Stone Temple Pilots
Stone Temple Pilots

It seems a little unfair to rag on the Pilots. I mean, there are ripoff artists in every style of music, and many of these performers wind up being more successful than the true innovators of the form. Which isn't their fault, really: They don't put guns to the heads of consumers out there and force them to purchase pale imitations of the real thing rather than the thing itself. No, they're simply creatively challenged types who (cynically or innocently) realize that it is far easier to strike gold by rewriting other people's songs than by coming up with memorable ones of their own. There's nothing wrong with that. Hell, it's the American way, and the Stone Temple Pilots are following it. So don't be too hard on these dim bulbs for empty lyrics such as "They make us hate and we make it bleed" ("Meatplow"), "Feelin' like a hand in rusted shame" ("Interstate Love Song") and "I can hear when the pig whispers sweetly" ("Silver Gun Superman"). And don't slap them around because every song sounds as if it's being performed by a Pearl Jam impersonation band. Not all of them do: "Pretty Penny," for example, sounds as if it's being performed by a Led Zeppelin impersonation band. Besides, musical clones may hang tough for a while, but they invariably wind up on the butt end of history. And their managers steal all their money.--Michael Roberts

The Gene Harris Quartet
"Funky Gene's"
(Concord Jazz)

There are a lot of jazz pianists, but none with a sound quite like Gene Harris's. "Funky Gene's", Harris's fourth release with his current quartet (which includes drummer Paul Humphrey, bassist Luther Hughes and guitarist Ron Eschete), simply blows the lids off the many bland recent efforts issued by his contemporaries. This is one of those rare recordings where everything works, in part because the band leader packs all his talent into a small package that never stops moving, grooving or swinging. In the sixty years since a four-year-old Harris taught himself to play boogie-woogie piano by mimicking the styles of Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson, he's developed his own pianistic voice, as well as a fine taste for funky blues. The material covered includes Chuck Mangione's "Children of Sanchez," two Harris originals and a very suave rendition of Ahmad Jamal's seldom-heard "Ahmad's Blues." Consumers should be warned that this is not "new" music: It does not break any new ground. But it doesn't have to--because it's so damn good.--Linda Gruno

Bad Religion
Stranger Than Fiction

On their major-label debut, these musically direct and lyrically erudite global citizens have done a stand-up job of selling out; the group's loud 'n' fast romp isn't quite annihilated by the recording's FM-friendly sheen. As was the case on last year's Recipe for Hate, these prehistoric punkers serve up a few duds--but as Robert Altman's film career proves, inconsistency isn't necessarily the kiss of death. Songs such as "Hooray for Me..." (the ellipsis stands in for the words "...and fuck you!") have such emblematic verve that one is left clamoring for more of their ilk. Elsewhere, "Slumber" finds singer Greg Graffin at his most brutally wise--throughout the cut, he assuages his misery with the understanding that viciousness and prosperity are equally transient. No way is this the band's best recording, but anything by Bad Religion is a worthwhile representation of punk's smarts, perspective and drive.--Jason Horwitch

Doug Hoekstra
When the Tubes Begin to Glow
(Back Porch Music)

Talk about falling in between the cracks. Hoekstra is, at least in some regards, a country performer, but this recording isn't one you'll soon be hearing in a set with Garth Brooks and Clint Black. For every gentle, folky number such as "The Way the Wind Blows," there's another that busts out of every pigeonhole you can build. "On the Interstate," which supplements a standard C&W combo with an intricate cello arrangement, sounds like Lou Reed with a plug of tobacco in his craw, "Mama Was a Pinkerton" evades novelty status in spite of oddball rhythms and a plunking jaw harp, and "Like a Hummingbird" rocks in such a desultory manner that it's hard to figure out what's going to happen from one minute to the next. "Grandad's Radio," whose lyrics provide this album with its title, comes a little too close to John Prine's "Grandpa Was a Carpenter," but the majority of the other tracks display the type of originality that most of us have stopped expecting to find in this genre. Whatever genre this is.--Roberts


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