The Resurrection (Rap-a-Lot/Noo Trybe 41555)
N.W.A. may have spun off a more impressive set of solo careers (Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Eazy E), but album-for-album, the Geto Boys was easily the greatest of the gangsta rap acts. Moreover, as "The Resurrection" makes clear, Scarface, Bushwick Bill and Willie D still have it. Two years after releasing their farewell album, "Till Death Do We Part," the group is back, and profane as ever. Yet for all the verbal violence, there's seldom the sense that these raps glorify violence; instead, what the rough language of "Open Minded" and "I Just Wanna Die" conveys is the group's outrage at the brutality of a culture that values clothes and cars more than the people in them. Granted, that kind of blunt-edged morality has less to do with the group's appeal than the thumping, soulful beats of "Hold It Down" and the dark, funky "Geto Boys and Girls," and it's a fair bet that some listeners will totally miss the bitter irony that lies at the heart of "Geto Fantasy." But there's no mistaking the message in their smart, bitter remake of War's "The World Is a Ghetto," and it's that sly combination of pop hooks and pointed content that will keep the Geto Boys from ever dying off.
Dave Matthews Band
Crash (RCA 66904)
If the Dave Matthews Band didn't have such good songs, they'd be just another act on the jam-band circuit. Then again, if this quintet didn't play so well, listening to those songs wouldn't be quite as much fun as it is with "Crash," the DMB's second major-label release. That Matthews' writing has improved since "Under the Table and Dreaming" is obvious in both the ambition of the songs and the immediacy of their appeal. There's an ingenuity and complexity to songs like "Two Steps" and "Drive In Drive Out" that would warrant comparison to the most intricate art rock, were it not for the fact that those songs are utterly without the showiness or pretensions that made art rock seem so pompous. And while there's enough instrumental brilliance built into "Tripping Billies" or "Say Goodbye" to leave technique-obsessed listeners hanging on every note, you don't have to be dazzled by the polyrhythmic polish of Carter Beauford's drumming or the brilliant eclecticism of Boyd Tinsley's violin playing to be swept away by the power of the music. Maybe what really makes the Matthews Band so special is that tunes like the catchy, topical "Too Much" offer something for everyone -- smart lyrics, great playing, a good beat and a simple, sing-along chorus. What more could a pop fan want?
'Schoolhouse Rock!' Rocks (Atlantic/Lava 92681)
If you spent Saturday mornings in the '70s hunkered down by the friendly blue glow of your parents' television, you probably have fond memories of ABC's "Schoolhouse Rock!" A classic of learning-can-be-fun programming, it took basic lessons in grammar, arithmetic and civics, framed them with memorable, rock-oriented melodies and then animated the whole thing. It may not have gotten the press Kenneth Clarke earned for "Civilisation," but it definitely left its mark, if "'Schoolhouse Rock!' Rocks" is any indication. This all-star tribute offers remakes of actual "Schoolhouse Rocks!" numbers by alternarockers ranging from Better Than Ezra and Blind Melon to the Lemonheads and Moby. Nor are they amateurish, we-did-it-our-way renditions like those found on "Saturday Morning: Cartoons' Greatest Hits," as even the likes of Pavement and Ween respect the craft and professionalism of the originals. That's not to say there's no updating, for Skee-Lo's "The Tale of Mr. Morton" is far funkier than the '70s version. But in every case the lesson comes through so clearly that you may be surprised at how much you learned watching cartoons back then.
Second Wind (Almo Sound 80005)
Even though he has had tremendous success as a pop instrumentalist over the years, Herb Alpert has never been taken particularly seriously as a jazz trumpet player. Sure, he could sell a tune, and his business instincts are legendary -- he was the "A" in A&M;, and is now the "Al" in Almo Sound -- but as a brass man, most people ranked him well below the Chet Bakers and Doc Severinsens of the world. But perhaps it's time to reconsider. Although "Second Wind" is hardly the most technique-intense trumpet album of the last 12 months, neither is it just pop fluff. Working with a group that includes keyboardist Jeff Lorber and guitarist Paul Pesco, Alpert and his sidemen expertly navigate the currents between pop and jazz, keeping the music simple enough to seem tuneful while exercising enough improvisatory imagination to keep serious listeners engaged. But the most impressive thing of all about Alpert's playing is how deceptively smooth it is. By tossing off each tune as if it were nothing, Alpert keeps you from noticing just how smooth his sound is and how difficult his parts can be -- two sure marks of an extremely capable player. Would that all pop jazz albums were this well-played or carefully crafted.
Pub Date: 4/25/96