David Byrne
David Byrne
(Luaka Bop/Warner Bros.)

Apparently this is the season for faded new-wave stars to search for their roots. Like Elvis Costello, whose recent Brutal Youth was a blatant attempt to return to the days when he got good reviews simply for existing, Byrne has temporarily abandoned his musical dilettantism in an effort to make a record that someone other than a member of his immediate family would want to hear. And as a guy who hated Byrne's most recent solo albums with a passion bordering on apoplexy, I am stunned to report that he comes pretty close. The disc doesn't achieve the effortless, beautiful weirdness that marked the first four Talking Heads albums (the only ones you really need), but it sports a seriousness of purpose and a modest, cohesive sound dominated by Paul Socolow's bass, Todd Turkisher's drums and Byrne's own guitar. The band isn't skillful enough to pump life into all of the tunes here: "Sad Song," "Nothing at All" and "My Love Is You," stuck at the dead center of the disc, would bark like dogs no matter who played them. But "A Long Time Ago," "Crash" and "Lillies of the Valley" earn their moodiness, and "A Self-Made Man" intrigues in spite of lyrics that sometimes recall (cringe) a hipper Harry Chapin before taking a few interesting turns. All in all, not as terrible as I was anticipating--which in this context is a rave.--Michael Roberts

Blues in the East

By now, anything that comes from producer Bill Laswell's Axiom imprint is easily identified by its intoxicatingly primal rhythms--and the label debut by Chinese author/vocalist/composer Liu Sola is no exception. It's a daring work that combines American blues with a variety of Chinese musical genres, including Bang Zi, Da Gu Shu storytelling, Chinese folk music and styles associated with Peking and Shanghai operas. Unfortunately, the recording--a pair of original suites based on popular Chinese stories--is a sonic jumble that makes no more sense than, say, a juxtaposition of Gregorian chants and polka-party music. With Henry Threadgill on saxophone, Amina Claudine Myers at the Hammond B-3, James Blood Ulmer on guitar and former Parliament/ Funkadelic drummer Bigfoot Brailey on hand, there's no denying that the supporting cast is wonderful. Still, the album as a whole is practically unlistenable. Play it loud and your neighbors are likely to call the cops and tell them that you're listening to some killer blues music and torturing your cat.--Linda Gruno

Various Artists
Soccer Rocks the Globe

The first musical tie-in to the 1994 World Cup succeeds on at least one level: These songs (by Tears For Fears, the Moody Blues, the Scorpions and Jon Bon Jovi, among others) will probably make you want to kick something. The groin of this album's producer might be a good place to start.--Roberts

Bheki Mseleku

The Verve debut of this 39-year-old South Africa-born Londoner more than deserves your attention; it's a superb collection of original compositions. A self-taught musician who lost parts of two fingers in a childhood accident, Mseleku sings and plays piano and both alto and tenor saxophones so skillfully that you can understand why an impressive roster of artists has consented to work with him. Timelessness features many of them, including bassist Michael Bowie, drummer Marvin "Smitty" Smith, vocalist Abbey Lincoln, drummer Elvin Jones, pianist Rodney Kendrick, flutist Kent Jordan and tenor experts Joe Henderson and Pharaoh Sanders. The songs these musicians produce brim with subtleties and swinging, dignified elegance. If Mseleku's upcoming works live up to this disc, he'll have to get used to people calling him a genius.--Gruno

G. Love and Special Sauce
G. Love and Special Sauce

While Beck stumbled on his amalgam of folk, blues and hip hop by accident, Love, a performer straight from the streets of Philadelphia, did so consciously. Which of these approaches is superior depends upon your point of view. Beck's music can be sophomoric and unlistenable at times, entertainingly offhand and dangerous at others. The very white Mr. Love, by contrast, is extremely consistent: His band bops and shimmies like a new-generation Violent Femmes as he mouths his oddball raps in a slurred voice that mimics Mississippi Delta bluesmen as overtly as the young Eric Burdon's. Cuts such as "The Things That I Used to Do," "Garbage Man" and "Cold Beverage" (the last word is pronounced "bev-rij-a-YUH!") are modest, ragged romps that succeed as amiable goofs, if nothing more. Those of you interested in challenging your preconceptions should look elsewhere, but the rest of you will probably like this just fine.--Roberts


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