Rhythm & Views
SEPTEMBER 21, 1998:
Marc Ribot y Los Cubanos Postizos (The Prosthetic Cubans)
NEW YORK JAZZER Ribot pays tribute to late-composer/guitarist/ bandleader/tres player Arsenio Rodriguez with a collection of the latter's compositions. There's plenty of Ribot's urban jazz styling in the mix--so much, in fact, that cuts like "Aqui Como Alla" bring to mind the Blue Note-era Latin jazz of guitarist Grant Green. John Medeski, from Medeski, Martin and Wood, sits in on organ and melotron. "Cuban Classics for the Post-Punk Generation," boasts the sticker on the jewel box--a perfect assessment of this accessible, slightly twisted point toward Castro country.
Motor City's Burning, Volume 1 and 2
DETROIT'S DOMINANT influence on the punk/rock and roll sound is undeniable. The motor city's '60s sound explosion, which began it all, was a backlash against the then-hippie-love illusion promising a falsely content future to a shoeless and aimless nation. Punk forefathers like the MC5 strove to shake up the masses while blurring the definitions of rock and roll. Their search for a medium between free-love ethics, hard rock and free jazz surreality eloquently captured the moment. The purely defiant Stooges delivered a slap in the face to the flower-power majority, enforcing a musical chaos later dubbed "punk rock." This two-volume spree documents the beginning and the aftermath.
Equal respect is paid to '60s middle men, including Sonic's Rendezvous Band and the Rationals, who receive less legendary adoration but indeed have a wail of their own. Interspersed are more obscure '77-era bands who reduced the punch and thud of Stooge-epics to three-chord anthems. The Ramrods' cut bridges both genres, reflecting Iggy-like vocals and deep bass riffs seeped in snarl and repetition--one of the first singles of the "punk revolution." It all started right here. The Boners' "Stupid Jail" is a predecessor to the catchy, power-chord panoply on the radio today.
Some songs lack acceptable production; and cuts from current acts like the Hentchmen and the Dirtys don't do these exceptional bands justice. Some--like the Motor Dolls and the Inside Out--don't deserve recognition. Regardless of personal taste, however, these comps provide a thorough overview of the area's most notable trend setters. Moreover, the majority of tracks were previously unreleased.
IN THE FINE tradition of Chicago blues guitar-wranglers like Earl Hooker, Hound Dog Taylor, and mentor Magic Sam Maghett, Magic Slim and his trusty Fender Jazzmaster guitar detonate an incendiary exhibition of no-frills, houserockin' blues shuffles on Black Tornado, his third and best long-player for the Blind Pig imprint. Black Tornado showcases basic albeit highly contagious electrified urban blues steeped in rich Mississippi Delta tradition, with absolutely none of the schmaltzy, overbearing horn sections or blues-rock guitar overindulgence plaguing many contemporary blues recordings. Magic Slim possesses two powerful and fundamental weapons: a gritty, sandpapery voice, and a ferocious, slash-and-burn guitar technique. To fully experience the hip shakin' Howlin' Wolf-meets-Slim Harpo mannerisms of Magic Slim and the Teardrops, examine "Magic Boogie"--the swaggering dance groove envelops your soul and won't let go. The deliriously intoxicating slow blues jam "Crazy Woman" stabs the air with Slim's patented tremolo blues groove; his caustic vocals anchoring the staccato guitar lines as he moans about a woman who's "got some screws loose." Slim even pays homage to god-like Hound Dog by covering his rambunctious slide guitar scuffle, "It's Alright," with all the booze-soaked juke joint excitement that made his music such damn sloppy fun.
AS LONG AS getting paid continues to be an obsessive pursuit of commercial-minded rappers, it shouldn't surprise us to hear hip-hop records so intent to please that they seem written by market researchers. But in this environment--where rhyming salesmen struggle to deftly balance pop hooks and mainstream accessibility with tough words and street credibility--if anyone has a legitimate right to hopscotch through rap duality, it's John Forte. A product of both the streets of Brooklyn and the halls of Exeter prep school, Forte just may be this year's model for hip-hop success. On his debut Poly Sci, keeping it real entails not only going head-to-head with hardcore New Yorkers Fat Joe and DMX, but also invoking the new-wave pop hits of Nena and Suzanne Vega.
Having appeared on the Fugees' The Score and head-Fugee Wyclef Jean's The Carnival, Forte is now the first new act to emerge from the group's extended crew (and label), Refugee Camp. At its best--such as on "They Got Me," with its nylon-string guitar hook and the Wyclef-produced hit "Ninety Nine (Flash the Message)"--Poly Sci is very much at home under the Fugees' stylistic tent. Intelligent and pop savvy, Forte allows just the right blend of appropriation and recontextualization to make his "99 Luftballoons" rewrite sound both familiar and fresh. And on "God Is Love God Is War," the record's most unconventional track, Forte has the good sense to temper heavy philosophy and dark minimalism with a singsong backing melody.
Throughout Poly Sci, Forte seems intent on countering each literary reference ("reading Hawthorne") with a "mo'fucka," and following every shout-out to Dow Jones with a complaint about a "bitch." At times, his token gangsterisms sound less than credible. Often, though, he's able to turn his inconsistencies into an asset and make Poly Sci, true to its name: an exploration of the contradictory impulses embodied in a single artist.
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