jackson, or Prince in favor the flavor of the month (Franz Ferdinand, Modest Mouse, The Killers, Scissor Sisters, Sahara Hotnights, and so on--though all of these are wonderfully impressive acts who will nonetheless need more than one good record before being consigned to the One Hit Wonder bin). Nor do I think you fret interminably over those who should have shelved themselves some time ago (Sting, Fogerty, Rod Stewart, Kansas, etc.).

We celebrate bona fide accomplishments regardless of vintage. Conversely, pretension, manufactured images, sloth, and the plainly talentless don't get a free ride. Bottom line: we call 'em as we hear 'em. Yes, others will disagree, and you should consider their views as well. In the critical world, there is no truth, only perception. As Harry Pearson once asked, "Isn't that what they taught you in journalism school?"

John Butler Trio, Sunrise Over Sea (Lava)

John Butler's first full-length stateside release, Three, was an angry, bullet-spitting, chest-thumping whompus of politicized ecotestosterone, fueled more by the ragged urge to bash indiscriminately than the need to make an artistic statement. They're different, you know, political and artistic statements. For all of Butler's sheer inventiveness on all manner of guitar, most notably both acoustic and electric slide, Three was barely listenable. Less so Sunrise Over Sea. While it has its fair share of polemic ("Company Sin," "There'll Come a Time," "Hello") and even resurrects "Betterman" from Three, Sunrise Over Sea puts the music forward, displaying Butler's considerable gifts as a guitarist. Butler showcases facility with varying genres: American blues--he was transplanted from California to Western Australia at an early age--, Oz bush idiom, a bit of Dave Matthews, and a whole lot of the Chili Peppers; his vocal resemblance to Anthony Keidis is eerie. Backed by Shannon Birchall (bass) and Michael Barker (drums), Sunrise Over Sea--no, I don't think the "SOS" is a coincidence--is a remarkable musical effort even if the message is still a shrill mish-mash of angry invective.

Green Day, American Idiot (Reprise)

From the pop punk of Dookie's "Longview," "Basket Case," and "When I Come Around" to the underappreciated Nimrod and Warning, Green Day (Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, and Tre Cool) has rarely let up on its take on rock-after-Nirvana. American Idiot, four years in the making, is a musical triumph. Like Nirvana, Green Day has never eschewed musical value for shock value; each song, while bathed in overdriven guitars, has a melody, verses, sometimes even a hook. Hey, for punk, where shrieking out of tune and off the beat is the norm--which is not a dis, but merely an observation, this is growth. Even a speed punker like "St. Jimmy" leans more toward The Ramones than the slobbering and unintelligible.

The message, however, is the all-too-familiar portrait of disaffected suburbia-asking the question no one wants to hear, "Just how many Columbines or other tragedies are out there waiting to happen?" Each song contains a small portrait or vignette that expands on this theme through the bloodshot eyes of a teen under the influence--a far more disturbing message: yes, your children are no happier than you were and do as many drugs as you did. Green Day sets a bleak stage: "Maybe I am the faggot America/I'm not part of a redneck agenda" ("American Idiot"), which quickly becomes pathetic: "I'm the son of rage and love/The Jesus of suburbia/From a Bible of 'none of the above'/On a steady diet of soda and Ritalin" ("Jesus of Suburbia"). American Idiot evolves into a rock operetta as it follows two teens, Jimmy and Tunny, through a series of social and psychic events, culminating in predictable fates. In the end American Idiot owes as much to Bowling for Columbine as it does Sheena and Tommy.

However, like Camper Van Beethoven's New Roman Times (see below), American Idiot holds together as a rock'n'roll album, from the danceable ("Holiday") to the epic ("Boulevard of Broken Dreams") to the poignant ("Wake Me When September Ends"), building the story on the strength of the music. Oh, it strays toward an appropriately anthemic coda, but that's a small complaint. American Idiot is about as cohesive a rock statement as this decade, nay century, has yet seen. On Dookie, Green Day sang as alienated, suburban kids. With American Idiot, they're singing about alienated, suburban kids, and the comparative vantage point of a few years has brought as much maturity to their vision as it has their music.

