Record Roundup


When Squirrels Play Chicken EP

Medium Cool/Restless

           TOMMY STINSON IS living in L.A. now, but he grew up under the raggedy wings of Minneapolis's punk rock community. Lugging around a bass guitar and touring with the Replacements at age 14, his teachers were the crème de la crème of hard-practicing drunkards and raw rock talent. Some 15 years later, with his new band, Perfect, Stinson blithely features his bad-ass music lessons like exquisite little scars. This five-song set of pop tunes spans noisy exuberance and gentle sadness with its claws dug in: "Miss Self Esteem" reveals mournfulness worthy of Westerberg in a funk, while the blues-call refrain and burn 'em down guitars on "Alternative Monkey" loudly proclaim rock & roll's Southern roots. No alterna-grunge boy, Stinson has constructed a powerhouse band who take their cues from Elvis, the Beatles, and '70's pop music. In the aftermath of so many disaffected, post-Nirvana coulda-been-contenders, Perfect navigate the rock & roll wreckage with grace and charm. (Laura Brandenburg)


I Am L.V.

Tommy Boy

           HUSKY VOCALIST L.V. first entered the ears of the world alongside his South Central homeboy Coolio on the rapper's monster 1995 single "Gangsta's Paradise." With that song, interpolated from an old Stevie Wonder gem and layered with L.V.'s preacher-man chorus and buttery refrain, the pair was onto something good--reworkings of classic soul and R&B into radio-friendly hip-hop--which Coolio exploited further on his album.

           This formula gets another workout on the first half of L.V.'s debut solo shot, I Am L.V. The singer turns replayed bits of songs like the O'Jays' "Help Somebody Please," Isaac Hayes's version of "The Look of Love," and Al Hudson's "Mr. Groove" and "Man With A Horn" into modern soul music with a retro feel and a smooth West Coast hip-hop heart. With its wah-wah and talkbox effects, flute and horn work, and soaring vocals, songs like "Fire From the Gun," "Gangsta's Boogie," and "Throw Your Hands Up" owe more to classics by Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, and Parliament than to any recent R&B. And with his rapless version of "Gangsta's Paradise" and the praise-the-lording of "The 'G' Within," L.V. offers a conscious--even gospel--take on gangsta music.

           For some reason (perhaps the high cost of getting remake permissions), I Am L.V. takes a nosedive halfway through and changes into an entirely different, far less worthwhile record. The last six of the album's 14 songs are original L.V. love ballads, and left without a blueprint from which to interpolate, the music degenerates into the same vapid R&B pop that clutters so much of the urban airwaves. Thankfully, L.V. piles the losers at the end. Enjoy tracks one through eight; after that, buyer please beware. (Sarig)

Squirrel Nut Zippers



           WHEN LAST WE saw our heroes, their 1995 debut, The Inevitable Squirrel Nut Zippers, had been handed a somewhat apathetic reception by the rigidly formatted radio bad guys, despite the record's undeniable charms. Unflustered, the Chapel Hill sextet (since bolstered to a seven-piece) reconvened in New Orleans, the hot jazz holy land they'd seen in photos but never visited. To coax the ghosts of Crescent-ville out of the moldy woodwork the band held a seance at the studio of famed producer Daniel Lanois, where over 10 days--with few microphones and fewer retakes--they recorded Hot, their second stab at capturing the imagination of a generation nostalgic for things they'd never experienced.

           Meanwhile...the alternative nation had grown cynical of the so-called cocktail revival--they'd seen Tony Bennett open for Pearl Jam and could smell a cheap gimmick when they heard it. But would little Jimmy Silverchair understand that our favorite band named after a chewy peanut candy had something to teach both the jazz world it aspired to and the indie-rock world it was a refugee from? That jazz hadn't sounded this unschooled and this much fun--and this punk rock--since the kids at the orphanage brought the house down? And couldn't those modern rock ne'er-do-wells use a solid jolt of this kind of soulfully non-ironic music-for-music's-sake?

           Sure, the Zips' mid-tempo trad jazz moments ("Blue Angel," "It Ain't You") drag a bit, but vocalist Katharine Whalen's imitation of Billie Holiday after drinking a glass of milk (not an insult) is easily endured to dig into Hot's new bag of tricks; where we'll find the old-time calypso of "Hell" and a swing instrumental, "Memphis Exorcism." And lest we forget, there's some Charleston and lots of Dixieland and a dose of that old Cab Calloway strut left over from last time. It's a gimmick all right, but can you remember one so happily thrust upon us? (Sarig)

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