Two decades ago, new albums from Fun Lovin’ Criminals, Chuck E. Weiss, Cesar Rosas and others were spinning away in my portable CD player. Here’s what I had to say about them back then (with some minor editing):
Fun Lovin’ Criminals
Back in the day, it seemed Fun Lovin’ Criminals wanted to be Beastie Boys. Now it seems they’re leaning closer to a new trio of role models: Shaft, Slaughter and Superfly.
Yep, the New York City goofballs behind the 1996 novelty hit Scooby Snacks — a head-bobbing frat-boy rap anchored by a chunky guitar riff and Reservoir Dogs samples — have grown up a bit, mellowed out a bit, and followed Quentin Tarantino into blaxploitationland.
You can hear it all over this surprisingly sophisticated sophomore CD; in the wah-wah guitars, punchy horn lines, piccolo-high conga drums, late-night saxes and sweet strings of songs that could have been lifted straight from Curtis Mayfield and Isaac Hayes’ greatest hits. And let’s not forget love daddy Barry White. He gets the biggest props of all from the boys, who namecheck the king of boudoir soul on the slinky homage Love Unlimited: “If Barry White saved your life / Or got you back with your ex-wife / Sing Barry White / It’s all right.” Oh baby, it sure is.
It’s even all right when the boys stray from the soul power tip. One tune takes a Bo Diddley slide guitar riff and twists it into a rockin’ ode to Korean-owned convenience stores; another features none other than B.B. King playing a tasteful solo (like he has any other kind) over a boozy, retro-swing ballad; others venture into Led Zep crunch, Sabotage-style rap-rock and even country-metal.
It’s hard to say what holds it all together. Maybe it’s the vocals — instead of the House Of Pain-style gang screaming of their earlier album Come Find Yourself, 100% Colombian finds Huey, Fast and Steve taking turns, putting a little emotion in their voices and even crooning a note or two.
Or maybe it’s the ever-present humour of the lyrics: Try as you might, you can’t help but smile at the gleeful absurdity of lines like “I got supermodels on my D” or “Hanging on the street with the ill shopkeeper / Breaking down a broken parking meter.”
Whatever it is, it’s clear Fun Lovin’ Criminals have finally found their own sound. Now, they can finally be the band other folks want to be.
Jimmy Rogers All-Stars
Blues Blues Blues
When venerable blues guitarist Rogers died while making this album, it turned from a star-studded CD into a posthumous tribute. And a high-wattage one: Eric Clapton, Mick and Keef, Page and Plant and even Canuck six-stringer Jeff Healey are just some of the legends who show up to trade verses and licks with Rogers on classics like John Lee Hooker’s Boom Boom or his own Sweet Home Chicago. My fave moment: When the numerically challenged Stephen Stills sings, “Two and two are four / Four and four are six.” But never mind; it all adds up to one electrifying homage to the man who introduced the electric guitar to Chicago blues.
Buddy Guy & Junior Wells
Last Time Around — Live At Legends
Taped in 1993 at Buddy’s Chicago blues joint, this live unplugged CD captures guitarist Guy and harmonicat Wells’ final gig as a duo. Our thanks go out to whoever had the foresight to preserve this magical finale. Armed with only six strings, a harp and their voices, Buddy and Junior turn in a captivating, intimate set, breezing through standards like Hoochie Coochie Man and Key To The Highway, jiving with the crowd and each other, and generally making the kind of timeless blues that you don’t hear often enough these days — and making it look as easy as breathing.
¿Dónde Jugarán Las Niñas?
Two years after it was released in the U.S., this Grammy-nominated Mexican rap-rock masterpiece finally got issued in Canada. About time. With a funky, hardknuckle style that resembles Beastie Boys rapping en Español over the Red Hot Chili Peppers on a serious dose of Spanish Fly, these loco Latinos can be as explosive as their name. But they can also roll into an East L.A. low-rider groove or a pimpified disco strut as easy as rolling an R. Canadians had to wait long enough for this disc; you shouldn’t wait a second longer to buy it.
Los Lobos guitarist Rosas strikes out as a lone wolf on this solo debut — and man, does he howl. Unlike last year’s Tex-Mex extravaganza Los Super Seven, the raw, stripped-down Soul D mostly stays north of the Rio Grande, charting a path through smoky Texas blues, greasy Memphis R&B and, of course, good ol’ American bar-band roots-rock. Rosas doesn‘t completely ignore his roots; he and Texas Tornado accordion god Flaco Jimenez squeeze off a few Latino gems to round out the set. All you need to supply is the cerveza.
Chuck E. Weiss
Now that Tom Waits albums come along as often as solar eclipses, fans have to get by on his moonlight gigs, like his cameo on Fishing With John Lurie or this disc from long-time drinking buddy Weiss — yes, the Chuck E. who’s in love. It’s certainly easy for Waits aficionados to love this — Tom sings backup, plays guitar and even produced the sucker. For his part, Chuck E. channels the twisted spirit of early ’80s Waits, down to the gravel-throated delivery, mutated dada blues and beatnik-patois poetry about boozy barflies and greasy spoons. It’s no Heartattack & Vine, but it’ll do while we wait for Waits.
