Ice Cube
Bootlegs & B-Sides

I've gone back and forth on this character so many times that the only thing I'm sure of in 1995 is that he's still got the potential for greatness. Hard to describe why--there's plenty of idiocy sprinkled throughout these thirteen intermittently engaging tracks, which include a pair of unreleased cuts, a slew of fairly obscure B-sides and a handful of remixes. Likewise, the music doesn't have the same impact it once did, if only because every teenager with a warm-up suit and a rhyme has spent the past several years ripping off Cube's once-innovative musical conflation of funk, rap and rage. There's no economic reason for him to change, of course; Dr. Dre and his patients continue to pull big dollars from both the OG's and the acne-pocked white kids who get a buzz out of glimpsing South Central from the safety of the suburbs. But clearly, this guy is capable of more. By now he can write songs such as "Robbin' Hood (Cause It Ain't All Good)"--a revenge fantasy about blasting Caucasians on the sidewalks of Westwood--in his sleep, and while his remix of "It Was a Good Day" is fairly radical, it's built on a P-Funk sample, for Christ's sake. Although Ice Cube is an MC with a terrifically compelling voice, an uncommon skill behind the mixing board and a worldview disparate enough to include references to Pope John Paul II and G.I. Joe with the kung-fu grip, he too often settles for easy effects and lowest common denominators. He can escape from the Land of the Hip-Hop Stereotype if he puts his mind to it, but that would take nuts as enormous as the ones he claims to pack. Drop those drawers, big guy.--Michael Roberts

Various Artists
Jabberjaw: Good to the Last Drop

Good intentions aside, most benefit projects blow: You're lucky if you can find one or two decent tracks among the miasma of B-sides, live cuts and shitty "rarities" (otherwise known as "outtakes" to God-fearin' hill people like you and me) that are usually included with these efforts. In this light, Good to the Last Drop--a Mammoth compilation meant to raise money for Los Angeles's waning Jabberjaw club--is surprisingly solid. Not only does Drop boast a fairly impressive roster of indie artists (everyone from Geffen heavyweight Beck to troglodyte obscurists Karp are featured here), but the songs offered up by these acts are, on the whole, pretty good. Along with Jawbox's uncharacteristically mellow "Chump II," Girls Against Boys' wailing "Magattraction" is probably the strongest tune on the album, with Mule's choking, hillbillyish "Charger" and Hole's vitriolic "Rock Star (Alternate Version)" placing close seconds. Less inspiring but still enjoyable are Seaweed's ultrapunky "My Letters" and Helmet's stripped-down live version of the Meantime stomper "Turned Out." Add to these Southern Culture on the Skids' rousing surf tribute "Jabberjammin'," Unwound's ugly and atonal power-pop nugget "Broken E Strings" and bruising tracks from Hammerhead and Slug, and you have one of the niftiest samplers of pure, unadulterated fringe rock to come along in quite a while. Charity has never sounded this cool.--Brad Jones

Anne Murray
The Best...So Far

I had a lot of funny things to say about this, but when I woke up I couldn't remember any of them.--Roberts

Pascal Bokar
Beyond the Blue Sky

The Boston-based Accurate label, created by the Either Orchestra's Russ Gershon, launches its "6000" series of jazz and pop works with the debut of Senegalese guitarist/vocalist Bokar, who is being hyped as a performer who combines the styles of Sade, Marvin Gaye and Maurice Chevalier. Strangely enough, this portrayal is fairly accurate. How frightening. Bokar's singing--a dash of soul splashed atop a bland, monotonal presentation--is further sabotaged by his vocal approximation of continental fashion: He pronounces "the" as "zee," "among" as "amawng" and (during a lounge-act version of "Fly Me to the Moon") "spring" as "spwing." Chevalier pulled off this shtick forty years ago, but today it sounds ridiculous and pretentious--and it distracts from the album's intriguing easy-listening-meets-worldbeat music. As a guitarist, Bokar is quite versatile, offering Afro-pop, jazz, neo-swing and folk licks with equal aplomb. As for his arrangements of tunes such as "I've Got a Crush on You" and "Days of Wine and Roses," they are not especially innovative, but they don't stoop to hackneyed cliches, either. Likewise, the also-unknowns Bokar has chosen to accompany him on trumpet, trombone, keyboards, drums, bass and percussion are generally impressive. While it's unlikely that Bokar will make his mark as a composer or vocalist, Blue Sky suggests that he could become a strong voice in the instrumental world.--Linda Gruno


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