Of course, the band's rock idealism and Corgan's public persona are still irritating enough that plenty of folks won't bother to get that far. Which is too bad; Mellon Collie contains some of the strongest rock songs of the year. And in the end, Smashing Pumpkins are worth having around if only as flies in the genre ointment: they're too noisy and self-referential for classic rock fans, but too enamored of melody for the post-punkers. More power to 'em. (Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen)

Davell Crawford
Let Them Talk

Leroy Jones
Mo' Cream From The Crop

Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas Featuring Michael Doucet
Creole Crossroads

WITH ITS CENTURIES of fungi-covered tradition and bead-wearing octogenarians prancing in the streets, Louisiana usually isn't considered a hotbed of musical innovation. Yet fresh ideas still poke out of the swamp faster than the gators can chomp 'em, as these new and very different releases attest.

Davell Crawford, who recently turned 19, bursts on the scene with a remarkable combination of savvy and raw fervor with a lineage including grandfather Sugar Boy Crawford, great-uncle Lionel Hampton, plus a musical soul steeped in gospel, New Orleans piano tradition, and classic Crescent City R&B. Crawford is the real thing: He's an amazing pianist, spinning Professor Longhair-like triplets with a master's touch, soaking in church roots, and divining an eccentricity that recalls the late, great James Booker. Vocally he soars with revival passion, or plunges into gritty R&B.

Let Them Talk is a fitting tribute to his multiple roots; Sammy Berfect's organ supplies gospel touches, while survivors of the New Orleans '50s R&B scene (arranger Wardell Quezergue, saxophonists Red Tyler and Fred Kemp) chug away with undiminished power. Even grandpa Sugar Boy dives into a miraculous duet. But Crawford also reinvents those roots. Fats Domino's "Something You Got" gets gospel; a solo piano run through "A Closer Walk With Thee/Amazing Grace" sounds like nothing ever conjured before from either warhorse. It's ingenious, joyful, and announces the arrival of a new New Orleans genius.

Jobbing around since his teens, trumpeter Jones, pushing 40 and late of Harry Connick Jr.'s big band, hardly ranks among the pups seeking inspiration in vintage jazz. Cream is his first album as a leader, and it's grounded in New Orleans jazz tradition. But Jones shows off a thriving versatility with forays into swing, bop, blues, and funk while shifting moods from cool to simmering to torrid. His strong character and the spirit of Louis Armstrong provide the gel. He can do straight trad, etching "When My Dreamboat Comes Home" with reedy vocals right out of a '40s saloon, or chill with a Miles Davis-like saunter in "Mosey Roun' Bring It Down." What he likes best is mixing it up with trombonist Lucien Barbarin: "Bourbon Street Parade" kicks off as a brass-band classic, then jostles home with wild improvisations stuffing contemporary and trad jaz into the same cauldron.

Finally, in an era when zydeco has been slicked up, rocked and even hip-hopped, Nathan Williams has remained relatively close to the bluesy Creole roots of giant Clifton Chenier. Now, he and Cajun fiddler Michael Doucet (of Beausoleil) have brought together two often segregated genres endemic to southwest Louisiana. Cajun/zydeco summits have been surprisingly rare, but these sparkling results suggest a natural affinity. It's especially realized in the duo's mutual love for Chenier, four of whose tunes get smart, rootsy interpretations, marred only by mixes that tend to submerge Doucet's fiddle. The collaboration's essence is best captured in a piece without the full band: In "Ma Femme Nancy," based on the classic "Eunice Two-Step," Doucet's jazzy Cajun fiddle lines entwine themselves in Williams's accordion melodies, which tuck back in, around, and through--a rapturous, musical Gordian knot that, like all this music, draws inspiration from the past while twisting into the future. (Rick Mason)

Barry Black

THINGS USED TO be so much easier. When a member of a critically acclaimed band decided to venture off into solo instrumental territory, you could always count on an album of dreadfully boring, self-indulgent noodling on instruments which he or she had no rightful business playing. But here we have head Archer of Loaf Eric Bachmann and a few of his pals (including young piano hero Ben Folds) goofing off in the studio, and the result is one of the pop surprises of the year, an album that takes the improvisatory genre-bending of New York's Knitting Factory and turns it into a musical Play-Doh Fun Factory. The playful pastiche of spy music, klezmer and surf guitar will probably sound like kiddie Zorn to hepcats, but the sounds herein are twisted enough to annoy milder sensibilities while maintaining some pop integrity. "Golden Throat" (one of the few vocal cuts on the disc) is a hoot, as is "The Broad Majestic Haw," but "I Can't Breathe" musters up a genuinely haunting mix of playfulness and melancholy. I don't know if the Archers are playing any of this material in their current tour, but Bachmann should take this show on the road: Barry Black takes the sound of the fringe and turns it into music for the masses. (Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen)

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