One Fierce Beer Coaster (Geffen 51242)
Like fellow Philadelphians the Dead Milkmen, the guys in the Bloodhound Gang aren't above using their music to make a few crude jokes. To their credit, though, the Bloodhounds' humor isn't entirely dependent on wordplay. In fact, some of the funniest moments on "One Fierce Beer Coaster" are purely musical. "Fire Water Burn," for instance, opens with a mournfully strummed acoustic guitar that sounds as if it would be utterly at home on a folk album, and is followed by Jimmy Pop Ali crooning, "The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire..." -- a phrase long-time rap fans will recognize as the chorus from the 1985 hit "The Roof Is On Fire" by Rock Master Scott and the Dynamic Three. Between the band's chugging, guitar-based arrangement and Ali's droning, Stephen Wright-like delivery, the sound is about as far from rap as rock music can get, but the rhymes and catch-phrases are pure hip-hop. Then there's the band's cover of "It's Tricky," which makes the Run-D.M.C. oldie sound like something from the Slayer songbook, and "Lift Your Head Up High (And Blow Your Brains Out)," perhaps the jauntiest go-kill-yourself song ever recorded. Funny stuff, even if it is often as tasteless as frat-house humor.
Matapedia (Hannibal 13942)
Before folk music was taken simply to mean "old songs played on acoustic instruments," it was the form musicians used to talk about their lives and the lives of people around them. Thank goodness Kate and Anna McGarrigle still understand the value of that approach and pursue it with vigor on "Matapedia." Even though the duo's music is as catchy and well-crafted as any contemporary singer/songwriter's, there's a deeper resonance to their songs, as if the two had distilled their ideas into something pure and universal. So even those who have no personal connection to the landscapes (physical or psychological) delineated in such songs as "Jacques et Gilles" or "Going Back to Harlan" will find themselves filled with longing as they hear each sad, sweet melody. Of course, not every number plays on the heartstrings so -- the feisty, frankly libidinous "Talk About It" is a guaranteed smile-inducer -- but like the most enduring folk singers, the McGarrigles appreciate the power of a melancholy melody and pump it for all it's worth. A wonderfully moving album.
Rising from the East (Tristar 36850)
In America, Bhangra is by no means the pop craze it is in India or Britain -- indeed, it's barely on the cultural radar here. But if anyone stands a chance of changing that, it's Bally Sagoo, and it would be hard to imagine a better introduction for Americans than his new album, "Rising from the East." One of the genre's most successful producers, Sagoo is expert at incorporating such Western club styles as dancehall, dub, ambient and hip-hop into his mixes without diluting the essentially Indian nature of the music. So though the skanking piano that snakes beneath "Ban Mein Aati Thi" gives the track a definite reggae feel, the percolating tablas and whining sitar make it plain that this music is by no means Jamaican. Conversely, as much as the odd intervals and exotic vocals in "Aaju Ve Maahi" make it plain that this is not your typical slow jam, the rhythm is nonetheless driven entirely by the same synth voicing and booming drum machine sounds heard on many hip-hop hits. Add in Sagoo's genius for invoking the restful placidity of ambient without playing upon the usual club-land cliches, and "Rising from the East" becomes essential listening for adventurous club music fans.
Wilderness (Blue Note 45712)
It's hard not to admire the breadth of ambition that jazz drummer Tony Williams displays on "Wilderness." In addition to some acoustic quintet work with saxophonist Michael Brecker, guitarist Pat Metheny, pianist Herbie Hancock and bassist Stanley Clarke, Williams also brings in a full orchestra on several tracks. Yet as impressive as the album's range is, it's hard to draw a bead on what, precisely, Williams is trying to convey. It's more than slightly jarring, for example, to go from the stirring, Copland-esque orchestral piece "Wilderness Rising" to the funky, clavinet-fired "China Town" -- especially when that tune is followed by yet another orchestral number, this one ("Infant Wilderness") featuring Williams, Hancock (on piano) and Clarke (on doublebass) in a setting that evokes nothing so much as the symphonic work Dave Brubeck has done. Mix in a smattering of straight-ahead quintet numbers, like the raucous "China Road" or the skittering "Gambia," and what you're left with is an album that makes sense in small pieces but, when taken as a whole, is too confusing to digest easily.
Pub Date: 12/26/96