Camper van Beethoven, New Roman Times (Vanguard/Pitch A Tent)

CVB has lain fallow for more than 15 years, New Roman Times their first release of new material since 1989's Key Lime Pie and its sublime cover of "Pictures of Matchstick Men." Briefly, New Roman Times is a rock opera, the story of a recruit to an elite Texas National Guard commando unit who deserts, switches "sides," and ends up with an antigovernment militia. It is a political screed, worthy of the day's headlines, with a few twists--the militias lean left; California is a rebel state; "martyrdom" terrorism is a real alternative. However, unlike Tommy, the original rock opera, New Roman Times is a coherent rock album, regardless of its story.

For New Roman Times, CVB has staged a veritable reunion of its earliest and perhaps best incarnation: Dave Lowery (guitar--later known as the founder of Cracker) Chris Pederson (drums), Greg Lisher (lead guitar), Victor Krummenacher (bass), David Immergluck (guitar, pedal steel, mandolin), and Jonathan Segel (violin). Even original member Chris Molla lends an occasional hand on synths. The music ranges from straight ahead rock ("51 7"), takes on prog rock ("White Fluffy Clouds") and alt-rock ("That Gum You Like Is Back in Style"), norteno ("Might Makes Right"), unholy marriages of bluegrass and ska ("Militia Song"), klezmer ("R'n'R Uzbekistan")--in short, the kind of eclectic stylings that first brought CVB to prominence. New Roman Times' message, if it's anything other than a flight of fancy, is disturbing. One doesn't enjoy contemplating red vs. blue polarity drawn to extremes. Regardless, it is great music.

Joss Stone, Mind Body & Soul (S Curve)

What Joss Stone has in a cornucopia of spades, besides a love affair with '70s soul, is a contralto on the verge of very large hole in the ground, and enough of a voice to shake up soul classics like Aretha Franklin's "All the King's Horses" or Carla Thomas's "I've Fallen in Love with You" from her debut, The Soul Sessions. At this stage of her development and the release of her first full-length CD, Mind, Body & Soul, her vocal and emotional range rivals Donna Summers's or Yvonne Ellison's, two '70s soul sisters of note. The catch is that Joss Stone is a white, English chick not yet 18. Scary. Veteran producer and engineer, Geoff Emerick (The Beatles) has assembled a formidable cadre of session vets--Timmy Thomas, Betty Wright, "Bones" Malone, Nile Rodgers, Pete Iannacone, Thom Bell, and so on--who've been persuaded she's worth the musical investment, one that so far seems to have paid off. Stone's writing is also in step with '70s soul, a lot of baby, baby, babies and a skosh of righteous strut. Mink Body & Soul seems to be riding the same wave as Kylie Minogue's disco rehash and Scissor Sisters' retro glam, all in all a fun ride even if the nostalgia path will muddy eventually. Then we'll see if Stone has the moxie and chops--she already has the gifts--to love it and leave it for the influence that it is and forge something original. The good news is that she apparently has the time.

Sonny Landreth, Grant Street (Sugar Hill)

A fairly long while ago, there was a remarkable guitarist named Eric Johnson, who released a generally ho-hum disc Ah Via Musicom with one amazing cut, "Cliffs of Dover," a guitarist's guitarist's acropolis of worship. Pace, dynamics, chops, tone--" Cliffs" had it all. But Eric Johnson, in many ways like pure axe gods Joe Satriani and Steve Vai, had only one dimension--without a band to give form to his ideas, he was and remains a one trick pony. Just so you guitar worshippers out there don't get all contorted in indignation, I'm not going to claim for a second that Sonny Landreth is in the same chops league as Johnson, Vai, and Satriani. What I am going to assert, however, is that he has a band, a genre, and a sound, the latter on Grant Street that rivals the best that Eric Johnson ever laid to disc. Yep, it's that good.

