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MAY 8, 2000: 

*** Sasha IBIZA (Global Underground)

As an avatar of "progressive" (i.e., not disco-based) house music, Sasha has acquired star status rivaling Moby's. But these two full-length sessions, dedicated to the Mediterranean island of Ibiza (in whose clubs, irony of ironies, disco-based Eurohouse has ruled ever since the genre first appeared), sound very different from the thematic turbulences of Moby. Sasha's trance music flows gently and quietly, more undertone than tone. And like all trance DJs, Sasha rejects classic turntable mix techniques. His music never leaps, cuts, or cries out; it simply evolves, from one blend of riff and melody to another, with few pauses and only an occasional redirection. You will not likely leap or scream to Sasha's soft and introverted streams of sound, but if losing all sense of shape and moment is your nirvana, you might want to seek him out. Plush solitudes like Dominica's "Real Time," Space Manoeuvres' "Stage One," Medway's "The Bassline Track," Cass and Slide's "Perception," and Sasha's own "Xpander" have all the dreamy idealism of classic Eurodisco (Ibiza, yes) without the giggle and glitter usually attached thereto. -- Michael Freedberg


*** Neil Young SILVER & GOLD (Reprise)

It's been a year that's seen Neil Young confront his various pasts, reuniting with Crosby, Stills and Nash for an album and tour, sifting through material for a Buffalo Springfield box set, and now releasing a solo album that includes a number of songs that have been kicking around for as long as a decade and a half. Young fanatics will recognize the title track as a tune that dates back to the 1982 sessions for his Trans album, and it's been an occasional part of his live sets ever since. "Razor Love" is another track that's been part of Young's repertoire since the '80s. And "Buffalo Springfield" is, as the title (which was also the title of that band's second album) suggests, a moving homage to the '60s band that first brought Young and Stills together: "Like to see those guys again/And give it a shot/Maybe now we can show the world/What we got."

But though it's reported to have lost a couple of prime cuts to the CSNY album, Silver & Gold doesn't come across as a second-rate odds-and-sods collection. The setting itself -- loose, laid back, mostly acoustic, and fleshed out tastefully by a seasoned crew, including drummer Jim Keltner, keyboardist Spooner Oldham, and bassist Duck Dunn -- is the glue that holds these 10 tracks, old and new, together. And, it's not as if Young's songwriting style or focus had changed all that much in the past decade. He does either the hard-rockin' Crazy Horse thing or the Harvest-style rootsy acoustic thing, and both sound equally like Neil Young: the former positions him as the Godfather of Grunge whereas the latter is a reminder that he's also the Great Uncle of Alterna-Country. Silver & Gold may be more evidence that Young's days of breaking new ground are well behind him, but it also suggests that the territory he's already staked out remains more than fertile enough for his needs. -- Matt Ashare


*** TAKE ME HOME: A TRIBUTE TO JOHN DENVER (Badman)

The brainchild of Red House Painters frontman Mark Kozelek, Take Me Home enlists a fleet of shoegazing minimalists to pay homage to fallen country-folk icon John Denver. Aggressively earnest and never even ironically hip, Denver would seem an unlikely target for the affections of inveterate indie sadcore types like Tarnation and Low (a poem on the disc's inner sleeve equates Denver with the artists' more innocent childhoods, which may be the answer). It's telling that no one actually takes on the title track, but many of Denver's other hits are accounted for. Thanks to kid-glove treatment from slo-fi acts both great (the Innocence Mission) and small (the Sunshine Club?), Denver's open, airy compositions translate better than you might expect. Tarnation turn "Leaving on a Jet Plane" into an ethereal dirge; the Red House Painters' stark, gorgeous version of "I'm Sorry" is their best work in years, and Bonnie Prince Billy, otherwise known as Palace's Will Oldham, dispatches Denver's famed "The Eagle and the Hawk" with creaky aplomb. -- Allison Stewart


* GHOST DOG: THE WAY OF THE SAMURAI (Epic/Razorsharp/Sony Music Soundtrax)

Hollywood is running out of Shakespeare plays, E.M. Forster novels, campy TV shows, and golden-age film classics to remake, so now we have Ghost Dog, a film inspired by a couple of songs from Wu-Tang Forever (1997). But there's a law of diminishing returns at work here, and the RZA's soundtrack -- the accompaniment to a good movie based on a visionary album -- sounds pretty damn diminished. Ghostface Killah, by far Wu-Tang Clan's best MC, sat this one out, passing the microphone to folks whose names alone have become Wu punch lines: Blue Raspberry, Masta Killa, Tekitha, La the Darkman. The RZA's aimless beats, though well suited to Jim Jarmusch's sleepy movie, don't make for very good rap songs, and Forest Whitaker's swashbuckling science (he reads from Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai between songs) is no less ridiculous on the album than it was on screen. There are a few reasons to be optimistic about the RZA's long-promised solo album: "Zip Code" is a brisk, otherworldly dose of his current keyboard infatuation, and "Strange Eyes" would be great without the vocals. Someone should tell the RZA that if the Wu-Tang Clan still want to take over the world, they'll need something sharper than "Music makes me lose control/This is not just rock and roll/Hip-hop digs right to the soul/Music makes me lose control." -- Kelefa Sanneh


