Blue Moon Swamp (Warner Bros. 45426)
John Fogerty (pictured) is the kind of guy who would release no album before its time, and as such spent almost three years working on "Blue Moon Swamp," his first new album in over a decade. Yet there's nothing fussy or labored about these performances; in fact, when Fogerty and company find their groove, the sound is so effortless and offhand you'd almost think they were just jamming. Some of that can be chalked up to the inspired simplicity of his writing, as the album's best songs -- particularly "Rambunctious Boy" and "Bring It Down to Jelly Roll" -- are as rootsy and direct as those he wrote for Creedence Clearwater Revival. But there's also a deeper sense of musical tradition to these songs. For instance, the chorus to "A Hundred and Ten In the Shade" doesn't just allude to gospel harmony, but finds Fogerty getting a bit of the real things from the Fairfield Four. Likewise, "Blueboy" offers a near-perfect impression of Slim Harpo's tremolo-soaked blues guitar, while "Blue Moon Nights" could pass for the sort of thing Johnny Cash did in his Sun Records days. No wonder Fogerty took his time -- with material this classic, why rush?
Waterbed Hev (Uptown/Universal 53033)
Some rappers play it way too hard, spitting out rhymes as if they mean to do bodily harm; others are annoyingly slack, with a style so laid back they barely keep up with the beat. But Heavy D's delivery is just right, offering enough aggression to grab our attention, but with enough restraint to bring a delightful sense of swing to his cadences. Maybe that's why "Waterbed Hev" feels so comfortable, because between the two, he's able to convey both the contemporaneity of hip-hop and the down-home charm of R&B.; Few rappers integrate vocals as well as he does, and the emphasis he puts on soul harmony singing in tracks like "Keep It Comin' " and "You Can Get It" leaves them with as much melodic interest as rhythmic momentum. At the same time, he has no trouble holding his own against the rat-a-tat rhythms of gangsta rappers like Tha Dogg Pound, who make a guest appearance on "Can You Handle It." But the best thing about "Waterbed Hev" is the way it keeps Heavy D's sound current while acknowledging his connection to hip-hop's past. So "Wanna Be a Playa" updates the drum machine pattern Run-D.M.C. used on "Sucker M.C.'s" while "Get Fresh Hev" has Hev going old-school with a human beatbox routine, and neither track seems dated. How many other rappers could manage to be both as classic and contemporary?
Speed 2: Cruise Control
Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Virgin 44204)
Moving from bus to boat may seem something of a stretch plot-wise, but it's a real advantage for the soundtrack to "Speed 2: Cruise Control." Because moving the location from L.A. highways to a Caribbean cruise is a perfect excuse for packing the soundtrack album with reggae numbers. So we get new tracks from Shaggy, Rayvon, Common Sense and UB40. It isn't just reggae, though; there are also R&B; songs, most notably Mark Morrison's deliciously funky "Crazy," and even a bit of techno, thanks to TK's adrenalized instrumental, "Speed (TK Re-Mix)." But the album's most surprising moments come with its cover versions. Maxi Priest delivers a delightfully dreamy rendition of "The Tide Is High," and Betty Wright does a reading of "Every Breath You Take" that suggests what Tina Turner would have sounded like had she been a reggae singer. But Jimmy Cliff's oddly faithful retread of "You Can Get It If You Really Want" is fairly pointless, while Leah Andreone's take on "I Feel the Earth Move" is, well, considerably less than earth-shaking.
The Minus Five
The Lonesome Death of Buck McCoy (Hollywood 62115)
Breaking the Ether (Epic 67908)
As if being in R.E.M. weren't enough to keep Peter Buck occupied, the guitarist has several side projects going at the moment. First, there's the Minus Five, a group assembled by Young Fresh Fellows guitarist Scott McCaughey. Buck co-wrote and co-produced the Five's fourth release, "The Lonesome Death of Buck McCoy," a slab of rough-hewn pop that falls somewhere between early Steve Forbert and middle-period Kinks. Trouble is, "Buck McCoy" is a little too enamored of musical whimsy, leaving it vulnerable to such exercises in tuneful-but-trite as "Moonshine Girl" and "Popsicle Shoppe." Buck takes an equally active role in Tuatura, an instrumental combo he shares with Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin and Luna bassist Justin Harwood. "Breaking the Ether" is really neither jazz nor rock, but a sort of instrumental alternapop with vague connections to worldbeat. Although it doesn't quite give Buck the chance to show off what he's learned from the John Coltrane albums he adores, it does offer an interesting context for his playing -- even if the end result comes alarmingly close to mood music.
Pub Date: 5/29/97