With long-time bandmates Kenneth Blevins on drums and David Ransom on bass, Landreth's live dates on Grant Street, a comfy venue in hometown Lafayette, Louisiana, simmer the joint in a home cooked gumbo of power zydeco, blues, and straight ahead rock'n'roll. This is a live date to rival any: Landreth puts his Fender Strat through dizzying twists and turns, pouring out moans and cries, punctuated by staccato bursts of blues raunch. You're tempted to say, "Well, there's a lot of guys who can do that" until you realize that he does it all on slide. And while Grant Street easily elevates Landreth's slide prowess to the ranks of Albert Collins, Ry Cooder, and Bonnie Raitt, what makes these dates so distinctive is his mastery of the Strat's tonal range, heard only with the likes of Hendrix, Stevie Ray, and, yes, Eric Johnson--all non pareil Strat slingers. I'm disappointed that he didn't include "Levee Town" on Grant Street, but that's a fan's quibble. Fabulous disc.

Nellie McKay, Get Away from Me (Columbia)

Now, you may wonder as did I why the debut disc from this cute-as-a-button pixie would be graced with the dreaded PMRC parental advisory sticker. The opening song, "David." on the first of the two-disc set is a direct descendant of cabaret show tunes, an easily lilting melody slyly arranged with counterpoint backing vocals, a compact and gorgeous slice of songwriting craft and arranging. Then comes "Manhattan Avenue," a lolling, rolling jazz vocal reminiscent of, say Mel Torme or Harold Arlen, with a softly swinging trio of piano, upright bass, and drums behind the vocal. What you want to hear is "April in Paris," but what Nellie sings is "kittens are meowing/junkies are prowling/deep in the jazzy hue of the streetlight ..." ("Manhattan Avenue"). The music is 54th Street at Park, but the lyrics are 2nd Avenue.

What you find, however, is that the Tipper Gore Memorial Sticker is richly earned for "Sari", liberally laced with four and twelve letter expletives, and a few that fall in between. "Sari" lays bare McKay's immense talent--it's a rap with the feel of a smoky cafe where the last act was Bobby Short. Get Away From Me continues in a similar vein, deceptively clever melodies and arrangements suited to the likes of Norah Jones, doyenne Barbara Cook, Annie Ross, or Diana Krall with lyrics lifted directly from graffiti'd subway cars, deserted brownstones, and sidewalk novelty vendors.

We are in the midst of a bumper crop of young, female vocalists who pen most if not all of their material and excel on keyboards: Jones, Tori Amos, Rachael Yamagata, Alicia Keys, and now Nellie McKay. Get Away From Me--an obvious reference to Jones's Come Away With Me--is as distinctive, astonishing a debut disc as we've heard in some time, and right now one of the best two or three discs I've heard this year. BTW, it's a two-disc set with a little over 60 minutes of music, total, another "Side 1/Side 2" conceit, like Richard Thompson's You ? Me ? Us ? that I don't get when one would do-isn't that one reason we embraced CDs? You didn't have to turn the record over?

Pink Martini, Sympathique and Hang On Little Tomato (Heinz)

My oldest and very best friend, John the Gaunt, wears his French forebears modestly and gravitates, perhaps intuitively, perhaps conjuring a subconscious memory, toward French cafe music: Piaf, Brel, and the like. It is apropos, then, that he'd introduce me to Pink Martini, a sizable orchestra from Portland, Oregon, which is as comfortable with French cafe idioms as Italian, Spanish, and Greek cafe idioms. Pink Martini is the brainchild of pianist Thomas Lauderdale, who's assembled a cadre of crack singers and musicians, most of whom are classically trained, and turned them lose on genres grown undeservedly creaky with age and rust. Sympathique includes "Que Sera, Sera," the Doris Day nugget that's so out of date that the All Music Guide (www.allmusic.com) doesn't even list it; "Never on Sunday," "Donde Estas, Yolanda" and the title cut, a Guillaume Appolinaire poem set to music. If there's one lapse, it's their rendition of Ravel's Bolero, which, despite a great deal of energy, leaks at the seams. More successful is Lauderdale's and cellist Pansy Chang's duet of Villa-Lobos's "Song of the Black Swan" from Hang On Little Tomato, an equally quirky disc that plows similar fields. Its highlight is the title tune, a gentle exhortation to keeps one's upper lip stiff--that after every dark night comes the dawn. For all their retroness, Pink Martini will conjure images of five gauche bistros and a glass of Beaujolais nouveau or a bowl of cafe au lait on a Sunday afternoon. You could do worse.

