HARD TO WET, EASY TO DRY
Mad Cobra (Columbia 52751)
Dance hall reggae has always depended on repetition to make its point, from the clockwork regularity of its clanking, mechanical pulse, to the lilting, singsong cadences of the dance hall MCs. Even so, few performers ever manage to make that repetition seem as totally hypnotic as Mad Cobra does with "Hard to Wet, Easy to Dry." Of course, it helps that he has a first-rate rhythm machine behind him, cranking out a steady stream of near-irresistible grooves. But it's Mad Cobra's wordplay that ultimately carries the album, and whether he's chattering lasciviously about a "Good Body Gal," fervently insisting that it's time to "Flex," or working the rhythmic variety of "Run Him," his verbal virtuosity is never less than mesmerizing.
SWEET OLD WORLD
Lucinda Williams (Chameleon 61351)
ABecause country music has traditionally valued vocal agility over writing skills, Lucinda Williams has had a hard time getting the acclaim she deserves. As a singer, she's nothing special, delivering her melodies with an unadorned accuracy that's as plain as a Shaker chair, and just as functional. But as a songwriter, Williams is a sensation, filling her songs with such vivid images, credible characters and memorable melodies that her best songs seem like old favorites even when they're brand-new. And "Sweet Old World" boasts at least half a dozen such songs, ranging in character from the giddy good nature of "Lines Around Your Eyes" to mournful resignation of "Something About What Happens When We Talk."
Allanah Myles (Atlantic 82402)
Why is it that some singers seem utterly blind to their own strengths? Take Allanah Myles, whose sophomore effort, "Rockinghorse," is at its best when she sticks to rock and roll basics. Give her a guitar boogie tune like "Sonny Say You Will" or something with a dark, bluesy pulse, like "Livin' On a Memory," and Myles comes across as cool, confident and convincing. But let her try for the slick sentimentality of "Song Instead of a Kiss," and she sounds overblown and unconvincing, as if trying to con her audience into thinking she's something she isn't.
SHOT FORTH SELF LIVING
Medicine (Def American 45067)
Make no mistake, Medicine's "Shot Forth Self Living" is the sort of album you'll love immediately or hate even sooner. For some listeners, its slow-grinding rhythms and dense, dissonant textures will seem an inventive alternative to the usual post-punk psychedelia; for others, its layers of clangorous feedback and hissing white noise will seem sheer torture. But in a way, it's too bad the album insists on coming on so strong, because those who can endure the aural abuse at the album's beginning will find their patience rewarded by the melodic resilience of such relatively accessible songs as "Miss Drugstore" and "Sweet Explosion."