HOUSE OF PAIN
House of Pain (Tommy Boy 1056)
Hip-hop is really jumping this summer. First Kriss Kross tops the charts with the bouncy, ebullient "Jump," and now House of Pain is working its way into the Top 10 with the similarly springy "Jump Around." But just as the guys in House of Pain have more to say than simply "Get out your seat and jump around," there's more to "House of Pain" than one single. In fact, "Jump Around," barely scratches the surface; not only are there tougher rhymes elsewhere on the album ("Danny Boy, Danny Boy," for instance), but much more imaginative music. "Guess Who's Back," for instance, owes much of its appeal to the way the backing track slips from a funky, Stax-derived soul groove into a circus calliope quote, while bass-heavy loop beneath "Come and Get Some of This" is so insinuatingly idiosyncratic that it's impossible not to be drawn in. All told, "House of Pain" is definitely a pleasure.
Bob James/Earl Klugh (Warner Bros. 26939)
Some duos strike sparks so easily that it seems almost as if the music would have to be fiery. That's never been the case with Bob James and Earl Klugh, though; these two have always seemed calm and collected when collaborating. Perhaps that's why they've dubbed their third album of duets "Cool." Of course, it helps that the album's tone also fits the title, from the well-chilled funk of "Movin' On" to the tuneful restraint of "The Night That Love Came Back." But don't get these guys wrong -- the music's mood may be cool, but the playing can get pretty hot, be it through the percussive percolation of "New York Samba" or in the quiet intensity of "Terpsichore."
Opus III (East/West 92160)
In classical music, performers generally go out of their way to honor the composer's intentions. But no such niceties exist in pop music; indeed, the best remakes are often those which simply ignore the approach taken by the songwriter. For instance, the original rendition of "It's a Fine Day" (by "Jane") was rambling and dreamlike, a voice-only recording that sounded like snatches of someone's private song. By contrast, the Opus III version adds both melodic focus and a booming house beat, a combination that turns the tune into an unexpectedly addictive dance single. A similar bit of magic is worked on "Mind Fruit," Opus III's debut, with the King Crimson chestnut "I Talk to the Wind," but little else on the album is as catchy, suggesting that Opus III is only as good as its raw material.
The Red Devils (Def American 26795)
Ever since bands like Canned Heat and Cream made blues-rock safe for the Top-40, the standard rock and roll approach to Chicago blues has been to emphasize the melody, downplay the rough edges and soften the instrumental sound. But that's exactly what the Red Devils doesn't do. Instead, the sound this quintet pumps out on "King King" is raw and realistic, boasting the same hypnotic riffs and edgy enthusiasm that made the original Chess recordings so revelatory. Even better, the group avoids the sort of overplaying that usually undoes white blues bands, leaving the sound lean, mean and utterly believable.