Roundup

CAN'T STOP RAVING about Cornershop, an inventive multiracial combo from London who make a miscegenation of British guitar-pop drone and Indian bhangra seem like a match made in heaven. This is world music for those who remember that, back in the day, punks listened to Lee Perry and Mikey Dread; Woman's Gotta Have It is a culture clash with an insinuating rhythm and, lo and behold, a sense of humor.

Cornershop started out a couple years ago as a fairly standard indie-rock band, with a Mod sense of style and a sitar adding a bit of novelty to the mix. But Woman's Gotta Have It marks a radical reinvention, foregrounding Cornershop's embrace of a hybrid British-Indian identity. "This Western Oriental, going full circle," lead singer-songwriter Tjinder Signh repeats on the album's first single, "Wog," a number which recalls no less than the glory days of Sly and the Family Stone in its seductive lyricism, anti-racist message, and musical wit. Singh's lyrics are about a third in English, the rest in Punjabi, and most of the songs draw heavily on Indian pop and folk music traditions.

Performing live as a supporting act for Superchunk in Boston this month, Singh (the first East Indian man I've met with Elvis sideburns) played guitar and radiated charisma, surrounded by players working the groove on traditional and modern instruments. The show ended with "Jullander Shere," a chiming drone that's part Stereolab, part religious chant, and turns up twice on Woman's Gotta Have It, opening and closing the disk. Singh's singing apparently is meant to simulate the daily recitation of prayers in a Punjabi village: Live, it was mesmerizing, suggesting truly original paths for alternative rock internationalism. (Ivan Kreilkamp)

Cornershop perform Sunday at the Uptown Bar & Cafe.

Cypress Hill
III (Temples of Boom)
Ruffhouse/Columbia

WHAT'S WITH THESE guys in Cypress Hill? Four years since the L.A. group's first pro-pot anthem, "Stoned Is the Way of the Walk," the boys are still telling us they love to smoke ganja. How B-Real and Sen Dog waste their days is their business, but it makes you wonder: What's wrong with their personal lives that they need to be stoned all the time? And how can they be so enthusiastic about it? Their latest release, III (Temples of Boom), exhales the same clouded sentiments of past albums, but offers no answers.

III's "Illusions" begins with an Indian sitar--presumably a reference to '60s drug culture's Eastern influence--but there's no expanded consciousness in the accompanying raps. Cypress Hill champion drug use, it seems, to bolster their outlaw image; they place pot smoke alongside beat-downs--just another illegal activity to prove they're bad dudes. Lyrics aside, III does not even offer Cypress Hill's trademark sounds--the haunting shrieks and compressed steam whistle loops--that defined their sonic insanity. There's plenty of cool vibes and organ, but nothing as spine-chilling as the tracks on '93's Black Sunday. The brutal Ice Cube dissing of "No Rest For the Wicked" and Pulp Fiction soundbites of "Make A Move" feel old and unimaginative, and even appearances from Wu-Tang's U-God and RZA can't inspire any life in these temples. Just say no to stale hip-hop. (Roni Sarig)

Smashing Pumpkins
Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
Virgin

YOU'VE GOT TO hand it to Billy Corgan for sticking to his guns. Instead of taking all the alterna-rock slagging to heart and trying to reestablish their hipster credibility, the Smashing Pumpkins have made the most thoroughly unfashionable album of the year. Unafraid to sound like Black Sabbath, Fleetwood Mac, or Queen (or Queensryche, for that matter), they boldly go where only the most self-indulgent bands dare to tread: the dreaded double album.

Mellon Collie is not a concept work, however, nor does it wallow much in progressive rock excess (despite what the thematically labeled "Dawn to Dusk" and "Twilight to Starlight" sections might imply). As double albums go, it has more in common with the pretentious yet disposable pop rock of Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road, Tusk, and even Use Your Illusion than it does with high-concept pieces like The Wall or Quadrophenia. It's a sprawling, unfocused collection of songs that finds the Pumpkins stretching their boundaries, though without testing much new artistic water. Nonetheless, Corgan's refusal to edit his peculiar patchwork vision of '90s rock serves as a two-hour-plus fuck-you to anyone who might try to draw lines between alternative, post-punk, hard rock or pop.

As usual, Corgan bares his tortured psyche for all to dissect, but he declines to sublimate his identity in a character archetype (as Waters and Townshend felt compelled to do), and thankfully avoids the kind of half-baked narrative that sinks most rock epics. While the band remains committed to fashioning elaborate arena anthems, its connection to art rock has more to do with unconventional, nonlinear song structures and a tendency toward over-production than it does with the elitist, neo-classical tendencies of the prog-rockers of yore.

Despite the bone-crunching guitar-and-drum attack of cuts like "Where Boys Fear to Tread" and "X.Y.U." the band's affinity for pop songcraft wins out in the end. "1979" and "Thirty-Three" are way hummable, "Cupid de Locke" updates Brian Wilson for the '90s, and even the headbanging "Bullet With Butterfly Wings" succeeds more on its hooks than on its sonic bombast. By the time the band gets to the end of disc two, they're playing in McCartney music-hall territory on "Lily (My One and Only)" and offering up touching ballads like "By Starlight" and "Beautiful."

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
Rounder

Leroy Jones
Mo' Cream From The Crop
NOPTEE/Columbia

Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas Featuring Michael Doucet
Creole Crossroads
Rounder

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
Alias

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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