Johnny Damas and Me
No getting around it: Trudell is dogmatic, didactic and driven to say more about most topics than many listeners are eager to hear. But he's also utterly genuine, aggressively intelligent and as fierce as a radical vegetarian in a butcher shop when it comes to attacking what he sees as injustice. Among his topics this time around are equality ("Shadow Over Sisterland"), the deaths of family members in a Seventies-era fire he suspects was deliberately set after his arrest for burning an American flag ("After All These Years") and, on "All There Is to It," enough political and social ills to excite even the most ardent conspiracy theorist. The rock music Trudell and guitarist Mark Shark put to these rants is not as interesting or varied as that found on this album's brilliant predecessor (AKA Grafitti Man), but it's loud and sturdy enough to keep these screeds intriguing. Unless you already agree with Trudell that the government is an evil foisted upon a hapless citizenry (and how could you not?), Johnny Damas and Me probably won't convince you. But you should listen to it anyway.--Michael Roberts
Terry Riley/Rova Saxophone Quartet
Chanting the Light of Foresight
(New Albion Records)
In the early Sixties, pianist and composer Riley became known as one of the originators of the minimalist movement after recording an innovative work entitled In C. Always a champion of the unlikely, Riley based his compositions for the piece on an Irish tale concerning the eighth-century invasion of Ulster by armies from Connacht. Riley gave the members of Rova these compositions in 1987, and since then the quartet has worked to master Riley's trademark altered tunings and to compose a "battle music" section to complete the work. Chanting the Light of Foresight catches Rova (saxophonists Jon Raskin, Larry Ochs, Steve Adams and Bruce Ackley) at work on the project, which is characterized by dense textural playing. As is the case with most saxophone quartet albums, this disc lacks a strong rhythmic structure--an absence that will make it a harsh sonic experience for those accustomed to more standard musical formats. But for those who appreciate exploration and creativity, the collection is a brain-food delicacy. To best appreciate it, avoid distractions while listening, thereby allowing yourself to savor the compositional artistry, the musicians' interpretations and the bracing story that inspired Riley in the first place.--Linda Gruno
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For Your Own Special Sweetheart
These four musicians may have left Dischord Records to ink a fat deal with Atlantic, but their music--a fresh, intelligent version of indie intensity sure to satisfy those worn out by Fugazi's attrition--hasn't yet made the leap to suckdom. Jawbox's edgy melodies expertly walk the pleasure/pain margin, thanks to synchronous bass and drums that follow syncopated guitars and vocals around the same circles of frustration painted by the words. Though the band's gigs shouldn't be missed, the pure excitement that permeates this album will at least give you a sense of Jawbox live. Warning: Do not go near the lyric sheet for this LP unless your thinking cap is within reach.--Jason Horwitch
Peter Case Sings Like Hell
Here's an example of truth in advertising. After losing his record deal with Geffen, Case--an enjoyable if somewhat overrated songwriter best known for his work with defunct L.A. band the Plimsouls--found himself and his career back at square one. And so he hit the coffeehouse circuit, where he belted out tunes by artists such as Blind Willie McTell, Arthur Crudup and David Allen Coe that he sang while busking on the streets of San Francisco two decades earlier. This CD (which Case cut in the living room of his producer, Marvin Etzioni, and was selling at gigs until Vanguard picked it up) is the fruit of this period, and while it's guaranteed not to broaden his audience, it should be embraced by the one he already has. Case's voice is a weather-beaten marvel, and his rough-hewn approach to these folk and blues ditties fits the material perfectly. Sometimes slicker isn't better.--Roberts