Flotsam & Jetsam
Talk about survival of the fittest. On their seventh album in 15 years, Phoenix’s F&J have certainly learned how to survive in the musical jungle. And it’s no wonder they’ve outlasted the competition — they’re sleek, fast , nimble-fingered and wily, cleverly layering inventive, catchy guitar lines over a rock-solid, reliable foundation. And when they have to, you just know they can bludgeon their opponents into submission.
Piece Of Paradise
Some people wanna fill the world with silly love songs — and drive the little girls crazy. The latest folks to take up the challenge are Montreal soul-pop duo Sky, who come ready-made for teen-zine covers and teenyboppers’ bedroom walls. Antoine is the tattooed, neat-freak party animal; James is the sky-diving, introspective, sci-fi fan (as their bio helpfully points out). Oh yeah, they make music, too — ultra-slick urban hang suite soul that’s slightly more sophisticated than typical teen-beat syrup. It won’t appeal to anybody old enough to drink legally — but as they say: The men don’t know, but the little girls understand.
Since Foxy has a reputation for pimp-slapping folks who criticize her, I’d like to state unequivocally and for the record that her sophomore CD Chyna Doll is the finest hip-hop album ever recorded. The beats never sound like knockoffs of last year’s Timbaland tracks, her foul-mouthed raps are anything but uninspired, her voice is the opposite of weak and thin, 14 guest rappers on a 17-song CD isn’t nearly too many, and almost none of these tunes are half-baked, dirty-joke ditties. Oh, and that purple-feather bikini shot on the cover? The very definition of taste. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to enrol in the Music Critic Protection Program.
Those mix tapes you made at home? Imagine they were so good people wanted to buy ’em — a million people. That’s sorta what happened to New York’s DJ Clue, who took two turntables, a microphone and a knack for knowing which obscure hip-hop track was the Next Big Thing, and spun them into gold. Now that he has a major-label deal, the rappers come to him. DMX, Canibus, Jay-Z, Foxy Brown and Missy Elliott are just a few of the hip-hop Who’s Who contributing original tracks to this funky non-stop groove. If only your mix tapes sounded so good.
Ten Foot Pole
“My gas pedal is on the floor,” sings Tony Palermo at the start of his Bay Area punk foursome’s fourth CD. He means it. These speed demons come off the line at full throttle and barely let up the pace through a half-hour of finely tuned, rubber-burning pop-punk. Meanwhile, the glistening harmonies, confessional lyrics and subtle gear-change arrangements are the racing stripes that set TFP apart from the rest of the muscle-car pack. You? You’ll just be bobbing your head like one of those little dogs in the back window.
Jeep Beat Collective
Technics Chainsaw Massacre
While plenty of DJs sacrifice songs for sheer turntable technique, the JBC — a.k.a. Brit mixmaster The Ruf — puts artistry ahead of acrobatics. Which is not to say you don’t get plenty of scratching, sweeping, skipping and scraping on this 82-minute opus; it’s just that Ruf prefers to use the steel wheels as an instrument in service of a song. He uses a low, slow, repetitive wobble to build a backbeat, creates verses and choruses with melodic scratching, then tosses off solos with flurries of complex needlepoint. Jeep Beat Collective is definitely this year’s model — and cruising in style.
Paris Is Sleeping, Respect Is Burning Vol. 2
Daft Punk, Dmitri From Paris, Air — these days, if the house music ain’t from France, it ain’t worth getting on the floor. This compilation goes right to the source of this French revolution: Respect nightclub in Paris, where most of these hits took off. Speaking of hits, you get enough of them here to start your own club: Stardust’s Music Sounds Better With You, DJ Punk-Roc’s My Beatbox and Norma Jean Bell’s I’m The Baddest Bitch, along with tracks from Avalanche, We In Music, Chezere, Clement and more. C’est chic.
Named after an anarchist group, these French gypsy-punks take a similar approach to music. Red-hot Parisian jazz, rock en Español, flamenco, rap, rockabilly, reggae and ska, funk, salsa, surf and even waltzes all get tossed into the grab-bag — and played with the idealistic fervor of The Clash. And even though it’s been years since Mano Negra broke up, these two dozen tracks from their seven albums fit right in with today’s cut-and-paste global rock.
The latest posse of glamtronic gunslingers to ride into town is made up of triggermen from other gangs — two sharpshooters from XC-NN and a hired hand from Sisters Of Mercy. Now that they’re taking the stage on their own, they’ve come heavily armed with a full arsenal: Percolating Garbage-y tracks; sweeping sinister synths; big bashing beats; razor’s-edge guitars; and world-weary Britpop vocals that sound a little like Bono on Valium. With all that, Tin Star could clean up in this one-horse town.