The Radio Paradise Epicurean Delight. No, I haven't been cured of the "love the song, gotta get the album" syndrome just yet. The good news is that while some of the discs fall short of the expectations raised by the single aired on radioparadise.com, none of these is an out-and-out clunker. Things are looking up.

Sonic Youth, "Stones," Sonic Nurse (Geffen)

Okay, they're not exactly Youth any more, but if Steve Shelley's frenetic drumming is any indication, they haven't lost a single step. From the classic opener "Pattern Recognition" to the deliciously retro "Peace Attack"--sounding as if they'd just shared a stage with Murmur-vintage R.E.M.--Youth Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Lee Renaldo, Shelley, and Jim O'Rourke have crafted Sonic Nurse, a testament to how the sound of post-punk CBGB's has endured as more than a wistful idea some 25 years after its hey day. Like most of their recent output, Sonic Nurse is more song than noise, but the Youth aren't afraid to puncture relatively accessible compositions with guitar-and-electronica rave-ups. Some, like "Pattern Recognition" and "Dripping Dream" feature extended codas of sinewy instrumental muscle. "Stones," clocking at 7:01, is a marvel of engineering legerdemain, as Moore, Renaldo, and O'Rourke each maintain fairly steady and tonally unique guitar lines without stumbling all over each other. This is a terrific disc from one of the greats.

Rachael Yamagata, "Worn Me Down," Happenstance (RCA Victor)

Rachael Yamagata first caught my attention for her remarkable duet with Toots Hibbert on "Blame on Me" from Toots and the Maytalls' True Love, reviewed in No. 102, truly the loveliest highlight of that disc. While her vocal style and inflections bear obvious comparison to Fiona Apple, her songs expand over a broader horizon, embracing soft jazz ("Be Be Your Love") as well as straight ahead rock ("Worn Me Down") from her debut disc, Happenstance. Appropriately, a debut disc pays homage to influences, such as the sublime "1963" to Carole King and "Even So" to Roberta Flack, two of the original women with pianos. Not a bad way to start.

Beth Orton, "Stolen Car," Central Reservation (Arista)

My initial impression of Central Reservation was that "Stolen Car" had some real muscle and the rest of the disc dawdled behind. Indeed, "Stolen Car" is a bouncy number, guaranteed to get your booty shaking. But Beth Orton, better known as a techno vocalist (Chemical Brothers), doesn't brake the pace arbitrarily. Her unique contralto, a sort of huskier Natalie Merchant, addresses each song, each situation, each issue with what the song requires, nothing more, nothing less, merging a gift for imagery ("Your fingers are fuses/Your eyes are cinnamon"--"Stolen Car") with an ear for musical nuance. Guitarist Ted Barnes contributes some epic chops, and Everything But The Girl's Ben Watt tricks out "Stars All Seem to Weep" and an alternative version of the title cut. Central Reservation, issued in 1999, is a singer/songwriter at her best. After moving to Astralwerks, she issued Daybreaker in 2002 and The Other Side of Daybreak in 2003.

Butthole Surfers, "Pepper," Electric Larryland (Capitol)

Depending on your point of view, the Surfers either have the dandiest or the most offensive band name in rock, and are generally regarded as Class A sickos, mocking anything and everything, and grossing out what's left. Despite near constant label migration, the Surfers (Gibby Haynes, Paul Leary, and Jeff Pinkus) have maintained an intermittently slimy output for nearly two decades, a testament either to the staying power of punk or the gross underestimation of the level of mental illness among the nation's youth. Regardless, "Pepper," a dirge akin to and perhaps a parody of Beck's "Loser," was a hit in 1996. Electric Larryland is chock full of speed punk shouting ("Birds," "Ulcer Breakout") and some decent rock'n'roll ("Thermador," "Jingle of a Dog's Collar," "TV Star"), arresting without overt offense. You have to give the Surfers credit for perseverance: just think, in another five years or so, they'll be eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Wish I had a vote.

