Michael Hill's Blues Mob

In blues circles, Michael Hill is being lauded as a musical revolutionary, and given how resistant to change most of the genre's practitioners are, maybe he is. This young guitarist is no James "Blood" Ulmer (he's clearly interested in selling a few records), but he's willing to play harder, faster and louder than practically anyone else on the current blues scene. Songs such as "Soul Emergency" and the manifesto "Why We Play the Blues" are heavy enough to make Hendrix comparisons seem reasonable, while "Soldier's Blues" features Hill dueling Living Colour's Vernon Reid, who wrote the song, note for blistering note. Still, Bloodlines is not rock and roll masquerading as blues. Hill clearly understands and reveres the blues tradition, but he also recognizes that stretching the style can make it sound fresh again. What doesn't destroy the blues makes it stronger. And this is stronger.--Michael Roberts

Salif Keita
The Mansa of Mali: A Retrospective

The material that makes up this swell compilation has been hiding for years inside a bushel of American releases that inspire a reviewer's passive voice. The reason for these earlier albums' inconsistencies is simple: This Malian-gone-Parisian vocal powerhouse allowed producers such as Ibrahim Sylla, ex-Weather Report leader Joe Zawinul and former Gong member Steve Hillage to bring in too many hired musicians and insert pregnant pauses that broke the momentum of his rhythms. On many occasions, Keita even permitted a delicate string instrument called a kora to be recorded so obviously that it stood out among the synthesizers like a kazoo. He's a great singer whose former band, Les Ambassadors Internationales, would have boosted the dramatic climaxes preserved in these songs. Nevertheless, it's amazing how, when collected in one place, these scattershots do what I think Keita wants: They touch Western listeners without obscuring his talent. The music's exoticism draws you in, while the melodies and singing keep you digging for meaning.--John Young

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Let Love In

Most of Nick Cave's work can be described as bone-rattling, and Let Love In is no exception. Like Johnny Cash gone real bad, Cave and his Seeds deliver dark vignettes marked by sonorous wails and guttural declarations. The differences between this and past Cave releases are minor: These ten songs feature less barroom swagger than before, and all take different looks at love, but the feeling is still the same. Among the highlights are the hypnotic "Loverman," which sounds as if Cave took a cue from Bad Seed (and sometime Einsturzende Neubaten member) Blixa Bargeld, and "Red Right Hand," a windswept song that creeps along at a pace that suggests a town hanging at high noon. The latter flirts with caricature, but Cave successfully pulls it off, thanks to his unique brand of sincerity. No new ground is broken here, but in his own polished way, Cave justifies another trip to this familiar territory.--Justin McLean

Various Artists
New Wave Hits of the '80s, Volumes 1-5

When the songs featured in this collection first hit stores, they struck many of us sick to death of the REO Speedwagon-Styx-Journey axis that was then ruling radio as incredibly vital and liberating. Times have changed: A decade or so later, many of these ditties seem unimaginably, preternaturally dumb. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, of course. After all, dumbness has its charms, as is clear from tracks such as the Normal's "Warm Leatherette" (Volume 1), Ian Dury and the Blockheads' "Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick" (Volume 2), the Nails' "88 Lines About 44 Women" (Volume 3) and the Waitresses' "I Know What Boys Like" (Volume 5). As a whole, the collection presents an accurate picture of college radio circa 1983, with tracks that still hold up (XTC's "Making Plans for Nigel," Pete Shelley's "Homosapien," Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart") programmed alongside goofy curios (M's "Pop Musik," Tim Curry's "I Do the Rock," Human Sexual Response's "What Does Sex Mean to Me?") and teeth-chattering swill (Haircut One Hundred's "Love Plus One," Kim Wilde's "Kids in America" and A Flock of Seagulls' "I Ran"). Timeless it's not. Amusing it is--but listening to it probably will make you feel old, anyhow.--Roberts


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