Todd Snider
Songs for the Daily Planet

Country A&R guys are certainly feeling their oats these days. How else to explain the signing of Snider, an often jubilant busker who sounds no more country than, say, Loudon Wainwright III? "My Generation (Part 2)," Planet's opening track, is indicative of Snider's musical influences and sense of humor; the song is a takeoff on the Pete Townshend ditty, replete with a stoned-folkie harmonica solo and boasts about how today's youngsters are into "using condom sense" and "living off Dad as long as you can." And if that still doesn't convince you that you're a long way from Garth Brooks territory, hang on for a hidden track that satirizes the Seattle scene ("My music is original alternative--roots grunge," Snider sings) against the backdrop of a Woody Guthrie/Bob Dylan talking-blues melody and, yep, more harmonica. Five years ago C&W programmers would have tossed this sucker in the ash can in record time, and maybe they still will: This isn't exactly a showcase for pedal steel, you know. Besides, songs such as "That Was Me" reveal that Snider is as susceptible to the-clown-who-cried plaintiveness as most of the guys who collect their wages in a hat placed upside down on a sidewalk. But he's also a fine singer who manages to be literate, funny, cynical and naive at exactly the same time. Added bonus: He doesn't wear a cowboy hat on the cover.--Michael Roberts

Jon Hassell and bluescreen
Dressing for Pleasure
(Intuition/Warner Bros.)

The former Eno collaborator abandoned ambient background fare with 1990's City, and since then, he hasn't let his weird-plus trumpet blare into the prominence of Wynton Marsalis's or Terence Blanchard's. That's good, because Hassell's thick, abstract version of worldfunk continues to stand as an example of what Miles Davis should've been making instead of Doo-Bop, Amandla, Tutu, etc. Of course, Miles's horn would have sailed over these tracks like a bird circles above a traffic jam, while Hassell's steams through his band's groove. Like Miles during his comeback, Hassell probably has already made his best music. But as jazz closes in on the 21st century, only Ornette Coleman is as comfortable with his own alienness as is Hassell. May their musical scions take over the lounge on the Queen Mary to ring in the 22nd century in style.--John Young

Slim Gaillard
Laughing in Rhythm: The Best of the Verve Years

Bulee "Slim" Gaillard's name won't ring a bell with many listeners, but his classic compositions will. He's the man who penned "Flat Foot Floogie," "A-Reet-a-Voutee" and "Tutti-Frutti," the last made famous by Little Richard. But Gaillard's musical contributions go beyond these tunes, as Laughing in Rhythm proves: Every person with even a slight interest in comedy, jazz, guitar or the history of hipness should own this twenty-song collection representing the works he recorded between 1946 and 1954. Gaillard, who died in 1991 at an age estimated at eighty, was the prototype of the Forties hipster, a guitarist who mated wacky lyrics with punchy, rocking tunes. But he also was a superb dancer, an expert on practically any instrument and the father of a jive-speak dialect that he called "vout." Vout, however, is only one element in a vocal approach that blended parody and stylings borrowed from Yma Sumac, Count Basie, Billy Eckstine and Patsy Montana to achieve a thoroughly original sound. "Puerto Vootie," in which Gaillard's lyrics seemingly are delivered in a foreign language he made up on the spot, is only one example of his twisted genius. He worked with musicians just as talented: On the new release, clad in a cover borrowed from Gaillard's 1946 release Opera in Vout (The Groove Juice Symphony), contributors include pianist Dick Hyman, saxmen Ben Webster and Buddy Tate, trombonist Bennie Green, bassist Ray Brown and vibraphonist Milt Jackson (heard playing drums). These A-list sidemen make their marks on Gaillard favorites like "Mishugana Mambo" and "Serenade to a Poodle," as well as on a rendition of the Gershwin brothers' "Oh, Lady Be Good!" The results will put you in mind of the tribute paid to this forgotten master by Jack Kerouac in On the Road: "To Slim Gaillard, the whole world was just one big orooni."--Linda Gruno

World of Noise

Those of you who fear that sheer racket has lost its novelty value now that every freaking band on MTV has discovered the joys of distortion should rest easy: Bands that cause permanent hearing loss still can be entertaining so long as they've got at least as much going for them as this one. The angst stirred up by Scott Cuthbert, Art Alexakis and Craig Montoya can get a little thick: "Fire Maple Song," for instance, is a morose song built on lyrics such as "Turn away from the pain." Fortunately, the guitars are loud and persistent enough to smother a lot of the excess navel-gazing, thereby transforming the impassioned vocals into just another overamped sound in a wonderfully messy aural collage. No lives will be changed by World of Noise, but some of your neighbors may be annoyed by it. Sometimes that's enough.--Roberts


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