The Iguanas, "Flame On," Plastic Silver 9 Volt Heart (Yep Roc)

If the notion of earnestness pervades Los Lobos' output, their more laid back counterpart has to be The Iguanas. Born in disparate American locales (San Francisco, Omaha) but bred musically in New Orleans, The Iguanas move effortlessly among multiple musical genres: conjunto, Mexican folk, rhythm and blues, zydeco, and more. They, as much as the Lobos, embody what has come to characterize the slow evolution of rock'n'roll over the past two to three decades, the absorption of Latino and other ethnic paradigms into the traditional mix of hillbilly bluegrass, blues, and gospel. However oddly "Flame On" owes more to Alex Chilton and his altrock descendants, which is hardly surprising since drummer Greg Harrison and bassist Rene Coman worked in Chilton's band in the mid-'80s. The balance of the disc is a lovely melange of loping rockers and Latin-tinged two steps penned by guitarist Rod Hodges and saxophonist Joe Cabral. Plastic Silver 9 Volt Heart--the title cut is a fond remembrance of illicit transistor radio listening under the bed sheets--is The Iguanas' fifth recording and a quiet, sneaky little gem.

Greg Brown, "Who Woulda Thunk It," In the Dark with You (Red House)

Greg Brown, recording steadily since 1983, has flown gracefully under the popular radar, his gravelly baritone, a cross between Dylan and Knopfler, plying the backroads of the acoustic folk circuit. In the Dark with You was his third album, recorded in 1985, and is a pleasant, belated surprise to at least one critic. "Who Woulda Thunk It," pronounced "who'da thunk it," is a soft admission of human frailty with an arrangement straight out of J.J. Cale. One's tempted to attribute some of the corny song titles ("Help Me through this Funky Day") to his Iowa upbringing, but that would probably make too much of just a little. Regardless, this is one instance where RP has introduced for some and reminded others of unique talents like Brown. Start with In the Dark with You, and I guarantee you'll want to explore him further. I will.

Bruce Cockburn, "Night Train," The Charity of Night (Ryko)

I'll confess that I've never really cottoned to Bruce Cockburn, whose lineage and 24 albums stretches back to 1972. "Night Train" is a compelling tune and The Charity of Night is excellent. Before you deluge Ye Grumpy Olde Editor with letters, I'll hazard a guess that The Charity of Night is simply another example of a career's excellence. And no, I'm not an instant convert, but this disc's a keeper.

Peter Wolf, "Nothing but the Wheel," Sleepless (Artemis)

Remember the first time you saw a radio deejay in person? Oh, you'd conjured mental images of the rock jaw, wavy blond hair, and crystal blue eyes, all based on what you thought should have housed that incredible voice and slick wit. More often than not you got an object lesson: there was a reason these guys were on the radio. A precious few have successfully peeked out from behind the microphone: Howard Stern, Casey Kasem, and Johnny Holiday--who went on to a long career as a sports broadcaster--come to mind. Another mere less-than-handful have actually had the talent, voice and looks to be as successful as recording artists as they were successful DJs. One of course is the legendary Sylvester "Sly" Stone from the equally legendary KDIA in Oakland. The other is Peter Wolf from Boston's WBCN.

Sleepless is Wolf's sixth solo disc after he left the J. Geils Band, a legend of its own. For a white kid from the Bronx who haunted the Apollo Theater in the early '60s and fronted a blues band for seventeen years, Sleepless is a shape-shifter. After some time in Nashville, Wolf has produced a beguiling disc born and bred in the rolling hill country west of the Appalachias. Not country or bluegrass, Sleepless weds Wolf's R&B roots with country's better musical sensibilities, producing an arresting collection of gentle rockers that would be equally at home in the Jagger/Richards stable. Indeed, Sir Mick hisself guests on "Nothing but the Wheel." Oh, Wolf hasn't deserted R&B, as "A Lot of Good Ones Gone" attests.

Rosanne Cash, "I'm Only Sleeping," Retrospective (Columbia)

Retrospective was issued in 1995, capitalizing on the successive successes of Interiors and The Wheel, two essential Rosanne Cash albums, and gapping a recording hiatus later filled by 1996's 10 Song Demo. Retrospective contains some tracks from each Interiors and The Wheel, the hit "Runaway Train" from 1987's King's Record Shop, and a smattering of rarities. Okay, it's a record company's wet dream: repackaged material with enough new stuff to make fans lap it up. Cash's and hubby John Leventhal's remake of Revolver's "I'm Only Sleeping," however, is sublime--oh, not enough to recommend the casual listener rush out and get the disc, but one of the lovelier covers of a Lennon/McCartney tune I've heard in some time.