**** Gary Lucas IMPROVE THE SHINING HOUR (Knitting Factory)

Here's 20 years of this NYC-based guitarist's versatile genius pressed into 18 tracks. They range from the Beefheartian weirdness that first got Lucas recognized (his live 1980 solo showpiece "Flavor Bud Living" and a work tape of the Captain's thorny "Oat Hate") to his hit collaboration with Joan Osborne, "Spider Web" (sung here by David Johansen). That wide embrace is what makes Lucas so exceptional. Not only can he navigate the oft-murky waters of textural music and improvisation, he can write a damn solid pop tune, too. It's a pity Jeff Buckley's estate wouldn't let Lucas include any of his rich work with the late singer, with whom he wrote "Grace" and other beauties. Nonetheless, there's plenty to be charmed by. Solo suites of slippery orchestral guitar, pop songs that straddle jazz and blues, a live drum 'n' bass improv with DJ Spooky, lovely poetics with vocalist Mary Margaret O'Hara, Beefheart's touching ballad "Her Eyes Are a Blue Million Miles," and an on-stage National-steel-guitar match-up with Nick Cave nestle among other goodies. Yet Lucas's unerring sense of melody and soul see to it that he's never overshadowed by his high-profile peers. -- Ted Drozdowski


*** Fatboy Slim ON THE FLOOR AT THE BIG BEAT BOUTIQUE (Astralwerks)

Although it offers no new material, On the Floor at the Big Beat Boutique should keep Fatboy Slim fans happy till autumn, when his next album comes out. Recorded live at the Big Beat Boutique in Brighton, England, On the Floor is an energy-charged documentation of his gloriously unpretentious live sets, which are notorious for cheekily blending everything from classic hip-hop to thumpin' house to jacked-up remixes of Prince and Cornershop. Deftly cross-fading between pre-school funk classics (Michael Viner's Incredible Bongo Band's "Apache"), acid-house phreakouts (CLS's "Can You Feel It?"), and a couple of his own big-beat barnstormers ("Michael Jackson" and "The Rockefeller Skank"), Fatboy Slim lives up to his reputation as a genre-blurring and party-starting DJ. His crowd-pleasing mix of coked-up breakbeats, body-rock shout-outs, and monsters of rock riffs may never please dance-music snobs, but the rest of us will continue to groove. -- Michael Endelman


*** Cypress Hill SKULL & BONES (Columbia)

Cypress Hill embraced rock early in their career, collaborating with Sonic Youth on the pioneering Judgment Night soundtrack and twice going on tour with Lollapalooza. They've taken that affection one step further on their fifth album, a two-disc set that includes a full-length hip-hop disc (Skull) and an EP's worth of hard rock (Bones). Sen Dog takes the lead on the rock disc, talking more trash than weed while the guys from his hardcore side project, SX-10, provide all sorts of tuneless crunch. B-Real takes back the reins on the biz bio-pic "(Rock) Superstar," a typically brooding DJ Muggs production that also appears on the hip-hop disc -- minus the live band -- as "(Rap) Superstar." The rock tracks are as forceful as the group's early stuff was blunted, but don't think Cypress have given hip-hop the short shrift on Skull & Bones. They sound delightfully rambunctious on the Skull disc, starting turf wars on "Cuban Necktie" and offering a hilarious discourse on "weed etiquette" on "Can I Get a Hit." Cypress long ago developed a formula as reliable as AC/DC's. On Skull & Bones, they prove it doesn't hurt to have a little sense of adventure, either. -- Sean Richardson


**1/2 Big Pun YEEEAH BABY (Loud)

Big Punisher had achieved rap-mogul status before his untimely death, mostly thanks to "I'm Not a Player," an irresistible hip-hop anthem that propelled his multi-textured Loud debut, Capital Punishment, to multi-platinum-sales status. His final body of work shares the same flavor. The gruff vocals of (the recently MIA) M.O.P on "New York Giants" offer a contrast to the usual dick-swinging diatribe between Pun and his cohort. Pun also stirs up some solid beats, and he adds clever loops from the Rocky soundtrack and Starsky and Hutch. "Leather Face" and "You Was Wrong" with Fat Joe and Ruff Ryder Drag-On hit hard; "Laughing at You" and "Nigga Shit" have a clever, straight-up style that helps mold Pun's persona. The skits on Yeeeah Baby are silly and might be a few tracks too long, but give this a listen or two and you'll realize why Christopher Rios, a/k/a Big Pun, was so well respected in the fickle hip-hop world. -- Chris Conti


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