Kool Keith, Joe Gallant and Illuminati, Belle and Sebastian, Tricky With DJ Muggs and Grease, Reggae Gold 1999

 Kool Keith
Black Elvis/Lost in Space

When we last checked in with Kool Keith, who joins DJ Spooky on Tuesday, September 14, at the Fox Theatre, he was appearing on this year's independently released First Come, First Served in the guise of Dr. Doom, a loony serial killer with a taste for cannibalism. But even though the former Keith Thornton gives every indication on the disc of being an acid casualty, he's actually capable of something as calculated as a career move -- which helps explain why Black Elvis/Lost in Space, his first disc for a major label since his Dr. Octagon project went up in flames, plays down both the body-parts purée of the good doc and the freaky-ass sexual deviancy spotlighted in the indie Sex Styles project. That doesn't mean, though, that the album feels overtly commercial; Keith is too flat-out peculiar for that. Rather, it's a quasi-accessible introduction to a fella who gets stranger and stranger the more time you spend with him.

The album splits neatly into two halves, with the first thrusting the listener into "Lost in Space," a hip-hop variation on sci-fi P-Funk. "Intro [267K aiff]," which Keith kindly kicks off with the words, "This is the intro," is a fine stage-setter: Against a deliberate backdrop spiced with ethereal/dippy "Theme From Star Trek" warbling, he asks a series of comically portentous questions ("Why are you making those mean faces in your videos with the fish-lens effects?") before being confronted by the "Official Haters," who describe themselves as "the most salt-shaking, behind-your-back-speaking, record-criticizing, cock-blocking, in-the-club-costume-jewelry-wearing, valet-parked-Lexus-renting, undercover, starstruck, no-game-having, fake-Versace-shirt-wearing, motel-hell-living, false-Muslim-being, jungle-fever-having, pork-eating demon people." Afterwards, Our Hero struts his way through mock-futuristic soundscapes such as "Rockets on the Battlefield," "Livin' Astro," " Master of the Game" (featuring the late Roger Troutman) and "I'm Seein' Robots" before wrapping up in a wave of "Static." But instead of providing the tale with a proper conclusion, this scattershot ditty, in which Keith duets with Sadat X, merely shakes its tailfeather a few times before giving way to " Black Elvis," about a fabulously successful rock star with a taste for "Maxi Curls," "Fine Girls" and a kid's playground his real estate agent is building him "in Denver, Colorado."

Kook KeithBlack Elvis/Lost in Space
Kook Keith
Black Elvis/Lost in Space
Joe Gallant and IlluminatiTerrapin
Joe Gallant and Illuminati

Unsurprisingly, neither "Space" nor "Elvis" sports a legitimate narrative. The Kool one's idea of structuring a story involves tossing related ideas against the wall in the hope that they stick -- and fortunately, plenty of them do. When, on "Keith Turbo," he delivers the warning, "Don't step to me at the food court at the municipal airport," it's likely even he doesn't know what the hell he's talking about, but that doesn't make the tune any less enjoyable. Even when his beats are somewhat less than inspired, his quicksilver personality, straight-faced humor and casual surrealism keep the weird times rolling.

Black Elvis/Lost in Space doesn't make a lick of sense. And that's okay by me. -- Michael Roberts

Joe Gallant and Illuminati

It's hard to predict how tens of thousands of Deadheads still grieving over the loss of Jerry Garcia will receive a brash new take on "Terrapin Station," conceived by New York jazz arranger and sound designer Joe Gallant. The better question concerns the capacity of the Dead's seminal 1977 album to withstand a major deconstruction and subsequent reinvention.

No problem. Employing his seventeen-piece jazz ensemble, Illuminati, two dozen assorted singers and, at times, enough additional instrumentalists to make the musicians' union very happy, Gallant turns "Terrapin Station" upside down and inside out on a grand scale. The musical miracle is that he also pays homage to and continually reveals the sense and beauty of the original. It's no mean trick. Gallant's eight-part "Terrapin Station Suite," which constitutes the heart of the new CD, uses everything from lush string voicings to surreal electronica to big-band bebop to minimalist blue-grass twang in the service of rebuilding the house of Jerry.

"You're back in Terrapin -- for good or ill again," a voice intones darkly. Rock-ribbed cultists may claim it's for ill; listeners with ears are likely to be intrigued.

On either side of the suite Gallant and company provide, among other items, a thrilling essay on " Dancin' in the Streets," which sets out in R&B territory and winds up amid full-throated orchestral experiment, and a radical version of the Garcia/Hunter anthem " China Doll," full of storming electronic effects and doom-laden multi-rhythmic percussion.

Purists may carp, but the bold strokes by which "Terrapin" defies musical categories and obliterates borders would likely please Jerry Garcia to no end. -- Bill Gallo

Belle and Sebastian

Belle and Sebastian's latest release could be considered a high school yearbook photo of sorts -- you only wish yours looked so good. Recorded in 1996 while songwriter, vocalist and reluctant frontman Stuart Murdoch and the gang were mere cardigan-clad lads and lassies studying at Glasgow's Stow College, the album was created to complete a music business class practicum. But as a prequel to the band's subsequent releases, If You're Feeling Sinister and last year's The Boy With the Arab Strab, Tigermilk is an adolescent snapshot that holds up remarkably well.

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