David Lindley and El Rayo-X, "Talk to the Lawyer," Win This Record (Asylum)

Greasy, geeky David Lindley wields one of the wickedest slide guitars around, and as this older (1982) collection suggests, cops or pens timeless material. "Talk to the Lawyer" is grand. The rest of Win This Record would be a hit if it were released tomorrow. That's good--very, very good.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, "Nature Boy," Abattoir Blues (Mute)

Rock is full of artsy-fartsy pretenders, literary wannabes who stray into epic poetry, unfortunately accompanied by epic compositions which eventually crash under their own weight. Goth punk Cave harbors similar tendencies, but has kept his punk credentials in order. He may fill his lyrics with classical allusions, but keeps his rock chops clean, avoiding prog rock excesses. Abattoir Blues is one half of a two-disc set. Oddly, the second disc is a "separate" album with its own title, Lyre of Orpheus--tho" we'll leave the implications of the latter aside. Both discs are fairly evenly balanced between some fairly heavy thrashing and more accessible fare. "Nature Boy" is one of the latter as are "There She Goes, My Beautiful World" and "Let the Bells Ring". Nick Cave is an acquired taste, nonetheless worth a listen or two.

Geoffrey Oryema, "The River," Beat the Border (Real World)

Oryema, an exiled Ugandan living in France, has released a number of discs, mostly in Europe, since his debut, 1991's Exile. Beat the Border, his second from 1993, is deliberately contemplative, as subtly flowing as a deep, wide African river. "The River" rivals Smetana's "Vltava" for indigenous onomatopoeia, each reflecting a unique cultural sensibility toward the river's role in the construction and conduct of trade and life on its banks. Similarly, songs like "Market Day" and "Lapwony"--sung in English and Oryema's native Acholi--describe different, wafer thin slices of Ugandan life or events with alternately haunting deliberation and infectious celebration. Beat the Border is lovely African folk and pop music, easily accessible and ultimately rewarding.

James McMurtry, "Chocktaw Bingo," St. Mary of the Woods (Sugar Hill)

Bill Goldsmith has had "Chocktaw Bingo" in heavy rotation for a while, long enough to have regular RP listeners screaming "Enough!" We disagree. Although "Chocktaw Bingo" is a filthy pleasure (with a "hard on like an old bois d'arc fencepost"), it's the same hirsute backside of middle America, the same swath of Tornado Alley that so captivates J.J. Cale, that McMurtry limns with a laconic deadpan drawl. St. Mary of the Woods is just the latest in a string of excellent recordings McMurtry has cut for Sugar Hill, and is well worth your nickel's investment.

Talk Talk, "Talk Talk," Natural History (EMI)

One of the many problems with pop music, indeed pop criticism, is the inevitable trend slavery--the bandwagon mentality. Oh, you try and resist, but there's so much good music being made all the time that you're compelled to keep tabs on what's just peeked around the corner. Sometimes very, very good bands, whose production after their defining hits veer away from the fashion of the day, get left with critical as well as popular crumbs. Talk Talk, one of the remarkable new wave synth bands of the early '80s (OMD, Soft Cell, Human League, Pet Shop Boys, etc.), continually reshaped its sound so that the band of 1988's Spirit of Eden barely resembled that on 1982's The Party's Over. Natural History is a "Best of ..." disc, which contains all the hits ("Talk, Talk," "It's My Life," "Give It Up") and then some. Talk Talk was a good band with a hefty legacy, and Natural History is the evidence. See if you can resist humming along with "Dum Dum Girl."

R.I.P. Hunter S. Thompson, Arthur Miller, John Raitt, Sandra Dee, Dick Weber, Samuel Alderson, Johnny Carson, Shirley Chisholm, Frank Kelly Freas, Paul Hester, Saul Bellow, John DeLorean, Karol Wojtyla, and his eminence Bobby Short.

Email: KJEast@cox.net. Later.

--KE
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Title Annotation:THE MUSIC
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Date:Jul 1, 2005
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